China’s Xi Jinping meets Putin amid Russian military losses

Amid global economic uncertainty fueled by Russia’s war on Ukraine, Chinese President Xi Jinping met Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday in the Uzbek city of Samarkand on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

In a rare admission, Putin said he was aware of China’s “questions and concerns” about the war, but Xi promised to address them all in their first face-to-face meeting since the February 24 invasion.

According to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, Xi said China was ready to work with Russia to “play the leading role of a major country and instill stability”.

The Chinese president said China would support Russia’s core interests as the two countries tested the limits of their friendship, shaken by Russia’s setbacks in the invasion. But the detached formality of their meeting was a far cry from the warmth of their “no limits” friendship pact when Putin attended the Winter Olympics in Beijing weeks before the war.

In a symbolically important meeting for Putin, who continues to seek to demonstrate global influence, he told Xi, “We greatly respect the balanced position of our Chinese friends on the Ukrainian crisis, and we understand your questions and concerns on this matter. We will certainly clarify all this in detail at the meeting,” Putin said in his Uzbekistan address. said in opening remarks, kicking off the meeting with Xi, whom he called his “dear and longtime friend.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping received a welcoming ceremony in Uzbekistan on September 15 ahead of a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Video: Reuters)

The Russian leader added that Russia remains committed to the one-China policy and “condemns the provocations” of the US in Taiwan.

When the two leaders met in February, “”No limits“Partnership, they also signaled the beginning of a new alignment of the world’s two most powerful authoritarian states.

Since then, Russia’s war on Ukraine has gone worse than anyone expected for Moscow, with Russia facing repeated humiliating military setbacks, while Putin is largely ignored by Western leaders and the Russian economy has been hit by unprecedented sanctions.

China’s Xi visited Central Asia ahead of his meeting with Putin

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Their first face-to-face meeting since the start of the war – held on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Samarkand – comes at a vulnerable time for both leaders, testing how limitless that friendship really is.

Russian forces suffered Shocking losses On the battlefield in Ukraine. Meanwhile, Beijing finds itself at odds with the West Taiwan and human rights violations Xinjiang.

For Putin, the meeting sends an important message that he is a global player who shares his authoritarian views and determination to create a new world order in which the United States will no longer dominate.

For Xi, his First overseas trip in three years The party in October marks his diplomatic renaissance before Congress.

“It’s certainly a demonstration of mutual support and solidarity, a message primarily to the United States and the West,” said Yun Sun, director of the China Program at the Stimson Center.

Yet Xi is unlikely to give Putin more firm support. Doing so would risk a Western backlash that would add to a growing list of domestic challenges, including a slowing Chinese economy, an asset crisis and public discontent with draconian “zero Covid” policies.

China has maintained a delicate balance in Russia’s war against Ukraine, while acknowledging Russian complaints that NATO is to blame for the expansion of the NATO alliance and calling for peace. Beijing has tried to give Putin moral support without fully backing the invasion or sending financial or military aid that would create secondary obstacles.

Pledged to maintain normal trade relations with Moscow, China continued to export goods to Russia and import Russian oil and gas. Bilateral trade grew 31 percent in the first eight months of 2022, according to Chinese customs data.

“Concrete support for war in Ukraine is unlikely,” Sun said. “Military support and aid are not in the cards. China has no need to support Russia in war; It’s just not against it.”

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China is likely to continue its approach, with some analysts calling it “Beijing StratalDiplomatic support for Russia and compliance with Western sanctions in a partnership aimed at countering the Washington-led international order.

In recent days, however, China has signaled strong support for Russia. Li Zhanshu, China’s third-most senior leader, visited Moscow last week and stressed that Beijing has offered “coordinated action support” to Russia as it responds to security threats “at its doorstep”.

A Russian reading of the meeting said Li expressed support for the war, but the Chinese version was more restrained, saying Li said China “understands and fully supports” Russia’s security interests.

Despite China’s efforts to strike a balance, Xi’s meeting with Putin will raise further questions about China’s position in the conflict.

“The trip fits Mr. Xi’s strategic vision of closer ties with Moscow, but it may be difficult for Xi to say that the meeting with the Russian leader did not somehow enable Russia’s aggression,” said Joseph Toridian, an assistant professor who focuses on Russia. China at American University.

The rapid loss of territory in Ukraine reveals the cost of the Russian military

Going into the talks, the Kremlin described Russian-Chinese relations as at an “unprecedentedly high level” and said it “places great importance on China’s balanced approach to the Ukrainian crisis”.

The Kremlin says Moscow and Beijing’s partnership ensures “global and regional stability,” although Russia’s war on Ukraine has destabilized the region and created particular uncertainty in Central Asia.

“Countries stand together to create a just, democratic and multilateral world order based on international law and the central role of the United Nations,” the Kremlin statement said.

In Uzbekistan, Xi faces the added challenge of maintaining neutrality while attending a summit with Central Asian nations, most of which oppose the war and worry that the Russians might intrude into their territories.

Before going to Samarkand, Xi traveled to Kazakhstan, where he met President Kassym-Jomart Togayev in a symbolic first stop, where he delivered a subtle message about the war in Ukraine, pledging strong support for Kazakhstan’s efforts to defend its independence, sovereignty and territory. Integrity, “No matter how the international situation changes.”

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Russia has expressed irritation over Kazakhstan’s refusal to recognize the independence of two Russian proxy “republics” in eastern Ukraine or to endorse war.

Like Ukraine, Kazakhstan has a significant Russian-speaking component, 18 percent of the population, concentrated in the north of the country. Moscow’s historic aim to “protect” Russian-speakers around the world – one of the reasons it cited for the Ukrainian invasion – is seen as a source of their insecurity.

Xi’s trips to Central Asia are part of a long-term effort to establish better trade routes and connectivity in the region as China faces the possibility of conflicts that could disrupt maritime shipping in the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea. paths.

In August, China staged large-scale military exercises simulating a blockade of Taiwan’s main island in protest of US Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, which became known as the Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis.

“That makes this trip all the more important because Xi is essentially aiming to convince Central Asian leaders that having a strong relationship with China is even more important. [and to] Please consider our goals and what we can offer you,” said Niva Yao, a senior researcher at the OSCE Academy, a foreign policy think tank in Kyrgyzstan.

In Central Asia, where countries have had to travel for years between the two superpowers in peaceful competition, a lesser Putin could offer Beijing an opportunity to expand its footprint.

“China has deep pockets and Russia has the guns,” said Theresa Fallon, director of the Russia Europe Asia Studies Center in Brussels. “The question now is, as Russia’s military footprint recedes in the region, will China grow?”

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