‘Old friend’ Putin and China’s Xi strengthen strategic ties at summit

Leaders present relationship as stabilising force as Putin expresses gratitude to crucial ally in Ukraine war.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, have signed a joint statement on deepening the comprehensive strategic partnership between their two nations at a summit that framed their relationship as a stabilising force in a chaotic world.

Speaking at a joint press conference on Thursday, Xi said: “China is willing to … jointly achieve the development and rejuvenation of our respective countries, and work together to uphold fairness and justice in the world.”

Reporting from Beijing, Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu said Xi “made the point that Russia-China cooperation did not target any third party, that it was a mutually respectful, beneficial partnership and that he hoped that the war in Ukraine … would be solved peacefully”.

The Chinese president described the relationship as “a stabilising force in the world in the face of rising hegemony, no doubt referring to the United States”, she added.

Putin expressed gratitude to Xi for efforts to resolve the war in Ukraine.

He criticised the United Nations and the G20, saying that they needed to be “depoliticised” and that Russia and China “would work together to improve security in the Asia-Pacific”, said Yu.

Putin condemned what he described as “closed alliances in the region”, she added, “no doubt referring to the AUKUS pact [between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States], which Beijing considers as an alliance designed to contain China”.

Trade was an important aspect of the meeting, with Xi highlighting that bilateral trade had increased by 170 percent over the past 10 years with the potential to expand.

Describing their initial session as “warm and comradely”, Putin outlined sectors where the two countries were strengthening ties, from nuclear and energy co-operation to food supplies and Chinese car manufacturing in Russia.

‘Old friend’

The visit comes days after Russia launched a new offensive in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region and as it claimed advances on the 1,000km (600-mile) long front line, where Ukrainian forces have been hampered by delayed deliveries of weapons and ammunition from the United States.

Xi had given his “old friend” a warm welcome, holding a reception outside Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. The two countries’ anthems were played to the accompaniment of a gun salute before the two men went on to review the troops gathered on the plaza. A group of children jumped up and down enthusiastically as Putin and Xi walked past during a ceremony that lasted nearly half an hour.

Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin walking in front of massed troops in Beijing. Putin is nearest the soldiers. The troops are standing to attention.
Putin was welcomed to Beijing with a nearly half hour long ceremony that included a review of the assembled troops [Sergey Bobylev/Sputnik Pool via EPA]

Xi told Putin that the relationship between their countries had stood the test of time and that they had provided each other with “strategic guidance” in their more than 40 meetings over the past decade.

“China is ready to work with Russia to stay each other’s good neighbour, good friend and good partner,” state news agency Xinhua reported Xi as saying.

The leaders had declared a “no limits” partnership days before Putin sent his troops into Ukraine in February 2022. In March 2023, when Xi visited Moscow, he described a “new era” in the countries’ relationship, while in October, when Putin last visited Beijing, Xi spoke of the “deep friendship” between them.

Before the two-day visit, Putin, 71, said his choice of China as his first foreign destination since being sworn in as president for a fifth term underlined the “unprecedentedly high level of the strategic partnership” between the two countries as well as his close friendship with Xi, 70.

The two leaders will take part in an event to celebrate 75 years since the Soviet Union recognised the People’s Republic of China, declared by Mao Zedong following the communists’ victory in China’s civil war in 1949. Putin will visit Harbin in northeastern China, a city with strong ties to Russia.

In an interview with Xinhua, Putin appeared to give his backing to a 12-point Ukraine peace plan that China released to a lukewarm reception.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said any negotiations must include a restoration of the country’s territorial integrity, the withdrawal of Russian troops from all Ukrainian territory, the release of all prisoners, a tribunal for those responsible for the aggression, and security guarantees for Ukraine.

China claims to be neutral in the conflict but has not condemned Russia for its invasion of a sovereign country.

Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping having tea outside in a Beijing park. They are sitting on a verandah on wicker chairs with a table between them. Their intepreters are behind them. Putin is holding his tea cup.
Putin and Xi later enjoyed a stroll through the grounds of Zhongnanhai, and later drank tea together [Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik Pool via Reuters]

Russia ‘useful’ for China

The two countries have made clear they want to remake the international order in line with their visions of how the world should be. Both are veto-holding members of the United Nations Security Council, alongside the United States, France and the United Kingdom.

“We should not underestimate Russia’s ‘usefulness’ as a friend without limits to China and Xi Jinping,” Sari Arho Havren, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think tank, told Al Jazeera in an email.

“Russia is a valuable partner in displacing the US and changing the global order to a favourable one for China and Russia alike. Russia also sees Taiwan as an integral part of China, and we have already seen speculation about the war scenario in the Indo-Pacific and whether Russia would step up to help and join China in possible war efforts.”

Moscow has forged increasingly close ties with Beijing, diverting most of its energy exports to China and importing high-tech components for its military industries from Chinese companies amid Western sanctions.

The two countries have also deepened military ties, holding joint war games over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea, and organising training for ground forces in each other’s territory.

China has stepped up military activity around self-ruled Taiwan as the island prepares for the May 20 inauguration of William Lai Ching-te, who was elected president in elections in January.

China claims the territory as its own and has not ruled out the use of force to achieve its goal.

With reporting by Erin Hale in Taipei, Taiwan

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies