At a meeting on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in the Uzbek city of Samarkand, Xi said China is ready to work with Russia “to demonstrate the responsibility of a major country to play a leading role and inject stability into a troubled world,” according to the Chinese president. for Chinese state television.
Xi also said China will support Russia’s core interests – including Ukraine – as the two countries test the limits of their friendship that has been disrupted by Russia’s setbacks in the invasion. The separate formalities of their meeting were a far cry from the warmth of the “without borders” friendship pact, when Putin attended the Winter Olympics in Beijing, just weeks before the war.
“We highly appreciate the balanced position of our Chinese friends on the Ukrainian crisis, we understand your questions and concerns on this issue, and during today’s meeting we will of course explain all these details in detail,” Putin said in his opening speech.
Referring to Xi’s interests, Putin added that Russia adheres to the one-China principle and “condemns provocations” by the United States in Taiwan.
The Russian statement about the meeting stated that the partnership guarantees “global and regional stability.”
She added that “the two countries jointly support the establishment of a just, democratic and multipolar world order based on international law and the central role of the United Nations.”
The meeting of the two leaders was in February to mark the beginning ofno limitsThe partnership marked the beginning of a new alliance between two of the world’s most powerful authoritarian nations.
Their first face-to-face encounter since the war began comes at a fragile time for both leaders, but a test of how borderless that friendship really is.
For Putin, the meeting sends a crucial message that he remains a global player, with friends who share his authoritarian views and determination to create a new world order in which the United States is no longer dominant.
For Xi, the . file First trip abroad in nearly three years It marks his diplomatic re-emergence ahead of a party conference in October when he is expected to secure an unprecedented third term.
“The Chinese readings indicate a lot of substantive cooperation, but the tone is separate and somewhat unemotional,” said Yun Sun, director of the China program at the Stimson Center. “The Russian readings are more enthusiastic, but they only amount to singing a song about bilateral relations.”
However, Xi is unlikely to offer Putin more tangible support. Doing so could risk a Western backlash that could exacerbate a growing list of domestic challenges, including the slowing Chinese economy, the real estate crisis, and public discontent with tough “no virus spread” policies.
China has maintained a delicate balance on Russia’s war against Ukraine, calling for peace while endorsing Russian complaints that NATO is to blame for the expansion of the alliance. Beijing has attempted to provide moral support to Putin without backing an outright invasion or sending financial or military aid that would result in secondary sanctions.
Having pledged to maintain normal trade relations with Moscow, China continued to export goods to Russia as well as import Russian oil and gas. Bilateral trade grew 31% in the first eight months of 2022, according to Chinese customs data.
China is likely to continue its approach, which some analysts have described as “stretching Beijing“for diplomatic support to Russia in a partnership aimed at countering the international order led by Washington while also complying with Western sanctions.
White House spokesman John Kirby told CNN Thursday that he believes no country should be “on the sidelines” about the situation in Ukraine. “The whole world must line up against what Mr. Putin is doing.”
“This is not the time for any kind of business as usual with Mr. Putin,” he added during the meeting.
In Uzbekistan, Xi is having the added difficulty of maintaining neutrality while attending a summit with Central Asian nations, most of which oppose war and fear a possible Russian incursion into their territory.
Before traveling to Samarkand, Xi visited Kazakhstan where he met President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev for a symbolically important first stop, appearing to send a subtle message about the Ukraine war, pledging to strongly support Kazakhstan’s efforts to protect its independence, sovereignty, and territory. Integrity, “no matter how the international situation changes.”
Russia has been alarmed by Kazakhstan’s refusal to support the war or recognize the independence of two “republics” proxies from Russia in eastern Ukraine.
Like Ukraine, Kazakhstan has a large Russian-speaking component, about 18 percent of the population, concentrated in the north of the country. With Moscow’s often publicized historic mission to “protect” Russian speakers around the world – one of the reasons it provided for the Ukrainian invasion – they are seen as a source of insecurity.
Xi’s trips to Central Asia are part of a long-term effort to create better trade and communication routes through the region, an increasingly urgent task as China faces the prospect of conflict in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea that could impede access to shipping. lanes.
In protest of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, China in August launched large-scale military exercises simulating a blockade of the main island of Taiwan, resulting in what became known as the Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis.
“That makes this trip very important because Xi is basically there with a mission to convince Central Asian leaders that having a strong relationship with China is still important. [and to] “Please consider our goals and what we can offer you,” said Neva Yao, a senior researcher at the OSCE Academy, a Kyrgyz foreign policy think tank.
In Central Asia, where countries have for years had to juggle between two giant powers in quiet competition, a dwindling Putin could give Beijing an opportunity to expand its presence.
“The old saying is that China has deep pockets, and Russia has the guns,” said Theresa Fallon, director of the Center for Russia, Europe and Asia Studies in Brussels. “The question now is, as Russia’s military footprint in the region recedes, will China grow?”
Vic Chiang contributed to this report.
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