Putin, Xi hold in-depth wide-ranging talks in Beijing in symbolic meeting

Putin, Xi hold in-depth wide-ranging talks in Beijing in symbolic meeting
Russia's Putin and China's Xi held in-depth wide-ranging talks in Beijing, Putin's first foreign trip since being re-elected, as the two countries continue to deepen ties. / bne IntelliNews
By Ben Aris in Berlin May 16, 2024

In a rare event, video posted on social media show Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping hugging each other in a symbolic gesture of their increasingly close ties in a show down with the West

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin have jointly called for a political resolution to the ongoing war in Ukraine, during the latter's visit to Beijing on May 16.

The leaders signed a joint declaration and discussed deepening bilateral ties, including cooperation in trade and significant foreign policy issues, on the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

The document was signed after extensive Russian-Chinese negotiations. Kremlin foreign policy chief Yury Ushakov said earlier that the document is over 30 pages long.

Ukraine featured prominently in the discussions, where the two leaders walked in a park drinking tea. Xi referred to the conflict in Ukraine as a "crisis" during a joint press conference by the two premiers.

"China and Russia are insisting on a political solution to the war in Ukraine," Xi Jinping said, without detailing any specific next steps. Putin expressed gratitude for "China's efforts to resolve the Ukrainian crisis."

On the agenda for this evening is an informal dinner in the 1+4 format from both sides. Putin will be joined by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Defence Minister Andrey Belousov, Security Council Secretary Sergey Shoigu and presidential aide Yury Ushakov, who will be joined by their Chinese counterparts. Ukraine will also be the main topic of talks at the dinner.

Beijing is Putin’s first foreign destination after his re-election, although he has a dozen more invitations from various other countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Putin’s first foreign visit after being first elected in 2000 was to the UK, where he signed off on the creation of the TNK-BP oil company 50:50 joint venture between the British and Russian companies at a time when he was still trying to create a warm relationship with the West.

Ushakov said that China was not randomly chosen for the president’s first foreign trip, but as a response to a similar gesture of friendship made by Xi, who made a landmark three-day state visit to Moscow in March 2023 on the tenth anniversary of his election. That trip placed China squarely in Russia’s camp and in open defiance of the West. The two leaders declared a “no-limits” friendship at the meeting just weeks before the invasion of Ukraine, which has helped Russia endure the extreme sanctions imposed on it by the West, rendering them largely ineffective. The two men have met more than 40 times since Xi came to power in 2012.

According to Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin, Beijing attaches great significance to Putin and Xi’s diplomatic strategic leadership in the formation of bilateral ties. "The two heads of state agreed to continue maintaining close ties so that Chinese-Russian relations could continue developing successfully and stably," he said.

China has been in the spotlight recently, after the US accused Beijing of aiding Moscow to avoid sanctions and of being a major source of dual-use “high priority” exports of equipment and technology to Russia in a trade worth $300mn per month. The US has also targeted Chinese banks as part of its smart sanctions regime introduced in December, which has caused major Chinese and Turkish banks to cut ties with Russian banks.

Despite the growing economic ties, China’s exports to Russia were down 13% in April from a year earlier, the second month in a row of an annual decrease, according to Chinese customs data. Russian media reported that Chinese banks in late March began blocking payments from companies in Russia buying components for electronic assembly.

The two leaders and their top officials could look for solutions such as designating smaller banks with no exposure to the US financial system to handle transactions with Russia, according to Alexander Gabuev, director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Centre.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in China recently with a long shopping list of requests and overtly threatened China with a “suitable response” if China did not curb its aid to Russia. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen was also in China recently, making similar threats. Earlier this week US President Joe Biden ordered new tariffs of up to 100% on Chinese exports of electric vehicles (EVs), batteries and other high tech items as trade relations between the two become increasingly tense.

During the press conference, Putin mentioned that he would brief Xi on the battlefield situation and that the conflict in Ukraine was a major topic of discussion during their meeting. He also criticised the military-political partnerships forming in the Asia-Pacific region, calling them "harmful."

While Russia is confronting the West over its “special military operation” in Ukraine, similar tensions are escalating in the South China Sea where China has become increasingly aggressive in its territorial claims.

