China’s President Xi Jinping and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin are gaining more control over their countries. Now, the two leaders are forming a “strategic partnership.”
These efforts put the two in competition with the West and the United States for influence.
This week, Putin signed a law that lets him stay in power until at least 2036. At 68, he has been president for more than 20 years.
President Xi has become one the most powerful leaders in Communist China since Mao Zedong. Under Xi, the government has imprisoned or silenced political opponents, artists and intellectuals. The government in Beijing has suppressed activists in Hong Kong, Tibet and other places with force. And Xi and his Communist Party have strong control over information.
Xi removed presidential term limits in 2018, permitting him to remain in power. He has also not chosen a successor. One man who might have taken his position, Sun Zhengcai, was sentenced to life in prison on corruption charges.
The Russian government under Putin permits little political dissent. Alexei Navalny is an influential Putin critic. But he was recently arrested following his return to Russia after receiving medical treatment in Germany. Navalny was recovering from a poisoning he blames on Putin. The opposition activist was sentenced to more than two years in prison.
Russia’s interference in U.S. presidential elections has pushed relations with the United States to their lowest levels since the end of the Cold War. The Cold War was a period of intense competition between the former Soviet Union and America. U.S. President Joe Biden recently called Putin a “killer” and announced new economic restrictions on Russia.
Putin has tried to build an alliance with Xi to limit the effects of American restrictions. China has aided Russia with projects like energy supplies in Crimea, an area Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014. It has also replaced Western products in Russia with Chinese products.
Both leaders, however, will face difficulties in keeping power. Russia’s economy is dependent on oil exports and is vulnerable to changes in the world markets. Western trade restrictions have slowed the Russian economy. Poverty and high unemployment have added to growing dissatisfaction among the Russian people.
The coronavirus health crisis in China seemed like it would hurt Xi’s hold on power. Last month, the World Health Organization released a report on its findings of how the virus started in China. But China controlled the virus better than other countries and Xi remained popular.
The Chinese leader, however, needs to be sure that his long term in power will not lead to the excesses of the years under Mao. Mao’s brutal administration led to many reforms in China after his death.
Daniel Blumenthal is the director of Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. Xi, in his words, “knows his people fear and loathe Maoism so he has to also pretend he is not Mao.”
Alexander Gabuev is a top China expert with Carnegie Moscow Center. He has written that China has helped Russia withstand U.S. pressure.
“This assistance also allowed Moscow to become more assertive elsewhere in the world, from being present in the Middle East and Africa to supporting the Venezuelan regime and interfering in U.S. elections,” he said.
Russia and China are also building military ties. Russia has provided China with new military technologies. And the two militaries have held joint exercises. The increased cooperation has some experts concerned that the two traditional competitors could be forming closer ties.
“We don’t need it,” Putin said in October. But "it’s quite possible to imagine it.”
I’m Caty Weaver.
Vladimir Isachenkov and Ken Moritsugu reported this story for the Associated Press. Dan Novak adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter Jr. was the editor.
Words in This Story
intellectual- n. - a smart person who enjoys serious study and thought
successor- n. a person who has a job, position, or title after someone else
vulnerable- adj. open to attack, harm, or damage
excess- n.- behavior that is considered wrong because it goes beyond what is usual, normal, or proper
brutal- adj. extremely cruel or harsh
loathe- adj.-to hate (someone or something) very much
pretend –v. to act as if something is true when it is not true
withstand- v. - to not be harmed or affected by (something)
assertive- adj. confident in behavior or style
regime –n. a form of government