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China’s Xi to meet Putin in Russia next week

March 17, 2023 Updated Fri., March 17, 2023 at 9:57 p.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping on April 26, 2019, in Beijing.  (Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping on April 26, 2019, in Beijing. (Getty Images)
By Lily Kuo Washington Post

Chinese leader Xi Jinping will travel to Russia next week to meet with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in the strongest show of Beijing’s support for Moscow since the war in Ukraine began.

China’s Foreign Ministry and the Kremlin said in separate statements Friday that Xi will visit Russia from Monday to Wednesday. The Kremlin said the two would discuss ways of “deepening Russian-Chinese cooperation,” adding that “a number of important bilateral documents will be signed” during Xi’s visit.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Xi’s visit would be a trip of “peace, cooperation and friendship,” stressing that China would promote peace talks. The visit will be Xi’s first to Russia since the beginning of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“China’s proposition can be summed up in one sentence, which is to persuade peace and promote talks,” Wang said Friday at a regular news briefing.

“Of course, the conflict in Ukraine will be discussed,” said Russian presidential aide Yury Ushakov. “We appreciate the restrained, calibrated position of the Chinese leadership on this issue.”

Xi’s decision to travel to Russia is a show of defiance in the face of increasingly loud U.S. criticism of Beijing’s “no limits” partnership with Moscow, declared just weeks before Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The trip also highlights Russia’s growing dependence on China, one of its few remaining friends and trading partners.

Throughout the war, China has tried to strike a balance between maintaining its friendship with Russia while not endorsing the war. Instead, China has sought to position itself as a mediator on the side of peace while blaming the crisis on the United States and NATO.

In February, Beijing released a 12-point proposal for ending the war that included calls for talks, a cease-fire and an end to “unilateral sanctions” but no demands for Russian withdrawal from Ukrainian territory.

Yet, the visit could undermine China’s efforts to appear neutral. Beijing has refused to condemn Putin’s actions while increasing its trade with Russia and holding joint military exercises. Xi and Putin have spoken several times since the war began, including in person on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, in September.

When Putin hosted China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, last month, the Russian leader said the relationship had reached “new milestones.”

Washington has accused Beijing of considering providing “lethal support” to Russia in the war – a claim that Beijing has criticized as “false information.”

Xi is expected to have a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy after the trip, according to the Wall Street Journal. It would be their first conversation since the war began. Asked about a potential call, China’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday declined to comment.

Serhiy Nykyforov, Ukrainian presidential spokesperson, in response to whether Zelenskyy and Xi will speak, told the Washington Post in a text message: “There are no specific agreements about this yet. But this topic, among others, was discussed by foreign ministers of Ukraine and China. So we can say that the work is in progress.”

On Thursday, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba by phone. Qin told Kuleba that China had “committed itself to promoting peace and advancing negotiations” according to a statement from China’s Foreign Ministry.

Kuleba posted on Twitter that he and Qin had “discussed the significance of the principle of territorial integrity.”

A visit to Russia by Xi fits with a decades-long tradition of Chinese leaders making Russia their first stop after cementing power at home. The trip will be Xi’s first foreign visit after a legislative congress this month where he was officially reelected as president. Xi also traveled to Russia for his first foreign visit as president in March 2013.

During this visit, Moscow will be looking to China for support. Russia depends on China for much of its imports, including technology such as semiconductors that can be used in military and civilian applications.

Since war-related trade sanctions were imposed on Russia, the country has become increasingly dependent on the sale of oil to China. Ushakov, the Putin aide, said that heads of major Russian energy companies have been invited to a state dinner in honor of Xi to talk with their Chinese counterparts on “cooperation” issues.

“Russia increasingly has fewer and fewer options, and is increasingly a junior partner to China,” said Alexander Gabuev, an expert on Russia-China relations at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

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