Saturday, June 15, 2024

Putin and Xi announce plans to strengthen military ties in Beijing

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Russia and China have announced they will deepen their already close military ties, as Vladimir Putin met Xi Jinping in Beijing on his first foreign trip since being inaugurated for a new term as Russia’s president.

It is the latest in a string of statements and signals that the warm relationship between the two countries is as strong as it has ever been.

Xi’s red carpet welcome for Putin – a man he has described as his “best friend” – comes after a whistle-stop tour in Europe where the Chinese president faced tough questions on his country’s economic and political behaviour. On Tuesday, the Biden administration announced tariffs on $18bn (£14bn) of Chinese goods, angering Beijing.

In a press conference shortly after their meeting on Thursday, and before the two leaders sat down for a celebratory concert to mark the 75th anniversary of formal China-Russia relations, Putin praised the “warm and comradely” talks with Xi. In return, Xi said the friendship between China and Russia was “everlasting” and had “become a model for a new type of international relations”.

The two-day visit is packed with symbolic gestures that underline the mutually beneficial friendship that has blossomed since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

After the concert on Thursday, Xi and Putin are expected to go for a walk in a park near the Forbidden City, before sitting down for tea and dinner with other members of the Russian delegation.

On Friday they will head to Harbin, a city in north-east China once known as “Little Moscow” because of its historically large Russian population and Russian Orthodox-style architecture. The itinerary highlights the close relationship between the two leaders and countries.

Putin thanks Xi for input on Ukraine and calls for ‘multipolar world order’ – video

Despite pressure from the west to lean on Putin to end the war in Ukraine, China’s economic and moral support for Russia has intensified since the start of the conflict. Xi and Putin see each other as allies in a parallel international and “multipolar” world order that can challenge a Washington-led global consensus.

Last year, bilateral trade hit a record $240.1bn, and there are signs that even more goods – including dual-use technology that could be used in the war effort – are reaching Russia from China via third countries. Even without direct arms shipments to Russia, western observers say China’s economic and political support for Russia has been a lifeline since February 2022. On Thursday, Putin said he was “grateful” to China for its efforts to try to resolve “the Ukraine crisis”.

The joint statement announced plans for expanded joint military drills, but provided little by way of detail. Last year, a Chinese naval flotilla joined Russian naval and air forces in the Sea of Japan for joint exercises. In March, the Chinese and Russian navies conducted joint drills in the Gulf of Oman, alongside Iranian forces.

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The Harbin visit will be a chance for Putin to emphasise the shared cultural and historical links between Russia and China. Enhanced economic cooperation will also be on the agenda. Russian state media has reported that Russia’s sovereign wealth fund will open an office in Harbin, and on Friday there will be a ceremony to mark the start of the China-Russia Expo, a trade fair.

Alexander Gabuev, the director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center in Berlin, wrote in a piece published this week: “Never since the fall of the Soviet Union has Russia been so distant from Europe, and never in its entire history has it been so entwined with China.”

In recent months, there have been signs that US sanctions have started to bite, with Chinese traders reportedly having difficulties processing payments from Russia. Chinese exports to Russia have dipped slightly.

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