Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Putin and Xi Hail ‘New Model’ of Ties Between Powers in Show of Unity

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With his army making advances in Ukraine and his political grip tightened at home after securing an unprecedented fifth term as president, Vladimir V. Putin of Russia arrived in Beijing on Thursday in search of another win: more support from his “dear friend,” Xi Jinping.

Mr. Putin, whose economy is isolated from the West because of sanctions over his invasion of Ukraine, relies on Mr. Xi, China’s leader, for diplomatic cover and a financial lifeline, including huge purchases of Russian oil.

But Mr. Putin will need more help to sustain his war machine, especially now as his military makes a push near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, before billions of dollars’ worth of arms arrives from the United States to shore up Ukraine’s depleted forces.

In Beijing, Mr. Putin sought to show that Moscow was deepening its ties as a bulwark against Western attempts to contain the two countries. “We are working in solidarity on the formulation of a more just and democratic multipolar world order,” he said.

He trumpeted China’s role as Russia’s number one trade partner, highlighted the use of the Russian ruble and the Chinese renminbi currency in the countries’ transactions, and said the sides would strengthen contacts between credit institutions and banks. He also said the leaders discussed working more closely in energy and nuclear power research, though made no mention of a proposed natural gas pipeline to China that Moscow would like to see built.

Mr. Xi is committed to his partnership with Mr. Putin, regarding Russia as a critical counterweight to their common rival, the United States. The two leaders share a vision of an alternative world order where autocratic countries like China and Russia can operate free of interference from Washington and its allies.

The pomp and pageantry that greeted Mr. Putin in Beijing made clear the importance of that relationship and the leaders’ “no limits” strategic alignment. Mr. Xi welcomed Mr. Putin at the Great Hall of the People with a tightly choreographed ceremony featuring a 21-gun salute, a marching band, an honor guard and children jumping and waving in sync.

Mr. Xi hailed ties between their two countries as “a model for a new type of international relations and relations between neighboring major powers.” Key to the relationship, he said, was that the countries “always firmly support each other on issues involving each other’s core interests and major concerns.”

The nations released a lengthy joint statement late Thursday that vowed deeper cooperation in a range of critical areas, including the space, military and energy sectors. The document also took particular aim at the United States, demonstrating how the world’s two most powerful autocratic powers are consolidating their alignment against a community of democracies dominated by Washington.

The joint statement implicitly accused the United States and its allies of “pursuing confrontational policies and interfering in the internal affairs of other states, undermining the existing security architecture, creating new dividing lines between countries, provoking regional tension and promoting bloc confrontation.”

The document also called on the United States not to arm its allies in Asia and Europe with intermediate range missile launchers, a move made possible after Washington withdrew from a treaty regulating the weapons in 2019, citing violations by Moscow.

“The parties strongly condemn these extremely destabilizing steps, which pose a direct threat to the security of Russia and China, and intend to increase interaction and tighten coordination in order to counter Washington’s destructive and hostile move toward the so-called ‘dual containment’ of our countries,” the statement said.

“The signal is, ‘we are strong together,’” said Nadège Rolland, a scholar at the National Bureau of Asian Research. “Western sanctions may bite, but as long as China stands by Russia, the power of the West is limited, precisely because of their own interdependence.”

Russia publicly reaffirmed its support for China over Taiwan, saying Moscow opposed “independence of Taiwan in any form.” China supported Russia’s efforts to ensure its “sovereignty and territorial integrity” and said it opposed “outside interference in Russia’s internal affairs” but stopped short of endorsing its actions in Ukraine.

The two leaders were due to discuss the crisis in Ukraine over dinner late Thursday.

Mr. Xi is under growing diplomatic and economic pressure from the West to curtail any support that aids Mr. Putin’s war on Ukraine.

The United States has accused Beijing of aiding the Kremlin’s war efforts by providing satellite intelligence, fighter jet parts, microchips and other dual-use equipment. Senior American officials have warned of sanctions against Chinese banks and “significant consequences” for Chinese companies that assisted Russia’s war effort.

The warnings appear to be having some effect. Russian media reported earlier this year that Chinese banks have scaled back transactions with Russian firms over concerns about secondary sanctions. The change is believed to have contributed to a fall in trade between Russia and China in March from the same period a year ago, the first such decline since January 2021, according to Chinese customs data.

Shi Yinhong, an international relations professor at Renmin University in Beijing, said finding a way to restore bank transactions and trade volume may be the summit’s “number one topic of discussion.”

Mr. Putin traveled with a sizable delegation that reflected the deepening economic and military cooperation he hoped to cement with Mr. Xi in the face of such pressure from the West. Included were Andrei R. Belousov, an economist who was named the new defense minister this week; Maksim Reshetnikov, the economy minister; and Sergey V. Lavrov, the foreign minister.

Mr. Belousov has experience with China, having previously co-chaired a group formed in 2014 to promote more trade between the two countries.

Others accompanying Mr. Putin included the heads of Rosatom, Russia’s nuclear power company, and Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, as well as five deputy prime ministers.

The makeup of Mr. Putin’s entourage suggested that the talks focused on military and space cooperation that could include how China can aid Russia’s military aims in Ukraine, said Alexander Gabuev, director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center.

“What this visit gives to Putin is this avenue to have one-on-one sincere conversations with the Chinese leader, brainstorming on strategy, and then bringing the most senior military-security teams together,” Mr. Gabuev said.

Mr. Putin wants to find ways to circumvent sanctions and gain support with banking and the supply of parts, rather than ready-made lethal weapons, Mr. Gabuev said. Military-technological support, he said, seemed to be “a subject of very intensive discussions between the Russians and the Chinese.”

Mr. Putin also called for greater economic cooperation, saying the two countries should prioritize energy and agriculture, as well as advanced technologies, infrastructure construction and transportation. Chinese products, from electronics to cars, have filled the gap left by Western companies that quit the Russian market after the start of the war, allowing Mr. Putin to retain a semblance of consumer normalcy for his people despite Moscow’s isolation.

The Russian leader lauded the two countries’ use of rubles and renminbi to settle trade to circumvent U.S. restrictions on using dollars.

“Despite some actions aimed at restraining our development — some actions on the part of third countries — trade turnover between Russia and China is increasing at a good pace,” Mr. Putin said, according to Russian state media.

“Our cooperation in world affairs today serves as one of the main stabilizing factors in the international arena,” he added.

The two leaders, who have met over 40 times, including virtually, depicted their relationship as close. In a statement he read to reporters, Mr. Putin sought to show that he was both not isolated and fully in charge. He said that he and Mr. Xi were in frequent contact, enabling the leaders to “discuss any, even the most difficult problems.”


On Friday, Mr. Putin is scheduled to visit Harbin, a city in China’s northeast that for years was home to tens of thousands of ethnic Russians, many of whom were involved in railroad construction or fled to the city during the Russian Civil War.

With pointed symbolism, the Russian leader will visit the Harbin Institute of Technology, which boasts scientific exchange between Russians and Chinese dating back more than a century. The institute has become one of the most important military research universities in China, developing some of the technologies that the Kremlin may want, as Moscow and Beijing deepen their military cooperation, Mr. Gabuev said.

The details of any agreements in that area are likely to be a top focus of the Kremlin and unlikely to be revealed in public, he added.

“The substance, the most important part, is hidden,” he said. “It is the underwater part of the iceberg.”

Ivan Nechepurenko and Olivia Wang contributed reporting and research.

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