Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping hailed deepening ties between their countries in talks Friday, despite signs of Beijing’s impatience over the wider political and economic impact of Russia’s struggling invasion of Ukraine.
Russia-China ties are the “best in history” and their strategic partnership is a “stabilizing factor” amid rising geopolitical tensions, the Russian president said in the video call. Russia would seek to strengthen military cooperation with China, he said.
Xi thanked Putin for sending a message of congratulations after a congress of China’s ruling Communist Party in October that handed him a precedent-defying third term in power. China stood ready to expand the “strategic partnership,” Xi said.
Their end-of-year call, the first talks since Xi and Putin met in person in Uzbekistan in September, underscores Moscow’s deepening dependence on Beijing. Putin called Xi “dear friend” during a portion of the meeting that was televised, and the Chinese leader responded similarly.
The nations started the year with a joint declaration of a “no limits” partnership at a February summit on the eve of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, as both sought to challenge U.S. power and push for what they call a multipolar world. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine weeks later prompted China’s ambassador to the U.S. to clarify that there was indeed a “bottom line” to the relationship.
“Amid unprecedented pressure and provocations from the West we are standing up for our own fundamental views,” Putin told Xi, adding that he looked forward to the Chinese leader visiting Russia in the spring.
Chinese state television later reported that Xi told Putin Beijing would continue to play a constructive role in seeking to resolve the Ukraine “crisis,” though the road to peace talks won’t be smooth. Xi also said that China and Russia should seek to make progress in cooperation on trade, energy, finance and agriculture, the broadcaster reported.
Beijing has refused to publicly condemn the invasion or even to call it a war, instead accusing the U.S. of provoking Russia by pushing to expand the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
But with the conflict in Ukraine showing little sign of ending any time soon, Xi has taken steps to distance himself from Putin. China signed off on a communique at last month’s Group of 20 summit in Bali that said “most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine.”
A summit between Xi and President Joe Biden at the G-20 also helped ease tensions between the world’s two biggest powers, with the pair jointly chastising the Kremlin for loose talk of nuclear war over Ukraine.
With its economy hit by unprecedented sanctions from the U.S., Europe and their allies, Russia is increasingly turning to China for imports and as a buyer for oil redirected away from European markets.
Russian global imports will decline this year by around 19% compared to 2021 and total exports will fall by almost 16%, according to the International Monetary Fund. In contrast, Russia’s exports to China jumped 23% in the first nine months of 2022 compared to the same period a year earlier, IMF data shows.
Beijing has so far withheld material support for Moscow’s war effort, mindful of the risk of secondary sanctions and saying the crisis should be solved through dialogue.
China and Russia gave alternative accounts of a phone call between Xi and Putin in June. While the Kremlin version implied the Chinese president endorsed Putin’s justification for invading Ukraine, Beijing’s readout emphasized Xi’s promotion of “world peace and the stability of global economic order,” and left out any reference to military-technical cooperation.
At their face-to-face meeting in September, Putin told Xi that he understood Beijing’s “questions and concerns” about his invasion, a rare admission of tensions between them.
In the following weeks, Chinese officials and diplomats including Xi himself have expressed their opposition to the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine — a stance that outlines China’s red lines without abandoning Russia altogether.
Still, Xi needs Putin’s support in China’s claims over Taiwan, as well as other issues where Beijing clashes with the U.S. and Europe.
At their September meeting, Putin praised what he calls Xi’s “balanced” position on the Ukraine war, while also reiterating Moscow’s support for Beijing’s claim to Taiwan as part of its “one China” policy.