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

By Simone McCarthy, CNN

Hong Kong CNN  —  Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged to deepen their strategic partnership in Beijing on Thursday in a stark show of their growing alignment as Russian troops advance in Ukraine.

Putin – whose delegation includes top defense and security officials – was welcomed by Xi to Beijing’s Great Hall of the People earlier with full military pageantry, heralding the start of his for the start of his two-day state visit.

Xi hailed the two countries’ deepening ties, which were formalized in a joint statement inked by the leaders in a ceremony Thursday afternoon, saying they would “inject strong momentum” in the development of their relations.

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

In meetings with Putin, Xi proclaimed that China-Russian relations have “stood the test of a changing international landscape” and made “positive contributions to maintaining global strategic stability,” according to a readout from China’s Foreign Ministry.

Putin, whose economy has become increasingly reliant on China since his February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, hailed the countries’ “practical cooperation” in meetings with Xi, noting their record bilateral trade last year, while and stressing the importance of energy, industrial, and agriculture cooperation, according to Russian state media Tass.

The meeting in Beijing is Putin and Xi’s fourth time speaking face-to-face since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and 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.

Putin says he and Xi will discuss the war in Ukraine in informal talks later Thursday evening, which are expected to include Russian’s newly appointed Defense Minister Andrey Belousov and his predecessor Sergei Shoigu, now secretary of Russia’s Security Council.

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.

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.

Discussions in Beijing

The two countries, which declared “no limits” to their partnership weeks before Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, have expanded their diplomatic, economic and security ties since that time as countries around the world imposed sanctions and isolated Putin on the world stage.

In an interview with Chinese state media Xinhua ahead of his arrival, Putin 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.

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.

“We think it is important to strive towards a reliable and adequate architecture of security in Asian-Pacific region in which there will be no place for closed military-political alliances. We think the creation of such alliances to be counterproductive and harmful,” Putin said in comments to media following meetings Thursday.

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.

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