Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping vow to co-operate against ‘destructive and hostile’ US

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Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping on Thursday vowed to work together against what they said was “destructive and hostile” US pressure and to deepen the ties that have sustained Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

China’s president welcomed his Russian counterpart, who arrived in Beijing before dawn, at the Great Hall of the People ahead of two days of meetings aimed at underscoring the leaders’ close relationship and bolstering China’s support for Russia’s wartime economy.

Putin’s state visit, his first foreign trip since he was sworn in for a fifth term as president last week, was a clear rebuke to the US after secretary of state Antony Blinken last month urged China to drop its support for Russia’s war in Ukraine. Washington has also been considering imposing sanctions on Chinese financial institutions if Beijing does not stop its support.

A senior US official said the message from Putin and Xi sent “a signal throughout the People’s Republic of China that it is OK to be full-steam ahead on all trade with Russia and that is a concern”.

“We find it unacceptable that Chinese companies are helping Putin wage this war against Ukraine and if China purports to support peace in Europe, it cannot continue to fuel the biggest threat to European security,” the US official said. “This is not just a US position. You also heard it from our G7 partners, Nato and the EU.”

Russia and China pledged to tighten ties between their militaries and expand the scale of their combined exercises in a lengthy joint statement and Putin’s new defence secretary and security council chief were set to join him for closed-door talks with Xi at dinner later on Thursday evening.

In his opening comments, Putin hailed Russia and China’s economic ties and said their partnership was “one of the main stabilising factors on the international arena”.

Xi stressed the “friendship” between Moscow and Beijing, saying he and Putin provided each other with “strategic guidance”, before the pair signed the statement on deepening their strategic partnership.

The statement condemned what it said were US nuclear missile deployments that threatened Russia and China as well as Washington’s Aukus alliance with the UK and Australia.

Moscow and Beijing “intend to increase interaction and tighten co-ordination in order to counter Washington’s destructive and hostile course towards the so-called ‘dual containment’ of our countries,” the statement said.

Russia welcomed China’s efforts to broker a peace with Ukraine, which have mostly echoed the Kremlin’s talking points.

The countries also vowed to deepen their economic partnership, which has emerged as a vital lifeline sustaining Russia after western sanctions over Ukraine cut it out of global markets and supply chains.

The statement condemned attempts to seize sovereign assets — a clear reference to western discussions over giving some of Russia’s frozen sovereign funds to Ukraine — and said the countries reserved the right to respond against them.

While Russia and China recorded a huge increase in trade following the outbreak of the Ukraine war, there are signs Beijing has pulled back slightly after the US warned it could target Chinese companies found to have helped fund the Kremlin’s war machine.

China’s exports to its neighbour fell in March and April as the US threatened to target Chinese banks it alleged were helping Russia circumvent sanctions.

However, Russia’s top energy official said on Thursday that Moscow was aiming to finalise a deal for a new natural gas pipeline, Power of Siberia 2, between the countries “in the near future”.

“We plan to complete the review and sign a contract for the construction of a gas pipeline with a capacity of 50bn cubic metres [per year] in the near future,” energy minister Alexander Novak said on Russian state television.

Negotiations over the project, which Russia hopes will replace lost gas exports to Europe, have been delayed amid disagreements between Moscow and Beijing on critical details.

Alexei Miller, head of Russia’s gas export monopoly Gazprom — which has faced heavy losses since losing its main market in Europe — was not among officials in Putin’s delegation. Instead, he travelled to Iran “for a working visit”, the company announced on Wednesday.

Russia’s delegation included top officials in charge of increasing defence production, including Denis Manturov, who was recently promoted to the role of first deputy prime minister overseeing the defence sector.

The directors-general for Russian space co-operation and military technical co-operation were also set to join small-format talks alongside Putin.

The Kremlin said Putin and Xi would then go for a walk alone before meeting for more sensitive talks along with new defence minister Andrei Belousov and his predecessor Sergei Shoigu, now secretary of the security council, as well as the Russian president’s top two foreign policy officials.

On Friday, Putin will travel with Chinese leaders to lay a wreath for Soviet soldiers in north-eastern China before attending a China-Russia Expo, Chinese business publication Caixin reported.

Chinese leaders have said little officially about the visit. Analysts said Beijing was focused on trying to stabilise tensions with its important trade partners in the EU and US, which have accused China of stoking overcapacity to boost weak economic growth and have opened anti-dumping investigations.

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