Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday hailed China’s ‘balanced stance’ on the war in Ukraine, although he admitted Beijing had ‘questions and concerns’ over the invasion, in what appeared to be an admission veiled from their differing views on the protracted military assault.
Putin made the comments when meeting Chinese leader Xi Jinping in person for the first time since the invasion at a regional summit in Uzbekistan, days after Russia suffered a series of major military setbacks in Ukraine. . The Russian troops are retreating en masse, having lost more territory in a week than they have captured in five months.
China has so far refused to outright condemn Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine while stepping up economic aid to its neighbor, boosting bilateral trade to record levels, a boon for Russian businesses in the world. amid Western sanctions.
“We highly appreciate the balanced position of our Chinese friends on the Ukrainian crisis. We understand your questions and concerns in this regard,” Putin said in an opening speech at the meeting. “During today’s meeting, of course, we will explain in detail our position on this issue, although we have already spoken about it before.”
Xi said China would “work with Russia to extend strong mutual support on issues concerning each other’s core interests” and “play a leading role in injecting stability and positive energy into a world of change and disorder,” according to a report of the meeting provided. by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Xi also said he appreciated “Russia’s adherence to the one-China principle and stressed that Taiwan is part of China.”
The two authoritarian leaders have become close partners in recent years, propelled by growing conflict with the West and a strong personal bond.
China has offered tacit support for Russia’s actions in Ukraine, while Moscow has backed Beijing and criticized Washington over US President Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei in August. Beijing has responded to its trip with unprecedented military exercises around the self-governing democratic island, which it claims as its own territory.
The White House sought to play down Putin’s meeting with Xi on Thursday, saying Beijing had not yet violated Western sanctions against Moscow or provided direct material aid to Russia.
“Our message to China, I think, has been consistent: now is not the time to be business as usual with Mr. Putin, given what he has done in Ukraine. Now is not the time to isolate yourself from the rest of the international community, which has widely condemned what it is doing in Ukraine and not only condemned it, but mobilized to help Ukrainians defend themselves and to defend their territorial integrity,” said the coordinator of the National Security Council. for strategic communications, John Kirby told CNN.
Kirby said Putin was “very stressed and stressed. In Ukraine, its army is not doing well, and I think it certainly behooves the Kremlin to want to approach Beijing with regard to what is happening there.
At their Thursday meeting, Putin condemned the United States for what he called “provocations” in the Taiwan Strait and criticized what he called attempts to “create a unipolar world.” These attempts, he said, have “recently taken an ugly form and are absolutely unacceptable to most states on the planet.”
The pair are holding talks on the sidelines of a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a security-focused regional grouping that also includes India, Pakistan and four Central Asian countries.
In a symbolic show of strength and unity, the Russian and Chinese navies conducted joint patrols and exercises in the Pacific Ocean just hours before their leaders’ meeting, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.
At the start of the meeting on Thursday, Putin highlighted the deepening economic ties between China and Russia, noting that bilateral trade topped $140 billion last year. “I am confident that by the end of the year we will reach new records and in the near future, as agreed, we will increase our annual revenue to $200 billion or more,” he said. -he declares.
Putin last met Xi during a visit to the Chinese capital for its Winter Olympics in February this year. It was during this meeting that the two leaders defined their “unlimited partnership” and published a 5,000-word document expressing their joint opposition to “a further enlargement of NATO”.
Russian invasion of Ukraine reveals ‘limits’ of Russian-Chinese relations
For Xi, meanwhile, Thursday’s meeting comes as part of his first trip outside China’s borders in more than two years, and just weeks before he seeks a groundbreaking third term in office. a major political meeting in Beijing – a move that would cement his status as China’s most powerful leader in decades.
China has become increasingly inward-looking since the start of the pandemic and continues to maintain a strict zero-Covid policy that limits overseas travel.
Xi’s trip to Central Asia is a return to the world stage and an opportunity for him to show that despite growing tensions with the West, China still has friends and partners and is ready to reassert its global influence.
Before arriving at the summit, Xi traveled to Kazakhstan, where he unveiled his flagship Belt and Road Initiative in 2013, a massive infrastructure project that spans East Asia. to Europe.
During a meeting with Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev on Wednesday, Xi said China wants to partner with Kazakhstan to “remain the pioneers of Belt and Road cooperation.”
Xi also told Tokayev that “China will always support Kazakhstan in maintaining national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Chinese state media reported.
The Chinese leader visited Uzbekistan on Wednesday evening and met with Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev. He also met the presidents of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan on Thursday.