Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday he understood Xi Jinping had questions and concerns about the situation in Ukraine, but praised the Chinese leader for what he said was a “balanced” stance on the conflict.
Russia’s war in Ukraine has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed the global economy into uncharted waters with food and energy prices soaring amid the biggest confrontation between Moscow and the West since the Cold War.
In their first face-to-face meeting since the war, Xi said he was delighted to meet “my old friend” again after Putin said the United States’ efforts to create a unipolar world were failing.
“We highly appreciate the balanced position of our Chinese friends when it comes to the Ukrainian crisis,” Putin told Xi Jinping, whom he addressed as “dear comrade Xi Jinping, dear friend.”
“We understand your questions and concerns about this. During today’s meeting, of course, we will present our position, we will present our position on this issue in detail, although we have spoken about it before.”
Putin’s first statements about China’s concern about the war came a few days after the lightning defeat of his troops in northeastern Ukraine.
Xi Jinping, who is due to be given a historic third term by the Communist Party next month to cement his place as the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, has not mentioned Ukraine in his public remarks.
Ukraine is also not mentioned in the Chinese published material of the meeting. It states that China is ready to provide strong support to Russia in matters related to its core interests, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
China has refrained from condemning Russia’s operation against Ukraine and calling it an “invasion” in line with the Kremlin, which views the war as a “special military operation”.
The last time Xi and Putin met in person, weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, they announced an “unlimited” partnership and signed a pledge to cooperate more against the West.
However, Beijing is concerned about the impact on the global economy and has been careful not to provide Russia with material support that could trigger Western sanctions against China’s own economy.
“MY OLD FRIEND”
The partnership between Xi and Putin is considered one of the most significant developments in geopolitics since China’s spectacular rise over the past 40 years.
Xi, the son of a communist revolutionary who has publicly praised gems of Russian literature, and Putin, who grew up in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, and came of age in the Soviet-era KGB, said they would work together.
But the war in Ukraine has highlighted the different trajectories of China and Russia: one is a rising superpower whose economy is projected to overtake the US in a decade; the other, a former superpower, is fighting an all-out war.
Once a leader in the global communist hierarchy, Russia, since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, is now the junior partner of a resurgent China, which already leads in some 21st-century technologies such as artificial intelligence, regenerative medicine and conductive polymers.
“In connection with the changes in the world, in our time and in history, China is ready to work with Russia to play a leading role in demonstrating the responsibility of major powers and bring stability and positive energy to a world experiencing turmoil,” Xi told Putin.
While Xi has met Putin in person 39 times since becoming China’s president in 2013, he has yet to meet Joe Biden in person since the latter became US president in 2021.
Xi’s trip to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan was his first trip outside China since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. His last trip outside China was a visit to Myanmar in January 2020.
Although Russia and China have been rivals and have fought in the past, Putin and Xi share a worldview that sees the West as decadent and in decline, just as China challenges the supremacy of the United States.
Putin openly supported China in the case of Taiwan.
“We intend to firmly adhere to the principle of ‘One China,'” Putin said. “We condemn the provocations of the US and its satellites in the Taiwan Strait.”
China has conducted blockade-style military exercises around Taiwan since US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the island last month. Taiwan’s government strongly rejects China’s claims to sovereignty.
While the West tries to reduce its dependence on Russian energy, Putin is looking to increase energy exports to China and Asia, possibly with the help of a pipeline through Mongolia.
Mongolian President Ukhnaaghin Khuralsukh said at a meeting with Xi and Putin that he supports the construction of oil and gas pipelines from Russia to China through Mongolia.
Russia has for years explored the possibility of a new major gas pipeline – Power of Siberia 2 – passing through Mongolia, bringing Russian gas to China.
It will carry 50 billion cubic meters of gas a year, about a third of what Russia normally sells to Europe, or equivalent to Nord Stream 1’s annual volume.