Xi, Putin hail ties as ‘stabilising’ force in chaotic world

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Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend an official welcoming ceremony in Beijing, China May 16, 2024. Sputnik/Sergei Bobylev/Pool via REUTERS

By James EDGAR AFP

Leaders Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin framed their nations’ ties as a stabilising force in a chaotic world as they met Thursday in Beijing, where the Russian president is seeking greater Chinese support for his war effort in Ukraine and isolated economy.

It is Putin’s first trip abroad since his March re-election and the second in just over six months to China, an economic lifeline for Russia after the West hit it with unprecedented sanctions over its military offensive in Ukraine.

Putin was greeted by Xi at a grand welcoming ceremony outside Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, footage by state broadcaster CCTV showed.

In a meeting, Xi then told his “old friend” Putin that China-Russia relations were “conducive to peace”.

“China is ready to work with Russia to… uphold fairness and justice in the world,” Xi added.

Putin, in turn, told Xi the two countries’ relations were “stabilising factors in the international arena”.

“Relations between Russia and China are not opportunistic and not directed against anyone,” Putin said, according to a Kremlin readout.

“Together, we uphold the principles of justice and a democratic world order that reflects multipolar realities and is based on international law,” he added.

Following closed-door meetings, the two leaders then signed a joint statement on deepening their countries’ “comprehensive strategic partnership”, state news agency Xinhua said.

– ‘Political solution’ –

The Russian leader’s arrival came hours after he hailed his country’s troops for advancing on “all fronts” on the battlefield in Ukraine, following a major new ground assault.

Xi has rebuffed Western criticism of his country’s close ties with Moscow, enjoying cheap Russian energy imports and access to vast natural resources.

But their economic partnership has come under close scrutiny from the West in recent months.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned China’s support for Russia’s “brutal war of aggression” in Ukraine had helped Russia ramp up production of rockets, drones and tanks — while stopping short of direct arms exports.

China claims to be a neutral party in the Ukraine conflict, which it has never condemned and in which it has sought to frame itself as a mediator.

And in a statement to media following talks with Putin, Xi said the two sides agree on the need for a “political solution” to resolving the war.

“China’s position on this issue has always been clear,” Xi said in footage broadcast by Russian TV.

That position included “respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries” as well as “respecting the reasonable security concerns of all sides”, the Chinese leader added.

The remarks echo a paper issued by Beijing last year, which Western countries said could enable Russia to hold much of the territory it has seized in Ukraine.

China also “looks forward to the early restoration of peace and stability on the European continent”, Xi said, promising Beijing would “continue to play a constructive role to that end”.

Putin in response said he was “grateful” to Beijing for its efforts to help resolve the conflict.

He also made reference to Beijing’s complaints about growing security cooperation between the US and its allies in Asia, warning of “harmful” military alliances in the region.

– Transactions slow –

China-Russia trade has boomed since the Ukraine invasion and hit $240 billion in 2023, according to Chinese customs figures.

But after Washington vowed to go after financial institutions that facilitate Moscow, Chinese exports to Russia dipped during March and April, down from a surge early in the year.

An executive order by President Joe Biden in December permits secondary sanctions on foreign banks that deal with Russia’s war machine, allowing the US Treasury to cut them out of the dollar-led global financial system.

That, coupled with recent efforts to rebuild fractured ties with the United States, may make Beijing reluctant to openly push more cooperation with Russia — despite what Moscow may want, analysts say.

Putin’s post-election trip to Beijing echoes Xi’s own visit to Russia after his re-anointing as leader last year.

He is also set to meet Premier Li Qiang — China’s number two official — and travel to the northeastern city of Harbin for a trade and investment expo.

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