Friday, June 14, 2024

Putin visits China’s ‘Little Moscow’ as allies seek to cement economic ties – as it happened

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Key events

Closing summary

We’re pausing our live coverage of Putin’s trip to China now, here were the main developments:

  • Vladimir Putin is concluding his two day trip to China, aimed at boosting ties between the two nations at a time when both face western economic sanctions.

  • Former US president Donald Trump has accused Putin and Xi of getting together to “do damage”. He said: “They’re right now together working on plans where they … get together and do damage, because that’s ultimately what they’re thinking about doing, damage.”

  • While Putin’s visit to China continues, back in Russia his deputy foreign minister has said Moscow will respond in kind to any ambiguous nuclear behaviour from the West.

While Putin’s visit to China continues, back in Russia his deputy foreign minister has said Moscow will respond in kind to any ambiguous nuclear behaviour from the West.

According to Ryabkov, the West has adopted a stance of strategic uncertainty and ambiguity towards Russia, trying to make it difficult for Moscow to predict how NATO will react in various situations, including with nuclear weapons.

“Russia will put the topic of ‘red lines’ aside and will respond to the West in a mirror manner,” Ryabkov said in an interview to state-run TASS news agency.

As Putin seeks to cement Russia’s economic ties with China, the west has been moving to “decouple” its economy, and his visit comes the same week that the US imposed huge new tariffs on Chinese imports.

The US is concerned by the prospect of cheap, subsidised Chinese goods flooding US markets and undercutting the billions of dollars of government investment that have been poured into key manufacturing sectors via Biden’s Chips and Inflation Reduction acts.

The new measures affect $18bn in imports, including steel, aluminium, computer chips, solar cells, cranes and medical products – however it is the 100% tariff on Chinese-made electric vehicles (EVs) that has dominated headlines.

In the electric vehicle market there are reports that China is producing 30m EVs a year, but can only sell 22m to 23m domestically.

China’s commerce ministry said it would retaliate and take measures to defend its interests.

Read our explainer on the new US tariffs below:

Former US president Donald Trump has accused Putin and Xi of getting together to “do damage”. Speaking after the end of the day’s proceedings at his hush money trial in New York on Thursday, Trump said:

President Xi of China, I know well, President Putin of Russia, know him well, they’re right now together working on plans where they … get together and do damage, because that’s ultimately what they’re thinking about doing, damage.

He also said Xi “fully expects to take Taiwan. He made that statement today. That’s a big statement.”

Trump had a rocky relationship with Xi while in power. He celebrated Xi’s solidification of his one-man rule in 2018 but also waged a bitter war of words with the Chinese leader over Covid.

The former US leader is meanwhile said to “idolise” Putin, to the extent that former intelligence officials and other experts fear another Trump presidency would benefit Moscow and harm American democracy and interests overseas.

Then US President Donald Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Hamburg in 2017. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, has again denied arms exchanges with Russia, state media KCNA is reporting, saying her nation’s recently developed and updated weapons systems were not for sale to any other countries.

The US and South Korea have accused North Korea of transferring weapons to Russia for use against Ukraine. Both Moscow and Pyongyang have denied the accusations, but vowed last year to deepen military relations. Reuters reports further:

Ties between the two countries have strengthened dramatically following North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s visit to Russia’s far east in September and a summit with President Vladimir Putin.

But Kim Yo Jong said the North Korea-Russia arms deal “theory” made up of prejudice and fiction was the “most absurd theory” that does not deserve anyone’s evaluation or interpretation, according to KCNA quoting her press statement, calling it a false rumour spread by its hostile forces.

Kim Yo Jong added North Korea’s tactical weapons such as rocket launchers and missiles recently shown were not meant for exports, but for defence against South Korea.

North and South Korea remain technically at war because their 1950 to 1953 conflict ended in a truce, not a treaty.

Over the last month, North Korea has deployed thousands of troops as well as heavy equipment such as excavators as it lays mines and barbed wire and builds guard posts along the already heavily armed border with South Korea, South Korean newspaper Dong-A Ilbo reported on Friday, citing multiple government sources.

South Korea’s defence ministry said in a statement that it was closely monitoring the North Korean military’s activities but declined to elaborate further, citing the safety of South Korean soldiers.

