Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


The three-day summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin is a testament to the increasingly tight ties between Beijing and Moscow.

It also shows just how hollow is Xi's bid to be a peacemaker between Russia and Ukraine.

Xi's visit is in effect China providing "diplomatic cover for Russia" to commit war crimes, Secretary of State Antony Blinken rightly said on Monday, adding that the summit "suggests China feels no responsibility to hold [Putin] accountable for the atrocities committed in Ukraine."

The Russian atrocities following their full-scale invasion last year span several categories of crimes. Among the most heinous are the kidnapping and deportation of Ukrainian children, which are the basis of charges leveled by the International Criminal Court against Putin last Friday. While the court cannot try suspects in absentia, and while Russia does not recognize the court's jurisdiction, the charges reflect the depravity of Russia's, and Putin's, actions.

The charges are "a step forward," Melinda Haring, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Eurasia Center, told an editorial writer. While it's unlikely that it will have practical implications, Haring said that "symbolically it's important" in Ukraine's rightful quest to "redress grievances."

Regarding the peace proposal proffered by Xi, Haring said that China is "playing a double game" of neutral posturing but won't even identify Russia as the aggressor and won't demand Russia withdraw the forces that illegally invaded a sovereign nation — positions that must be the base of any negotiation.

Blinken clearly communicated as much on Monday, saying: "The fundamental element of any play for ending the war in Ukraine and producing a just and durable peace must be upholding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, in accordance with the United Nations charter. Any plan that does not prioritize this critical principle is a stalling tactic at best or is merely seeking to facilitate an unjust outcome. That is not constructive diplomacy. Calling for a cease-fire that does not include the removal of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory would effectively be supporting the ratification of Russian conquest."

What's more, Blinken added, it would buy time for Putin to replenish his troops and materiel to use later.

China and Russia are deepening a long-term partnership, if not yet a formal alliance, that is clearly meant to be a counterbalance against the U.S. and the West, as well as like-minded Asian allies Japan and South Korea, plus Australia.

China "doesn't want to disrupt that evolving relationship, which is very much to [its] benefit, in which Russia really is the junior partner," Thomas Hanson, a former Foreign Service officer who is now chair of the Committee on Foreign Relations Minnesota and diplomat-in-residence at the University of Minnesota Duluth, told an editorial writer.

At the same time, Hanson said that China also needs to continue its international trade relationships with Western countries, and wants to be seen as a "virtuous leader" in geopolitics, an image that was boosted by its brokering an accord between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Xi, seeking to further burnish this image — particularly in developing nations where China presents itself as an alternative to Western-led leaders and protocols — may advance this cause while doing nothing to bring peace to Ukraine.

Even worse, China may still decide to directly arm Russia. If so, "it will extend the conflict indefinitely," Haring said, adding it may immediately have battlefield implications because the West cannot ramp up its armaments production quickly enough to resupply Ukrainian forces.

For years, Haring said, foreign policy analysts acknowledged that while both China and Russia are both authoritarian regimes, "their interests were different. It doesn't look that way now."

In response, countries united by their belief in democracy and common, codified international rules have to strengthen their common bonds.