Old Friends Not Forgotten. Why Russia’s Putin Met With Retired Leader Jiang Zemin

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and former Chinese Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin in 2001. (Photo credit: www.kremlin.ru)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and former Chinese Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin in 2001. (Photo credit: www.kremlin.ru)

During his visit to China this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with former Chinese Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin in Shanghai on May 20. Putin apparently wanted to thank Jiang for the development of relations between Russia and China.

The next day Putin met with current leader Xi Jinping to negotiate a 30-year deal worth $400 billion in Russian natural gas.

The relationship between 87-year-old Jiang and Russia is not a new one. On December 9, 1999, Jiang made a deal with then Russian president Boris Yeltsin giving Russia legal territory over 1.6 million kilometers of land. The land was originally taken by Russia during the Qing Dynasty. The agreement was odd because historically no Chinese leader had ever publicly acknowledged that the land belonged to Russia.

The agreement, which Jiang signed, came under public scrutiny in China as early as 2004. An article written in Wen Wei Po by deputy editor Ching Cheong titled, “One thing that Jiang Zemin should explain to Chinese people,” condemned the leader for signing over the land to Russia without approval from the National People’s Congress.

It comes as no surprise then that Jiang’s allegiance with Russia continues into the Putin administration. It also makes sense that Jiang feels an allegiance to Russia as a strong personal ally in the region.

The motives for the meeting remain unclear. Beijing political observer Hua Po told NTD Television: “Putin meeting with Jiang Zemin means that he has a deep concern over the relationship between the new Party leaders and Russia. Now, Russia wants to get help from China with escalating confrontation with the Ukraine. He wants to exert influence on CCP policy by meeting with Jiang Zemin.”

China Affairs magazine editor-in-chief Chris Wu commented: “I suspect the Russians have brought it up. The intention was to remind the Chinese that it is the traitorous Jiang Zemin who signed the treaty with Boris Yeltsin. They brought him up before he’s dead.”

Current leader Xi Jinping has already targeted many of Jiang’s former allies in an ongoing series of corruption crackdowns since his tenure began in 2013. Speculation about Jiang trying to buddy up to his old Russian ally for possible future protection against Xi Jinping’s backlash also seems somewhat credible.

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