Xi and Putin solidify 'strategic partnership of coordination' between China, Russia

·5 min read

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian leader Vladimir Putin signed a joint statement on Tuesday, the second day of Xi's visit to Moscow, calling for a settlement of the Ukrainian crisis and a commitment by Russia to restart talks aimed at ending the war.

But the two released no new details or preconditions for any peace initiative, and the United States, Ukraine and Western allies remain wary of any deal that allows Moscow to hold onto territory it gained since the invasion of its neighbour in February 2022.

"Russia welcomed China's willingness to play a positive role in resolving the Ukraine crisis through political and diplomatic means," a Xinhua readout said. "The Russian side reiterated its commitment to restart the negotiations as soon as possible, which was appreciated by China."

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Putin took a significantly harder line at a joint press conference that capped the day of talks, however. He noted that many of the provisions of a 12-point peace plan recently put forward by China dovetail with Moscow's approach to any future talks "when the West and Kyiv are ready for it".

"However," he added, "we have not seen such readiness from their side yet."

Putin said Western allies continued to arm Ukraine with tanks and other weapons, mentioning an announcement by Britain on Tuesday that it planned to send armour-piercing shells to Kyiv containing depleted uranium.

"It seems that the West really decided to fight with Russia to the last Ukrainian - no longer in words, but in deeds," Putin said.

"If all this happens, Russia will have to respond accordingly. I mean that the collective West is already beginning to use weapons with a nuclear component."

Putin did not elaborate further, other than to say that China and Russia both follow an independent foreign policy based on a "democratic multipolar world order" and believe that international relations should run through the United Nations - where both hold a veto on the Security Council.

Xi's three-day trip has been filled with pomp, pageantry and symbolism underscoring the importance Russia places on the visit.

On Tuesday, Xi walked slowly up an opulent red-carpeted staircase as Kremlin guards in traditional uniforms stood at attention, according to press reports, while Putin waited for him in a lavish hall filled with plaques of military heroes.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin raise a toast during at reception at the Kremlin on Tuesday. Photo: Kremlin Pool Photo via AP alt=Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin raise a toast during at reception at the Kremlin on Tuesday. Photo: Kremlin Pool Photo via AP>

Xi arrived in Russia hoping to build on his recent record as global peacemaker. Earlier this month he helped negotiate a rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran after decades of mutual distrust. That strategic success unsettled Washington, which has long seen itself as chief kingmaker in the Middle East.

Shortly before his trip to Moscow, China released its 12-point plan for a Ukraine war settlement that has been criticised as vague and largely unworkable.

After the Xi-Putin meeting on Tuesday, US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said the US welcomed any meaningful peace agreement that respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries.

"If China wants to play a constructive role in this conflict, then it should press Russia to remove these forces from Ukraine's sovereign territory," Patel said.

"Following the UN charter means that Russia withdraws from the territory of another UN member state it has invaded."

Analysts said Xi was walking a fine line with the trip as he appeals to a rattled Europe wary of Russian aggression and tries to lure Western investors, even as he recommits to ties with Moscow.

"It will be very difficult for Xi to thread the needle between strengthening his partnership with Putin without doing greater damage to China's relations in Europe," said Jessica Chen Weiss, a professor at Cornell University.

"And reports of Chinese munitions in Ukraine will create pressure for additional sanctions on Chinese entities."

While Russia needs China more than the other way around, both face mounting economic and military pressure from the US and its allies, with Tuesday's press conference meant to evoke solidarity and a united front.

Putin is weathering an economic embargo, the likely expansion of Nato and more lethal weapon deliveries to Ukraine.

And China, for its part, faces a more militarised Japan, an expanded US troop presence in the Philippines and a powerful nuclear submarine deal involving Australia, Britain and the US.

In their joint statement, Xi and Putin vowed to deepen their "comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination".

They also took aim at the US, urging it to "stop undermining international and regional security" in order to maintain its "unilateral military advantage", eliminate its stockpiled chemical weapons and otherwise pare its "bioweapons activities".

But they also appealed to the international community to support their "relevant constructive efforts" to bring about a ceasefire in Ukraine and to stop actions that would lead to "tensions and prolonged conflicts" - or risk "further deterioration or even spiralling out of control".

Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin leave a reception in honour of the Chinese leader's three-day visit to Moscow. Photo: Kremlin Pool Photo via EPA-EFE alt=Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin leave a reception in honour of the Chinese leader's three-day visit to Moscow. Photo: Kremlin Pool Photo via EPA-EFE>

Xi's is the first trip to Moscow by a leader of a major power since Russia invaded Ukraine. He and Putin have met 40 times over the past decade.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has criticised Xi's visit, calling it "diplomatic cover" for Putin after he was served an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

China's foreign ministry on Tuesday called for the court to be impartial, avoid "politicisation and double standards" and respect the jurisdictional immunity enjoyed by heads of state.

Tuesday was the busiest day of the visit and ended with a state dinner. Xi is scheduled to leave Moscow on Wednesday.

Additional reporting by Orange Wang in Washington

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2023 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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