Yesterday President Aleksandr Lukashenko, President of Belarus, arrived in Beijing for a three-day state visit. Lukashenko is, of course, the world leader who allowed Putin to amass Russian troops on Belarus’ border with Ukraine during the lead-up to the Russian invasion on February 24th of last year.

Coming on the heels of the release of the PRC Position on the Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis document by Beijing last Friday some — including both cock-eyed optimists and doomsday prophesiers — will see this as an encouraging sign that Xi Jinping is busy rallying support for his effort to bring hostilities in Ukraine to an end. A deeper look reveals the likelihood of almost the exact opposite to be the case.

For three years of the pandemic, Xi did not travel outside of China’s borders and welcomed almost no foreign leaders to China. The one notable exception to this self-imposed isolation was his summit meeting with Putin in Beijing on February 4, 2022 on the eve of the Beijing Winter Olympics. This is, of course, the meeting where Xi famously announced a “friendship without limits” with Russia. Less than three weeks later, Russian troops poured into Ukraine. Less well remembered about their joint statement is the fact that, as reported by Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times, “the February 4 statement made it clear that the foundation of the Russian-Chinese friendship is shared hostility to American global leadership.”

Since the beginning of February, Xi and his Foreign Ministry have been making up for lost time with a whirlwind of diplomatic engagements internationally. Xi dispatched his senior foreign policy advisor, Wang Yi, to a string of European capitals with a dual agenda. Wang traveled to France and Italy where business constituencies welcomed China’s invitation to revive economic ties following self-inflicted pandemic damage to the Chinese economy. Included in Wang’s itinerary was a red-carpet visit to Hungary hosted by Hungary’s Russia-friendly President, Viktor Orbán. Finally, before heading to Moscow for the capstone of his trip, Wang put in a visit to Munich where NATO member countries were taking part in the annual Munich Security Conference. For this visit, Wang shelved his economic message and tried driving a wedge between the U.S. and its European partners with some of the same anti-U.S. messaging (e.g., need to repudiate the United States’ Cold War mentality) which Xi and Putin had settled on a year earlier and which China has enshrined as Point 2 in its PRC Position on the Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis. Wang was widely derided for striding into that meeting with a tin ear and two left feet. Especially in the wake of the “weather balloon” imbroglio, his message there went over like a lead balloon. Later, in Moscow, Wang and Putin announced with fanfare additional steps to strengthen China-Russia solidarity.

So what about meetings which Xi has hosted back home in Beijing during this February and early March whirlwind? Well, in addition to the centerpiece of the three-day state visit by Lukashenko, there have two other notable high-level visitors; President Ebrahim Raisi of Iran and Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia.

By thy friends, we will know thee. These friendships are clearly not designed to advance a good-faith mediation effort to bring a sovereignity-respecting solution to Ukraine. They are designed to tighten bonds with authoritarian leaders attuned to, and aligned with, the anti-democratic bloc which Xi has been committed to building in his third term.

As argued last week in 1% Words, 99% Work, Xi’s aim with his Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis position paper is not to bring about a just and durable peace in Ukraine, it is to serve his own agenda. That agenda is clearly revealed by China’s behind-the-scenes, multi-pronged effort to support Russia in the conflict.

By blurring the lines of a stark conflict between authoritarian overreach and democratic resistance, Xi’s intervention serves to confuse the world community with the likely effect being rob prolong the conflict. Prolonging the conflict would in turn serve to keep U. S. attention and resources further pinned down in Central Europe and diverted from China and the Taiwan Strait. Exactly what Xi wants.