Xi, Putin Meet as US Tensions Bring Them Closer

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in China for a state visit Friday, his third trip in just over one year as Beijing and Moscow look to promote their special relationship
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (R) reviews a military honour guard with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a welcoming ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on June 8.Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (R) reviews a military honour guard with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a welcoming ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on June 8.

Chinese President Xi Jinping treated Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to a state visit on Friday as the neighboring giants forge closer ties in the face of US diplomatic and economic challenges.

Putin, reelected to his fourth Kremlin term in March, arrived at the grandiose Great Hall of the People in Beijing for talks with Xi, who could stay in power for life after term limits were lifted this year, AFP reported.

The two heads of state reviewed a military honor guard and greeted flag-waving children during the welcoming ceremony before retreating into the vast building.

The most powerful Russian and Chinese leaders in decades, Xi and Putin have built closer ties while US President Donald Trump has labeled both countries as economic rivals that challenge US interests and values.

Xi and Putin are “soul mates who want to make their countries great again,” Alexander Gabuev, senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, told AFP.

“Both share skepticism toward American hegemony and distrust US intentions,” he said.

  Diplomatic Myriad

China is mired in tough negotiations with the United States to avoid a trade war, while Moscow has deep differences with Washington on multiple diplomatic fronts, including Syria and Ukraine.

Putin praised his bond with his “good friend” Xi in an interview with Chinese broadcaster CGTN this week.

He said the Chinese president was the only state leader to celebrate his birthday with him.

Xi “is approachable and sincere”, Putin told CGTN. “But he’s also a very dependable man to work with.”

  Growing Closeness

Maria Repnikova, director of the Center for Global Information Studies at Georgia State University in the US, said China makes Russia look “stronger and more relevant” on the global stage.

For its part, Russia allows China to show the US that it has “other options” in international negotiations, she said.

“Trump’s policies justified [the] growing closeness, especially for Russia but also for China given the volatile relationship with the United States,” Repnikova told AFP.

But, she said, “It’s an asymmetrical relationship with Russia more dependent on China than vice versa, especially in the economic sphere.”

  Best Level in History

China and Russia have been keen to highlight their new close relationship in the recent years—during a visit to Moscow in May, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the two countries’ relations were at the “best level in history.”

As of 2016, almost one in five imports to Russia came from China, far above any other country, while its southern neighbor also bought almost 10% of Russia’s exports, worth about $28 billion, CNN reported.

In comparison, China is currently locked in lengthy negotiations with the United States over the trade deficit while Washington increases pressure on its South China Sea claims, cooling previously cordial relations.

Richard McGregor, senior fellow at Sydney’s Lowy Institute, told CNN both Moscow and Beijing had worked hard to build their relationship.

“It didn’t happen overnight—it certainly gained momentum when Obama was president, when they both wanted to push back against the United States, Russia in particular because of sanctions against Moscow,” he said.

Despite their shared history, there was a huge amount of mistrust between the two countries from the 1950s until recent years, McGregor said.

But now ties had grown stronger under Putin, according to McGregor, who added there was also a strategic nature to the Russia-China partnership, joining together to push back against the United States and Europe in their respective spheres of influence.

Beijing’s top military brass has hinted at even closer cooperation between the two countries. During a Moscow visit in April, China’s Defense Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe said he had come to “support” Russia against the US.

“The Chinese side has come [to Moscow] to show Americans the close ties between the armed forces of China and Russia,” Wei said.

  Shanghai Cooperation Organization

After the Beijing visit, Putin will join Xi at a weekend summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in the eastern Chinese city of Qingdao.

China and Russia lead the regional security group, which includes former Soviet states and new members India and Pakistan.

Putin told CGTN that the SCO had “small” objectives when it was founded two decades ago but that it was now evolving into a larger global force.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, whose country is an observer member of the SCO, will also attend the summit at a time when China and Russia are seeking to save the Iran nuclear deal following Trump’s withdrawal from the pact.

Add new comment

Read our comment policy before posting your viewpoints