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Putin to meet Xi in China, seek more support for Ukraine war

Putin to meet Xi in Beijing seeking greater support for war effort
World
4 min read
The Russian president will visit China this week to discuss the countries' economic ties and seek greater support for his war in Ukraine.
It will be Putin's first trip abroad since his March re-election and his second in just over six months to China [Getty/archive]

Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit China this week, both countries announced Tuesday, meeting his "dear friend" Xi Jinping as he seeks to win greater support from Beijing for his war effort in Ukraine and isolated economy.

It will be Putin's first trip abroad since his March re-election and his second in just over six months to China, a crucial economic lifeline for Russia after the West hit it with unprecedented sanctions over its military offensive in Ukraine.

Beijing has rebuffed Western criticism of its ties with Moscow, hailing their "no limits" partnership as it enjoys cheap Russian energy imports and access to vast natural resources, including steady gas shipments via the Power of Siberia pipeline.

But as that economic partnership comes under close scrutiny in the West, Chinese banks fearing US sanctions that might cut them off from the global financial system have begun turning the screws on Russian businesses.

"The Russians want China to do more to support it, which China is reluctant to do because it doesn't want to jeopardise its relationship with the West," Alexander Gabuev, director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, told AFP.

 

Putin will be in Beijing from Thursday to Friday, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement.

"President Xi Jinping will exchange views with President Putin on bilateral ties, cooperation in various fields, and international and regional issues of common interest," foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a briefing.

The Kremlin said the two leaders would discuss their "comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation" as well as "define key areas of development of Russian-Chinese cooperation and exchange views on international and regional issues".

 

Trade between China and Russia has boomed since the Ukraine invasion and hit $240 billion in 2023, according to Chinese customs figures.

But after Washington vowed to go after financial institutions that facilitate Moscow, Chinese exports to Russia dipped during March and April, down from a surge early in the year.

An executive order by President Joe Biden in December permits secondary sanctions on foreign banks that deal with Russia's war machine, allowing the US Treasury to cut them out of the dollar-led global financial system.

That, coupled with recent efforts to rebuild fractured ties with the United States, may make Beijing reluctant to openly push more cooperation with Russia - despite what Moscow may want, analysts said.

"If China aims to... maintain the tactical thaw in its relationship with the United States, and limit transatlantic convergence on China policy, it must take seriously America's threat to sanction its financial institutions," Ali Wyne at the International Crisis Group told AFP.

Eight people from both countries involved in cross-border trade told AFP in recent days that several Chinese banks have halted or slowed transactions with Russian clients

"Chinese banks are concerned about reputational costs as they seek to forestall major sanctions," Elizabeth Wishnick, a senior research scientist at the naval analysis centre CNA, said.

"Certainly major Chinese banks would want to avoid that scenario given current economic difficulties domestically."

 

Putin's post-election trip to Beijing echoes Xi's own visit to Russia after his re-anointing as leader last year.

Experts expect this week's highly symbolic meeting to result in toasts to the "no limits" partnership, as well as some deals signed and pledges to increase trade.

The two leaders are set to sign a joint declaration following the talks, the Kremlin said Tuesday, and attend an evening marking 75 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Putin will meet with Premier Li Qiang - China's number two official - and travel to the northeastern city of Harbin for a trade and investment expo, the statement added.

The Russian leader knows full well that Beijing remains determined to back Moscow - seen by Chinese policymakers as a crucial bulwark against the West and a critical ally in its fight against a US-led world order, analysts said.

"The Russians are not overly emotional and naive," Carnegie's Gabuev said. "They understand how important ties with the West are for China.

"They know for sure that China will not drop them, throw them under the bus."