China’s Xi Jinping rolls out red carpet for close friend Putin in strong show of unity

Chinese leader Xi Jinping welcomed Vladimir Putin to Beijing Thursday with a military band serenade and a multiple gun salute outside the capital’s Great Hall of the People, heralding the start of a two-day state visit set to underline the leaders’ close alignment as Russian troops advance in Ukraine.

The visit — Putin’s symbolic first overseas foray since entering a new term as Russia’s president last week – is a mark of Xi’s support for Putin and the latest sign of the deepening relations as the two bind their countries closer in the face of heavy frictions with the West.

During talks Thursday morning, Xi said China-Russian relations have “stood the test of a changing international landscape” and should be “cherished and nourished” by both sides, according to a readout from China’s Foreign Ministry.

“China is ready to work with Russia to stay each other’s good neighbor, good friend and good partner that trust each other, continue to consolidate the lasting friendship between the two peoples, and jointly pursue respective national development and revitalization and uphold fairness and justice in the world,” Xi said.

Putin hailed the countries’ “practical cooperation,” pointing to their record bilateral trade last year and China’s prominence as an economic partner for Russia, according to Russian state media Tass. The Russian president said energy, industry, and agriculture were among his cooperation priorities and the leaders had “already started talking” about this.

Putin’s red-carpet welcome to Beijing comes a day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced via his office that he would halt all upcoming international visits, as his troops defend against a surprise Russian offensive in his country’s northeastern Kharkiv region.

The meeting in Beijing – Putin and Xi’s fourth time speaking face-to-face since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 – comes amid mounting international concern about the direction of the war amid delays in aid to Ukraine and as Russia’s economy and defense complex appears unbowed by Western sanctions.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Kyiv earlier this week to reaffirm the Biden administration’s support for Ukraine after months of Congressional delay in approving American military aid to the embattled country. Blinken pledged $2 billion in foreign military financing and said much-needed ammunition and weapons are being rushed to the front lines.

Xi welcomes Putin under pressure from both the US and Europe to ensure soaring exports from China to Russia since the start of the war aren’t propping up the Kremlin’s war effort.

White House officials in recent weeks have confronted Beijing on what they believe is substantial support – in the form of goods like machine tools, drone and turbojet engines and microelectronics – from China for Russia’s defense industrial base. Beijing has slammed the US as making “groundless accusations” over “normal trade and economic exchanges” between China and Russia.

The convoy of Russian President Vladimir Putin passes by Beijing's Tiananmen Square on Wednesday. - Zhou Chengfeng/VCG/Getty Images
The convoy of Russian President Vladimir Putin passes by Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on Wednesday. – Zhou Chengfeng/VCG/Getty Images

Discussions in Beijing

The war in Ukraine, as well as the conflict in Gaza, was expected to feature in Xi and Putin’s meetings in Beijing Thursday, alongside discussions on their expanding trade, security and energy ties.

Ahead of the trip, Putin hailed the “unprecedented level of strategic partnership” between the countries in an interview with Chinese state media Xinhua.

He said the leaders aimed to “strengthen foreign policy coordination” and deepen cooperation in “industry and high-tech, outer space and peaceful uses of nuclear energy, artificial intelligence, renewable energy and other innovative sectors.”

He also praised China’s “approaches to resolving the crisis in Ukraine.” Beijing has never condemned Russia’s invasion, rather it claims neutrality in the conflict. Ahead of an expected peace conference in Switzerland last month, Xi has called for peace talks that take both sides’ positions into account.

The two leaders – who declared a “no limits” partnership weeks before the February 2022 invasion and are known for their personal chemistry – have continued to strengthen their countries’ diplomatic, trade and security ties since the start of the war. Xi also visited Moscow in 2023 for his first international visit after entering his new term as China’s president.

Both leaders view the other as indispensable partners in their converging vision to reshape a world order they see as dominated by the United States and seeking to contain their rise. They are expected to discuss Russia’s hosting of the BRICS grouping later this year. The bloc, positioned as an alternative to the Western-backed G7, expanded earlier this year to include more members, including US-hostile Iran.

Xi and Putin are also set to sign a number of bilateral agreements, the Kremlin said earlier this week. They will celebrate 75 years of their diplomatic relations at a “gala event,” according to Chinese state media.

Besides meeting with Xi in Beijing, Putin is also expected to visit Harbin, the capital of China’s northeastern Heilongjiang province bordering Russia’s Far East, where he will attend trade and cooperation forums.

The region, historically a site of long simmering border tensions between the two neighbors, which erupted in conflict between China and the Soviet Union in 1969 – has seen increasing connectivity with parts of Russia’s Far East in recent years.

Putin is also expected to meet with the students and faculty of Harbin Institute of Technology, a university sanctioned by the US government in 2020 for its alleged role in procuring items for China’s military.

(Source: AOL.)