Vladimir Putin’s state visit to China shows deepening links

Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping at the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing in October 2023
Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping met at the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing in October 2023 - Sergei Guneev/Pool/Sputnik

Vladimir Putin will arrive in China on Thursday for a two-day state visit to further cement ties between the two countries, the Kremlin has said.

The meeting with Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, will mark Mr Putin’s first overseas trip since his inauguration for a fifth term as Russia’s president, and underscores deepening cooperation between the two leaders that has alarmed the United States and its allies.

The two men “will discuss in detail the entire range of issues of the comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation, identify key areas for further development of Russian-Chinese practical cooperation, and exchange views in detail on the most pressing international and regional issues,” the Kremlin said.

It added that Mr Xi and Mr Putin would sign a joint statement after their summit but gave no further details. China’s foreign ministry issued a brief announcement that the Russian leader was visiting at the invitation of the president.

Washington will closely observe talks

Portamur, the Russian news portal, said the two leaders would attend a gala to mark the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.

Their talks will be closely observed from Washington, which has voiced growing concern about the weapons technology alliance between Beijing and Moscow that is helping to fuel Russia’s war against Ukraine.

China has backed Russia politically over the conflict and continues to export machine tools and other dual use items seen as boosting Russia’s military capabilities, without actually exporting weaponry.

In April, the US accused China of providing Moscow with cruise missile and drone engines, as well as machine tools for ballistic missiles, and of supplying 90 per cent of chips imported by Russia last year for use in tanks, missiles and aircraft.

“Russia would struggle to sustain its assault on Ukraine without China’s support,” Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, said in April after visiting China, where he cautioned that the US would take action if Beijing did not curb the flow of goods.

Washington followed up in May with sanctions against more than a dozen Chinese entities that the Treasury department has claimed are providing Russia with infrared detectors, drone components and missile sensors.

Xi walking a tightrope

Mr Xi must strike a fine balance during the Russian leader’s visit. If he signals further support for Mr Putin, he risks alienating Europe, a key trading partner.

China has denied it is selling weapons to either side in the war and has increasingly portrayed itself as a broker for peace.

In early May, Li Hui, a Chinese special envoy carried out a third round of shuttle diplomacy on the political settlement of the Ukraine crisis, visiting Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Mr Putin is expected to try to further secure a strategic partnership with China and the economic lifeline that Beijing has offered Russia since it came under severe financial sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine.

China is a major export market for energy supplies that keep the Kremlin’s coffers full.

Mr Putin is likely to broach the issue of the Power of Siberia 2 natural gas pipeline, designed to connect Russia and China via Mongolia, the South China Morning Post reported earlier this week.

If it goes ahead, the signature project would divert 50 billion cubic metres of natural gas per year to north China – redirecting a supply that once went to Europe.

It would also signal the depth of bilateral relations more than two years since the two authoritarian leaders declared a “no limits” partnership to counter America’s global influence and what they have criticised as interference.