China's President Xi Jinping walks a diplomatic tightrope as he heads to Moscow, attempting to present China as a global peacemaker while strengthening ties with his closest ally, Vladimir Putin, who faces criminal charges over his Ukraine war.
Xi is leaving for his first trip overseas since securing a third term as president, as he hopes to burnish Beijing's diplomatic clout after it brokered a surprise detente between Saudi Arabia and Iran last week, even as he cements his no limits partnership with the increasingly isolated Putin.
Xi, who has tightened control at home as the strongest Chinese leader since Deng Xiaoping, will be wary of antagonising the West, analysts said.
China's top trade partners are the United States and the European Union, among the fiercest critics of Russia's war in Ukraine, which Moscow called a special military operation. China published a proposal last month to end the conflict, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives and forced millions to flee. It received a lukewarm welcome in Kyiv and Moscow, although Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he would be open to talks with Xi, which some media reports say could follow the Chinese leader's Russia trip.
The US and its Western allies are deeply sceptical of China's motives, noting Beijing has refused to condemn Russia and provide it with an economic lifeline as other countries heap sanctions on Moscow.
There's been an increasingly pronounced diplomatic dance on China's part as the war has played out, said Andrew Small, senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund.
China has tried to signal some areas of distancing, but it hasn't really translated that into anything that might help, like putting pressure on Russia, Small said.