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In Beijing, Xi and Putin left no question of their close alignment in a divided world | CNN

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Hong Kong
CNN
 — 

Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin’s meeting in Beijing on Thursday left no question of how closely the Chinese and Russian leaders are aligned in their vision for the world – and on bolstering the “powerful driving force” of their autocratic double act.

The two vowed to deepen their strategic partnership, and took aim at a United States they painted as a destabilizing aggressor.

In a sweeping 7,000-word joint statement outlining their shared view on issues from Taiwan to the war in Gaza, they proclaimed: “Russian-Chinese relations stand the test of rapid changes in the world, demonstrating strength and stability, and are experiencing the best period in their history.”

The meeting made for a deeply incongruous split-screen. As Xi and Putin sipped tea from wicker chairs in manicured gardens of the official Zhongnanhai compound and discussed how to “promote world peace and common development,” Ukrainian civilians called for evacuation from villages under assault from Russian forces.

Putin’s two-day state visit comes as Western leaders have leant on Xi to ensure that soaring exports from his country aren’t propping up the Russian war effort – a claim Beijing denies.

But even as Putin’s pomp-filled welcome in the Chinese capital seemed to fly in the face of Western concerns about the partnership, Putin appeared to depart Beijing with few, publicly acknowledged gains — though it remains unclear what happened in discussions behind closed doors.

Here are three key takeaways from the meeting.

Xi and Putin used their meetings and hefty statement to take aim at what they described as a global security system defined by US-backed military alliances – and pledged to work together to counter it.

“[We] intend to increase interaction and tighten coordination in order to counter Washington’s destructive and hostile course towards the so-called ‘dual containment’ of our countries,” the leaders pledged in their joint statement.

The joint statement also called on the US not to arm its allies with missile systems, and condemned US cooperation with allies as “extremely destabilizing.”

The US considers China the “most serious long-term challenge to the international order,” and Russia “a clear and present threat.”

The strident declaration comes as both Russia and China have criticized US support for Israel and its war against militant group Hamas and sought to bolster ties across the Global South, where there is mounting backlash against Israel’s actions in Gaza.

On that conflict, they called for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, while also voicing their points of alignment on a range of other contentious geopolitical issues including Taiwan and North Korea.

While slamming US military alliances, the two leaders pledged to “deepen” military “trust and cooperation,” saying they would expand joint exercises and combat training, regularly conduct joint sea and air patrols, and improve the “capabilities and level of joint response to challenges and threats.”

The two nations have grown their military drills around the world in recent years, continuing after Russia launched its war in Ukraine in February 2022 – drawing concern from Western observers that the two US rivals are working to enhance their military interoperability.

Putin also traveled to Beijing with top security officials who the Russian president said Thursday would join informal talks on Ukraine. Newly appointed Russian Defense Minister Andrey Belousov, and his predecessor Russian Security Council Secretary Sergey Shoigu, both attended.

It wasn’t clear if Chinese defense officials joined those talks, which took place, according to Russia state media, during four-hour informal negotiations behind the gates of the heavily secured Zhongnanhai compound — the residence for the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry quoted Xi as reiterating a call for a “political solution” in Ukraine, as well as his support for a peace conference recognized by both sides.

Observers say Putin was likely interested in discussing material support for Russia’s war or defense industry, including dual-use items the US has said China is exporting to Russia, which power its defense industrial base. Beijing, which says it is neutral on the war, has repeatedly defended its trade with Russia as part of normal bilateral relations.

But such negotiations may show the limits of the partnership, at least when it comes to China increasing its support to include weapons. Xi, analysts say, is seeking to keep Putin as a close partner, while not stepping over Western red lines.

“Putin has gone to China in order to ask for more help from China, help he is unlikely to receive … he’s not going to get weapons and ammunition and other types of direct support from China for Russia’s war effort,” former US ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker told CNN.

Despite the lofty rhetoric, information on any major deals brokered during the meeting was scant as Putin departed Beijing for the second day of the visit in northeastern China’s Harbin.

One deal apparently left un-inked was on plans for a “Power of Siberia 2” pipeline, which would funnel Russian natural gas to China. Beijing is widely seen as hesitating on the long-hyped deal, which Putin wants to replace revenue lost as Europe reduces its reliance on Russian fuels after the Ukraine invasion.

Instead, the leaders in broad strokes pledged to “jointly promote the implementation of large-scale energy projects,” while upping energy cooperation across oil, liquified natural gas, natural gas, coal and electricity.

They also called for strengthening industrial cooperation across a range of fields including civil aviation construction, electronics, chemical industry, shipbuilding and industrial equipment.

These pledges, however vague, do signpost more economic coordination in the years to come.

“For Putin, it’s a glory moment that Russia is still on its feet (economically) … mostly because of the lifeline provided by China,” said Alexandra Prokopenko, a fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center.

For that reason, she added, “he’s okay with on-going dependency between Russia and China – and with inequality in this relationship.”

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