Putin meets Xi as Russia-China ties flourish amid tension with U.S.


Beijing — Russian President Vladimir Putin thanked Chinese leader Xi Jinping for his efforts to resolve the war in Ukraine at a Beijing summit on Thursday, where the two leaders reaffirmed a “no-limits” partnership that has grown as both countries face rising tension with the West.

Putin’s two-day state visit to one of his strongest allies came as his country’s forces press an offensive in northeast Ukraine’s Kharkiv region – the most significant border incursion since the full-scale invasion began in February 2022.

The largely symbolic visit stressed the growing partnership between two countries that both face challenges in their relationships with the U.S. and Europe.

“Both sides want to show that despite what is happening globally, despite the pressure that both sides are facing from the U.S., both sides are not about to turn their backs on each other anytime soon,” said Hoo Tiang Boon, a professor who studies Chinese foreign policy at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

Talk of peace in Ukraine, but no proposals

While both leaders said they were seeking an end to the war in Ukraine, they offered no new specifics in their public remarks Thursday afternoon. China has significant influence as a key supporter of Russia, both before and since its invasion. The country claims to take a neutral position in the conflict, but it has backed Moscow’s contentions that Russia was provoked into attacking Ukraine by the West, and continues to supply Russia with key components that Moscow needs for its productions of weapons.

China proposed a broadly worded peace plan in 2023, but it was rejected by both Ukraine and the West for failing to call for Russia to leave occupied parts of Ukraine.

“China hopes for the early return of Europe to peace and stability and will continue to play a constructive role toward this,” Xi said, speaking alongside Putin.

Putin said he would inform the Chinese leader in detail about “the situation in Ukraine,” and said “we appreciate the initiative of our Chinese colleagues and friends to regulate the situation.”

The two-year-old war has entered a critical stage with Russia’s new offensive in Ukraine. Kyiv’s depleted military is still waiting for new supplies of anti-aircraft missiles and artillery shells from the United States after months of delay.

On the eve of the visit, Putin said in an interview with Chinese media that the Kremlin was prepared to negotiate over the conflict in Ukraine, “but such negotiations must take into account the interests of all countries involved in the conflict, including ours.”

Putin said the Chinese proposal rejected by Ukraine last year could “lay the groundwork for a political and diplomatic process that would take into account Russia’s security concerns and contribute to achieving a long-term and sustainable peace.”

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

The Ukrainian leader warned recently in an interview with CBS News that if the U.S. and NATO fail to help his military stop Putin’s advance, Russia could bring his war directly “to Europe, and to the United States” as NATO’s biggest member.

China and Russia’s growing “no-limits” relationship

Before their remarks, the two leaders signed a joint statement on deepening the comprehensive strategic partnership between their nations on their 75th anniversary of diplomatic ties. Xi said China and Russia would continue to uphold a position of non-alliance and non-confrontation.

The two autocratic countries — which two years ago suggested they were working together to offer a new “democratic world order” — also said in their joint statement Thursday that they would continue to consider the negative impact of the U.S. and NATO’s strategy in the Asia-Pacific.

China has been increasingly assertive in its claims to a number of contested territories in the region recently, with tension between Beijing and the U.S. focused sharply on the future of the democratically governed island of Taiwan, just of China’s east coast. Xi has vowed to assert Chinese control over the island, which the U.S. is bound by law to help defend, and he has never ruled out using force.

Thursday’s meeting was yet another affirmation of the friendly “no limits” relationship the two leaders formalized in 2022, just before Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Since then, Russia has become increasingly economically dependent on China as Western sanctions cut Moscow’s access to much of the international trading system. China’s increased trade with Russia, totaling $240 billion last year, has helped the country mitigate some of the worst blowback from sanctions.

Moscow has diverted the bulk of its energy exports to China and relies on Chinese companies for imports of high-tech components for its military industries — to circumvent Western sanctions.

“I and President Putin agree, we should actively look for convergence points of the interests of both countries, to develop each’s advantages, and deepen integration of interests, realizing each others’ achievements,” Xi said.

Russia-China military ties have also strengthened over the last few years. They’ve held a series of joint war games, including naval drills and patrols by long-range bombers over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea.

China remains a major market for Russian military hardware, while Beijing is also massively expanding its domestic defense industries, including building aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines.

Putin has previously said Russia has been sharing highly sensitive military technologies with China that helped significantly bolster its defense capability. In October 2019, he mentioned that Russia was helping China to develop an early warning system to spot ballistic missile launches – a system involving ground-based radar and satellites that only Russia and the U.S. possessed.



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