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May 17, 2024

Putin and Xi Strengthen Ties with Emphasis on Trade and Culture

During his recent state visit to China, Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized trade and cultural exchanges, underscoring the deepening partnership between Russia and China amid rising tensions with the West. The visit began with warm interactions in Beijing, followed by a summit with Chinese leader Xi Jinping that further solidified their “no-limits” partnership.

Putin’s agenda includes attending the China-Russia Expo in Harbin, the capital of China’s Heilongjiang province. Harbin is historically significant for its Russian influence, reflected in its architecture such as the Saint Sophia Cathedral, a former Russian Orthodox church. Putin will also engage with students at the Harbin Institute of Technology, fostering educational and cultural ties.

Although the visit is more symbolic than substantive in terms of concrete proposals, it sends a powerful message to the West. “At this moment, they’re reminding the West that they can be defiant when they want to,” said Joseph Torigian, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute. The summit emphasized their shared stance against Western pressures, especially as both nations face significant geopolitical challenges.

On Thursday, during their summit, Putin expressed gratitude for China’s proposals to end the war in Ukraine. Xi Jinping reiterated China’s desire for peace and stability in Europe and pledged to continue playing a constructive role in resolving the conflict. Their joint statement criticized US military alliances in Asia and the Pacific, reflecting their unified worldview.

Russia has become increasingly isolated on the global stage due to its invasion of Ukraine, while China faces its own challenges with the US, which has labeled China a competitor. The US has also pressured China over its continued supply of key components to Russia, crucial for weapons production. Despite these pressures, Russia and China’s relationship remains strategically beneficial for both parties.

The Ukraine crisis was a recurring theme in Thursday’s discussions. Despite China’s peace proposal last year being rejected by Ukraine and the West, both leaders acknowledged the need for a peaceful resolution. However, Russia’s recent attacks on Ukraine’s northeastern border area highlight the ongoing conflict’s complexity. The war has reached a critical juncture for Ukraine, which is struggling with delays in receiving US weapons.

In a smaller, more intimate meeting at Zhongnanhai on Thursday night, Putin thanked Xi for his peace plan and expressed his willingness for China to continue its constructive role in finding a political solution. This meeting also celebrated 75 years of diplomatic relations between Russia and China.

With Western sanctions severely impacting Russia’s economy, China has become an essential ally, helping Russia mitigate the sanctions’ effects. Bilateral trade reached USD 240 billion last year, reflecting the increasing economic interdependence between the two nations. European leaders have repeatedly urged China to pressure Russia into ending the invasion of Ukraine, but these efforts have seen little success.

Experts believe the strategic benefits of the Russia-China relationship outweigh the challenges posed by their respective tensions with the West. According to Hoo Tiang Boon, a researcher on Chinese foreign policy at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, even if China were to reduce its support for Russia, it is unlikely that the US or the West would significantly alter their stance on China as a competitor. The incentive for compromise remains minimal.

Xi and Putin have a longstanding agreement to visit each other’s countries annually. Xi was welcomed at the Kremlin last year, and Putin’s current visit continues this tradition, reinforcing their close diplomatic and strategic ties.

Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri

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