In a long statement issued after conversations between the two leaders in Moscow this week, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin affirmed their alignment on a wide range of subjects, including their mutual distrust of the United States.
Their encounter, held in the shadow of Russia’s onslaught in Ukraine, left no doubt about Beijing’s determination to strengthen ties with Moscow, despite Putin’s growing isolation in the world arena as his catastrophic war enters its second year.
It also failed to move the needle on resolving that disagreement.
Instead, Xi’s three-day visit to Moscow, which ended Wednesday, was an opportunity for the two self-described “friends” to demonstrate their close personal rapport amid the pomp of a state visit – and lay out how they could advance a world order that they see as being led by Washington and its democratic allies.
According to a Kremlin list, the conference resulted in more than a dozen agreements increasing cooperation in areas ranging from trade and technology to state propaganda. The major declaration from the presidents centered on how the two countries will “deepen” their partnership.
Xi’s visit was offset by another important diplomatic mission to the region.
On Tuesday, Japanese Prime Minister and US ally Fumio Kishida arrived in Ukraine to meet with Ukrainian President Vlodomyr Zelensky, highlighting how the European war has widened differences in Asia.
Here’s all you need to know about the meetings between Xi and Putin.
There is no meaningful way forward in Ukraine
The sessions produced no advance in addressing the Ukrainian issue.
According to a joint statement released by China’s Foreign Ministry, both presidents urged for an end to acts that “raise tensions” and “prolong” the war in Ukraine. The statement made no mention of Russia’s invasion and military attack as the root cause of the ongoing carnage and humanitarian disaster in Ukraine.
The presidents also encouraged NATO to “respect the sovereignty, security, and interests” of other countries, echoing long-standing rhetoric from both countries wrongly blaming the Western security alliance for Russia’s invasion.
China sought to position itself as a peace mediator in recent weeks, announcing its position on a “political solution” to the war, and advocating for a truce and peace negotiations.
In remarks to reporters following Tuesday’s meetings, Putin stated that “many of the terms” might be “used as the basis” for a peaceful settlement in Ukraine “when the West and Kyiv are ready for it.”
But, the idea has been dismissed by the West and Ukraine since it makes no mention of Moscow withdrawing its soldiers from Ukrainian territory.
On Tuesday, Zelensky stated that a truce would “merely freeze” the battle, giving Russia time to “prepare and return with their single objective, their leader’s wish – that is to invade our nation.”
New world order and anti-US alliance
Per the experts, the conference was not motivated by a desire to end the crisis in Ukraine, but rather by China and Russia’s desire to forge their alliance against the US and create a world order more conducive to their own more autocratic agendas.
During a state dinner with Putin on Tuesday evening, Xi’s parting statement reinforced his belief that global power balances are altering.
“Together, we should drive forward these improvements that have not happened for 100 years. “Take care,” he urged as he kissed Putin goodbye, alluding to what Xi sees as an era in which the West is waning and China is ascendant.
The two authoritarian leaders pledged to work together to “safeguard the international system” and the United Nations, where they have a history of blocking motions, including those against actors like North Korea. They called for the promotion of a “multipolar world,” a buzzword for a system not governed by so-called Western values and rules.
However, they made many jabs at Washington, including one in which they urged the country to “stop undermining global strategic stability and international and regional security to retain its unilateral military superiority.”
The joint statement, according to international relations specialist Alexander Korolev at the University of New South Wales in Australia, “overall convergence of Chinese and Russian global views and approaches to many international issues.”
He claimed that it was “extremely specific and unequivocal” when it came to designate the United States as a significant security concern.
Defense ties and “military mutual trust”
Both presidents focused on perceived threats from organizations like NATO and AUKUS, a security agreement made up of Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as its consequences for Asia.
In their joint statement, Xi and Putin both voiced “severe concerns” about NATO’s “continued deepening of military-security cooperation with Asia-Pacific countries” and stated that they “oppose external military troops harming regional peace and stability.”
The US has strengthened its Indo-Pacific footprint and its ties with its regional partners as China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea has risen.
In a joint statement, Russia and China vowed to “further develop military mutual trust,” citing increased military cooperation and exchanges as well as regular joint marine and aircraft patrols.
Since the start of the war, the two nations have kept conducting joint drills all around the world.
Economic and energy improvements
Putin stated on Tuesday that Moscow is willing to promote Chinese businesses that are “replacing Western corporations” that have left Russia since the beginning of his invasion of Ukraine.
Since the imposition of sweeping sanctions, Russia has become increasingly reliant on China as both an import market and an exporter of electronics.
The allies appeared to be preparing to expand on what has already been a spike in energy commerce over the last year as Europe reduces its reliance on Russia’s major resource.
Both leaders also stated that they “will strengthen our energy alliance by assisting companies from both nations in developing cooperation projects in oil, gas, coal, power, and nuclear energy.”
In statements to the media, Putin stated that additional expansion of Russian gas supplies to China was considered, including “execution of the idea to build the Power of Siberia 2 gas pipeline across Mongolian territory.”
In his remarks at the briefing, Xi did not explicitly reference the pipeline, which Moscow has promoted as a successor to the now-defunct Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline bringing gas into Europe.
The joint statement did mention collaborating on “research and consultation” for a “new China-Mongolia-Russia natural gas pipeline project.”
A world divided
The optics of the Moscow summit were starkly different from the concurrent meeting in Ukraine between Zelensky and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida.
Kishida and other visiting leaders were hailed by Zelensky for “showing respect” not just for Ukraine, but also “for the maintenance and functioning of civilized rules and civilized life in the globe.”
“Given Japan’s strength, its leadership in Asia in preserving peace and the rules-based international order, and Japan’s obligation as the (Group of Seven) chair,” he said in a nocturnal address Tuesday.
Xi has yet to speak with Zelensky since the Russian invasion began, though a senior Ukrainian official told the associated press Tuesday that talks between the two countries are underway to establish a call concerning China’s resolution suggestion, with “nothing tangible” planned.
Yet, observers say Xi’s Moscow trip, although strengthening an alliance with Russia that China regards as crucial to limiting American global power, may come at the expense of China’s other relationships.
“(Xi’s visit) elevates China-Russia relations above any other bilateral interactions China can have,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a political science professor at Hong Kong Baptist University.
But, he believes that this “joint statement will not earn (China) many friends in Europe,” because “entire Europe is so mobilized around Ukraine to try to force out the Russians.”