Trade between China and Russia has surged to over $200bn a year as Russia’s trade with Europe has tumbled as a result of sanctions. China has become Russia’s more important export market for both energy and other raw materials. Russia and China have also abandoned the dollar and settled all their mutual trade in rubles and yuan respectively.

"We are working to create a multipolar world," Putin said, emphasising that the two countries share similar views on global and regional issues.

Other agenda items

Improving trade and economic cooperation also feature prominently on the agenda as the two countries not only continue to tie their economies closer together, but also seek to form a global alliance of non-aligned countries in the global south through the BRICS+ format and other similar organisations. Russia will host the annual BRICS+ summit this summer where more members are expected to join.

Views on issues of cooperation within various international organisations and structures, including the United Nations and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) are also on the agenda.

Putin and Xi are due to discuss issues of linking integration processes within the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and the One Belt, One Road Chinese initiative, which are at the core of the new Russian foreign policy concept as well as Beijing’s grand foreign policy strategy.

Another item that will be high on the business agenda is to sign off on the construction and operation of the potential new Power of Siberia 2 gas pipeline link through Mongolia, which could lift Russian state-owned gas champion Gazprom’s eastbound deliveries by 50bn cubic metres a year. Currently the Power of Siberia 1 is functioning, but construction of its sister pipeline is waiting for a comprehensive agreement between the two, especially on the price of the gas. While Putin and Xi may discuss the contract when they meet, the Russian side does not expect a final agreement this time around, according to a person familiar with the matter. The previous deal took a decade to agree.

Regional problems, such as the situation in and around Ukraine, in the Middle East, in Central and Northeastern Asia, and in the Asia-Pacific region in general, are also on the agenda. The Russian leader will hand over to his Chinese counterpart an invitation to visit the BRICS summit in Kazan in June, which will be their next meeting. Western powers are excluded from the BRICS meetings.

While in Beijing, Putin will also meet with Premier of the State Council of the People's Republic of China Li Qiang, take part in the wreath laying ceremony at the Monument to the People's Heroes in Tiananmen Square, and together with Xi he will visit a gala concert on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries and the opening of the Year of Russian Culture in China, TASS reports.

The two may also discuss China’s attendance at an international peace summit being organised in Switzerland to discuss the war in Ukraine. China has been invited but has yet to say whether Xi will attend.

Representative delegation

The Sino-Russian meeting was as much about business as it was politics and Putin brought a very large delegation that included most of Russia’s blue-chip companies that had parallel meetings with their Chinese counterparts. The Russian president was also accompanied by nearly the entire new cabinet sworn in during last week’s reshuffle, as well as dozens of regional governors and top executives of big businesses.

TASS reports that the members of the delegation included: First Deputy Prime Minister Denis Manturov, Deputy Prime Ministers Dmitry Chernyshenko, Alexander Novak, Yury Trutnev, Tatiana Golikova, Vitaly Savelyev; Central Bank Governor Elvira Nabiullina, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov, Economic Development Minister Maxim Reshetnikov, head of the Financial Monitoring Agency Yury Chikhanchin, Minister of Natural Resources Alexander Kozlov; Russian Railways CEO Oleg Belozerov, Rosatom CEO Alexey Likhachev; head of the Federal Service for Military Technical Cooperation Dmitry Shugayev, Roscosmos CEO Yury Borisov; deputy heads of the presidential administration Maxim Oreshkin and Dmitry Peskov, presidential aide Yury Ushakov; Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Defence Minister Andrey Belousov, Russian Security Council Secretary Sergey Shoigu; co-chairman of the Russian-Chinese friendship committee and businessmen’s rights ombudsman Boris Titov, head of the Russian-Chinese Business Council and co-owner of Volga Group Gennady Timchenko; Sberbank President and board chairman Herman Gref, Oleg Derpaska, director general of the Russian Direct Investment Fund Kirill Dmitriev, VTB President Andrey Kostin, Rosmano and Novatek board chairmen Sergey Kulikov and Leonid Mikhelson, head of Business Russia Alexey Repik, Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin, President of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs Alexander Shokhin, and VEB chairman Igor Shuvalov.