Russian President Vladimir Putin told Chinese leader Xi Jinping that he understood Beijing’s “questions and concerns” about its invasion of Ukraine, a rare acknowledgment of tensions between diplomatic allies.
In his first personal conversation since the start of the war, Putin lauded the “balanced position of our Chinese friends on the Ukraine crisis” and offered to “explain our position in detail” on Ukraine. In brief televised remarks at the start of the meeting, the Russian leader called it “provocation by the US and its satellites in the Taiwan Straits”.
Describing Putin as an “old friend”, Xi said, “China is ready to play a leading role in working with Russia, demonstrating the responsibilities of the major powers, and injecting stability and positive energy into a world in chaos.”
The remarks are the latest sign that Xi will continue to withhold material support as Putin has suffered humiliating losses on the battlefield, and opposes any escalation that could further disrupt the food and energy supply chains now ravaging the global economy. Is.
Investors were concerned that China would increase support for Russia and potentially face US sanctions, especially as the Asian nation’s No. 3 official, Li Zhanshu, recently told Russian lawmakers that leader Putin’s actions in Beijing were “needed”. fully understand”.
While China has provided diplomatic support to Russia since the start of the war, and accused the US of instigating Putin to expand NATO, Beijing stopped short of doing anything concrete to help Russia’s military. Is.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Putin’s comments were “striking” about Xi’s concerns.
“It is not surprising that the PRC clearly has such concerns,” he said, referring to the initials of China’s formal name. “It is somewhat curious that President Putin will be the one to openly admit it.”
At the same time, Xi’s remarks suggest that China still sees Russia as an important partner in its wider conflict with the US. Xi said China would continue to support Russia over its core interests, even as either leader noted the “no-limits” friendship announced at the Beijing Winter Olympics in February, weeks before Putin’s invasion .
Both Russia and China face mounting pressure from the US and its allies over the war in Ukraine and Beijing’s growing military activity around Taiwan. Xi in particular thanked Putin for his support on China’s position on the island, saying “no country deserves to act as a judge on the question of Taiwan.”
Analysts at the Eurasia Group, led by Zachary Vitlin, said in a note, “China has never sanctioned a Russian aggression, and will not sacrifice its interests by violating US sanctions.” “However, Beijing remains committed to expanding economic cooperation and deepening strategic ties with Moscow as a counterweight to Western influence in the international system.”
The two leaders met on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a Beijing-led group seen as a counter to US-dominated alliances. Xi’s appearance in Central Asia marks his return to the world stage after nearly 1,000 days at home, becoming the only group of 20 leaders to avoid leaving their country since the first COVID lockdown began in January 2020.
The tour began on Wednesday in Kazakhstan, where the 69-year-old held talks with President Kasim-Jomart Tokayev. Xi was originally expected to make his inaugural international visit in November for the G-20 summit in Bali, which will be attended by President Joe Biden as well as Putin.
Xi has appeared to wear a mask for most of his meetings on his Central Asian visit, but that was not when he met Putin, who has almost never appeared to wear a face covering in public. Most of the delegation members seated at the large oval table were masked.
The Chinese leader’s decision to visit Central Asia has previously focused on meetings with the leaders of Russia, India, Pakistan and Iran – countries more aligned with Beijing’s efforts to push back the US and its allies.
The Chinese leader is expected to use the SCO summit as a platform to promote his vision of a world where Beijing can expand its interests without US economic or military pressure. Xi is a month away from the twice-a-decade Communist Party Congress, where he is expected to set an example and win a third term and advance his agenda for a multipolar world.
China’s relations with the US have worsened recently over Taiwan, after Nancy Pelosi became the first House speaker in 25 years to visit the democratic island. Beijing responded with unprecedented military exercises around Taiwan, which involved launching ballistic missiles directly on the island.
On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a bill to boost ties with Taipei and give it more military hardware to deter Chinese aggression, a development that is likely to further strain ties.
Ahead of his meeting with Putin, Xi also sat with the leaders of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan on Thursday, promising closer ties with Central Asian countries.
The Chinese leader told Kyrgyz President Sadir Zaparov that construction on the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway should begin soon, according to state broadcaster China Central Television. The route would reduce Beijing’s dependence on Russia and Kazakhstan for freight transport.
In a separate meeting with his Turkmen counterpart Serdar Berdimuhamedov, Xi said the two countries should increase cooperation on natural gas, official Xinhua news agency reported.
CCTV reported that Xi also held talks with Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon, pledging to import more agricultural goods from the Central Asian nation and deepen cooperation in transit and counter-terrorism sectors.