Meanwhile, the United States announced fresh sanctions on Thursday on two Russian individuals and three Russian companies for facilitating arms transfers between Russia and North Korea, including ballistic missiles for use in Ukraine.

Though Putin’s visit is more symbolic and short on concrete proposals, the two countries are sending a clear message to the west.

“At this moment, they’re reminding the west that they can be defiant when they want to,” Joseph Torigian, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute, told the Associated Press.

Experts say China and Russia’s relationship with each other offers strategic benefits, particularly at a time when both have tensions with Europe and the US.

Hoo Tiang Boon, who researches Chinese foreign policy at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, said: “They see very little incentive for compromise.”

“Even if China compromises on a range of issues, including cutting back support on Russia, it’s unlikely that the US or the west will drastically change their attitude to China as a competitor,” he added.

Lying just a few hundred kilometres from the border with Russia, Harbin has long served as a key hub for cross-border trade and cultural exchange.

The Russian president will attend the opening ceremony of a Russia-China trade expo on Friday, Moscow’s state news agency Tass reported, and will be accompanied by Han Zheng, China’s vice president.

Putin will also hold a press conference with Russian media later in the day.

Harbin, Saint Sophia Cathedral, a former Russian Orthodox Church. Photograph: Best View Stock/Alamy

Putin is flanked by a large trade delegation, which includes finance minister Anton Siluanov and central bank governor Elvira Nabiullina.

Others include the heads of Russia’s largest banks – Sberbank CEO German Gref and VTB chief Andrei Kostin – billionaire Oleg Deripaska, top oil producer Rosneft chief Igor Sechin and liquefied natural gas giant Novatek’s boss, Leonid Mikhelson.

The Russian leader’s two-day to China trip comes as his country’s forces have pressed an offensive in northeastern Ukraine’s Kharkiv region that began last week in the most significant border incursion since the full-scale invasion began, forcing almost 8,000 people to flee their homes.

“This is Putin’s first trip after his inauguration, and it is therefore intended to show that Sino-Russian relations are moving up another level,” independent Russian political analyst Konstantin Kalachev told AFP. “Not to mention the visibly sincere personal friendship between the two leaders.”

China has strengthened its trade and military ties with Russia in recent years as the US and its allies imposed sanctions against both countries, particularly against Moscow for the invasion of Ukraine.

The west says China has played a crucial role in helping Russia withstand the sanctions and has supplied key technology which Russia has used on the battlefield in Ukraine. China claims to take a neutral position in the conflict, but has backed Moscow’s contentions that Russia was provoked into attacking Ukraine by the west, despite Putin’s public avowals of his desire to restore Russia’s century-old borders as the reason for his assault.

China, once the junior partner of Moscow in the global Communist hierarchy, remains by far the most powerful of Russia’s friends in the world.

Some images are coming through on the wires of Putin arriving in Harbin and being greeted at the airport by Chinese officials.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, is welcomed by Chinese officials at an airport in Harbin, China. Photograph: Matvey Fedorov/AP

The relationship between Russia and China has set an “example of peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation between major powers” that “contributes to regional and global peace, stability, and prosperity,” China’s state-run Global Times newspaper said in an editorial on Friday.

It praised the relationship as “unique in the history of modern international relations”, adding:

The two countries are not military-political allies, but rather represent a new model of major power relations characterized by non-alignment, non-confrontation, and not targeting any third country.

It also wrote that the two countries: “jointly oppose zero-sum games and Cold War mentality, group politics, confrontational blocs, dividing the world based on ideology and political systems, and confrontational policies and interference in other countries’ internal affairs.”

China has however come under increasing pressure from the west not to supply Russia with goods that could be used in its war against Ukraine.

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”.

Opening summary

Hello and welcome to the Guardian’s live coverage of Vladimir Putin’s visit to China.

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is visiting Harbin, a city in north-east China once known as “Little Moscow” because of its historically large Russian population and Russian Orthodox-style architecture, a day after meeting his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

The itinerary highlights the close relationship between the two countries and their leaders, who on Thursday pledged to deepen their military ties.

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.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is greeted by a ceremonial guard in Beijing on Thursday. Photograph: Anadolu/Getty Images

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”.

Here’s our full report on the first day of the visit:

*This copy was amended to note that Xi has not accompanied Putin to Harbin.

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