China offers Russia ‘strong support on core interests’ as Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin meet for first time since Ukraine invasion
- The Chinese leader opens the door for deeper cooperation on economic matters at the meeting with his ‘old friend’ in the Uzbek city of Samarkand
- Putin said he understood China’s ‘questions and concerns’ about its war in Ukraine and would explain Moscow’s position behind closed doors
The leaders praised the close relationship between the two countries in their short public statements before the closed-door talks began on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in the Uzbek city of Samarkand.
“The Chinese president also said China and Russia should expand pragmatic cooperation, safeguard security and interests of the region, and preserve the common interests of developing countries and emerging market countries,” Xinhua said. Its report added that Xi had said China was willing to deepen pragmatic cooperation with Russia in trade, agriculture and connectivity.
“In the face of a changing world, changing times and historic changes, China is willing to work with Russia to demonstrate the responsibilities of great powers and lead, to instil stability and positive energy in a world of chaos,” Xi said in footage aired on Russian media.
Addressing the Russian leader as his “old friend”, Xi told Putin that he was interested in sharing views on bilateral ties and matters of regional and international importance.
Putin told Xi: “We highly value the balanced position of our Chinese friends when it comes to the Ukraine crisis.
“We understand your questions and concerns about this. During today’s meeting, we will of course explain our position on this issue, although we have talked about this before.”
He also emphasised Russia’s support for the one-China principle and condemned the actions of the US and its allies over Taiwan, which he described as “provocations”.
In response, Xi said China appreciated Russia’s support, saying Beijing firmly objected to “separatist forces promoting Taiwan independence” and foreign interference, and “no country has the right to be the adjudicator on the Taiwan issue”.
Beijing sees Taiwan as a Chinese province to be brought under its control, by force if necessary. Most countries do not recognise Taiwan as an independent state, but Western countries oppose the use of force to change the status quo.
Putin also said China and Russia’s ties were “actively developing”, noting the increased trade between the countries.
“Our meeting today will surely give an additional impetus for deepening the Russian-Chinese strategic partnership both bilaterally and internationally,” he said.
Later, in a trilateral meeting that Mongolian President Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh also attended, Putin said Russia welcomed energy cooperation with China and Mongolia.
The meeting between Xi and Putin occurred at a critical moment for both leaders. Putin is desperate for political and military support from China following major battlefield setbacks in Ukraine and severe Western sanctions.
The pair last met at the opening of the Winter Olympics in Beijing in early February, where they announced the no-limits friendship and pledged to support their respective “core interests”.
Xi flew to Uzbekistan late on Wednesday after wrapping up a brief visit to Kazakhstan, where he sought to shore up ties with Mandarin-speaking President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and signed a number of cooperation agreements on energy, logistics, agriculture and water-resources management.
In Samarkand on Thursday, Xi also met other SCO leaders including the presidents of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
He is reported to be meeting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday but the meeting has not been officially confirmed.
In footage released by the Russian Duma, he told the legislature’s chairman Vyacheslav Volodin: “Just like the Ukraine issue now, the United States and Nato had pushed straight to Russia’s doorsteps.
“This involves Russia’s national security and the safety of its people’s lives. In light of this, China understands that Russia needed to do what is appropriate and is giving coordinated support on multiple fronts.”
Li also said Russia had been “forced into a corner” and was staging a “counter-attack” to protect core national interests, statements that were not published in a report by Xinhua.
But China analysts warned against reading too much into Beijing’s expressions of support for Russia and said Beijing was well aware of concerns among Central Asian countries about Putin’s war.
“China did not give Russia what it wanted,” said Wan Qingsong, an associate research professor at East China Normal University’s Centre for Russian Studies.
“It could also be that Li could not talk on behalf of Xi and had to leave some room for the talks between Xi and Putin.”
“China will no doubt grow even more cautious after Moscow suffered severe setbacks in Ukraine and by no means wants to get entangled, directly or indirectly, in the protracted conflict,” he said. “That’s why the meeting [between Xi and Putin] is unlikely to yield substantive results.”
George Magnus, a research associate at Oxford University’s China Centre, said Li’s remarks confirmed Beijing was “standing shoulder to shoulder with Putin”, but China was “studiously trying to avoid incurring secondary sanctions by overtly breaking the primary ones against Russia”.
Despite Beijing’s pro-Moscow, anti-Washington rhetoric and its continued purchases of Russian oil and gas – which rose by almost 60 per cent in August compared with a year ago – it has not provided sanctions relief or military supplies to Russia.
“All of this said, there’s no doubt that even though there remain many mutual suspicions between China and Russia, not least about influence and interests in Central Asia, they are joined at the hip right now,” Magnus said.
Gal Luft, co-director of the Washington-based Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, said Xi would tread carefully over Ukraine as “Beijing wants to keep all its options open depending on how the battlefield situation develops”.
“However, if Ukraine continues in its current momentum, China will be on the horns of a dilemma: actively support Russia or risk the huge strategic implications of its defeat,” he said.
“Russia is still holding well but if things turn bad for it China will ultimately move out of its comfort zone and support it in a meaningful way. China will never accept Nato proxies on its border.”
Shi from Renmin University said Beijing’s diplomatic priority at present was to stabilise and strengthen ties with Central Asian countries, especially Kazakhstan, whose ties with Russia have been strained by the Ukraine war.
He noted that the pandemic and Ukraine war had “enormously complicated” China’s relations with Central Asia, but it would be “highly unlikely” that Beijing would try to mediate between Russia and the region’s states.
In a statement released on messaging app Telegram, it said the patrols were intended to “strengthen naval cooperation between Russia and China, uphold peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region”, as well as monitor the coast and protect sites of economic value.
It added that crews from both sides conducted joint tactical manoeuvres and carried out exercises involving artillery and helicopters.