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Xi gets the red carpet treatment for a second day of talks with Putin


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Published: 15:52 GMT, 21 March 2023 | Updated: 17:06 GMT, 21 March 2023

Xi Jinping claimed China and Russia were reaping an ‘early harvest of cooperation’ today, as Vladimir Putin pulled out all the stops to welcome his Chinese counterpart to the Kremlin for the second day of formal talks.

Xi entered the Kremlin on a red carpet and was greeted by a military band, senior Russian officials, and Putin himself, as the two allies continued to cultivate an image to the world that seeks to counteract Western power.

The grand welcome followed last night’s cozy goodbye where, in a rare break in stern Moscow protocol, Putin waved Xi off as he drove back to his hotel.

The Kremlin today said the two leaders would discuss proposals put forward by China to end more than a year of fighting in Ukraine, and that the talks were likely to end with Xi and Putin signing a raft of agreements. 

The Chinese leader’s Moscow visit has been viewed as a particular boost for Putin, who is under Western sanctions and subject to an International Criminal Court warrant over accusations of unlawfully deporting Ukrainian children. While the West has remained united in its support of Ukraine, Putin and Russia have been left with the likes of China, North Korea, Belarus, and Iran for support.

But Xi appeared to welcome Putin’s advances, promising to continue strengthening coordination between the Kremlin and Beijing.

In a rare break in stern protocol, Putin waved Xi off as he drove back to his Moscow hotel last night

Xi entered the Kremlin on a red carpet and was greeted by a military band, senior Russian officials, and Putin himself

‘The early harvest of (our) cooperation can be seen, and further cooperation is being advanced,’ Xi told Putin, according to Hong Kong cable television today. 

Putin also called today’s talks ‘meaningful and frank’ and said that Russia, which has been largely cut out of European markets because of sanctions, would be able to meet China’s ‘growing demand’ for energy.

Putin told Xi that Moscow was ready to help Chinese businesses replace Western firms that have left Russia over the Ukraine conflict.

‘I propose strengthening our coordination and cooperation,’ Xi said between two rounds of talks in the Kremlin in footage shown on Russian state television.

Putin said he was ‘convinced that our multi-level mutually beneficial cooperation will strengthen further’.

Neither leader made any mention of the conflict in Ukraine, although the Kremlin said they would today discuss China’s proposal to stop the fighting.

Amid the backdrop of the meetings between the two leaders, Russia’s defence minister Sergei Shoigu declared there were ‘fewer and fewer steps’ to a nuclear collision between Moscow and the West.

‘Another step has been taken, and there are fewer and fewer left,’ Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told reporters in remarks cited by domestic agencies.

Asked whether this meant that the world was closer to a nuclear collision, he replied: ‘It was not by chance that I told you about steps. There are fewer and fewer’.

Russian President Vladimir Putin also said Moscow would be ‘forced to react’ if Britain gives Ukraine military supplies, including armour piercing ammunition which contain depleted uranium.

‘The United Kingdom … announced not only the supply of tanks to Ukraine, but also shells with depleted uranium. If this happens, Russia will be forced to react,’ Putin told reporters after talks at the Kremlin with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend an official welcome ceremony at The Grand Kremlin Palace

At the second day of meetings, Putin told Xi that Moscow was ready to help Chinese businesses replace Western firms that have left Russia over the Ukraine conflict

The Russian and Chinese presidents were expected to discuss in detail the Ukraine crisis later today

A large focus of today’s meetings focused on the proposed Power of Siberia 2 pipeline, which would ship Russian gas to China.

The planned pipeline would deliver 50 billion cubic metres of natural gas per year from Russia to China, via Mongolia. Moscow put forward the idea many years ago, but it has gained urgency as Russia turns to China to replace Europe as its major gas customer.

‘I am convinced that our multi-faceted cooperation will continue to develop for the good of the peoples of our countries,’ Putin said in televised comments to Xi, adding that Russia is a ‘strategic supplier’ of oil, gas and coal to China.

Xi said China and Russia should work more closely to push forward greater ‘practical cooperation’.

Russia’s Gazprom already supplies gas to China through the Power of Siberia pipeline under a 30-year, $400 billion (£328 billion) deal launched at the end of 2019. That pipeline spans some 3,000 km (1,865 miles).

Russia’s gas exports to China are still a small fraction of the record 177 bcm it delivered to Europe in 2018-19. Since the start of the Ukraine conflict in February 2022, volumes to Europe have shrunk, reaching about 62 bcm in 2022.

Putin said on Tuesday Russia would deliver at least 98 bcm of gas to China by 2030.

The Russian and Chinese presidents were expected to discuss in detail the Ukraine crisis later today after Putin provided some ‘clarifications’ of Moscow’s position to Xi in a first round of talks on Monday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping arrive to attend a signing ceremony following their talks at The Grand Kremlin Palace, Moscow

Chinese President Xi Jinping is on a three-day visit where they will discuss improving joint partnership and developing key areas of Russian-Chinese economic cooperation

Xi also met with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin earlier where he hailed Russia and China as ‘great neighbouring powers’.

Beijing and Moscow’s trade ties have boomed since Russia’s Ukraine campaign, linking the nations more closely and raising worries in Western capital over how far the ties will go.

Xi, who said he had invited Putin to visit China this year, said China’s government would ‘continue to prioritise the all-round strategic partnership between China and Russia’.

‘We are great neighbouring powers,’ he was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying during a meeting with Mishustin.

But while Russian leaders looked to cozy-up to their super-power neighbour, Xi was not averse to their ‘no-limits friendship’.

Xi, who said he had invited Putin to visit China this year, said China’s government would ‘continue to prioritise the all-round strategic partnership’ with Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend a welcome ceremony before Russia-China talks

In a rare move, Putin escorted Xi to his car after the talks last night, and the two were seen smiling together

Today’s talks in the Kremlin followed four-and-a-half hour discussions yesterday where Xi and Putin called each other ‘dear friend’

Xi’s trip coincides with a surprise visit to Kyiv by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who visited Bucha, a town where Russian forces were accused of committing atrocities during their occupation last year.

Ukraine’s foreign ministry described the trip as ‘historic’ and called it ‘a sign of solidarity and strong cooperation between (Ukraine and Japan)’.

Today’s talks in the Kremlin followed four-and-a-half hour discussions yesterday where Xi and Putin called each other ‘dear friend’.

In a rare move, Putin escorted Xi to his car after the talks, and the two were seen smiling together.

During that meeting, the Russian leader said he was open to talks on Ukraine and praised Beijing’s 12-point position paper on the conflict, which includes a call for dialogue and respect for all countries’ territorial sovereignty.

Xi and Putin are also expected to discuss boosting economic cooperation as Russia boosts energy exports to China after being mostly shut out of European markets.

Ahead of the talks, Russian gas giant Gazprom said that supplies through the Power of Siberia pipeline to China had reached a daily record on Monday.

Xi’s three-day visit began a day after Putin travelled to Mariupol in eastern Ukraine, his first trip to territory captured from Kyiv since the start of the assault in February 2022.

China’s President Xi Jinping attends a meeting with Russian Prime Minister in Moscow today

Xi and Putin are also expected to discuss boosting economic cooperation today as Russia boosts energy exports to China after being mostly shut out of European markets

Xi also met with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin earlier where he hailed Russia and China as ‘great neighbouring powers’

Beijing and Moscow’s trade ties have boomed since Russia’s Ukraine campaign, linking the nations more closely and raising worries in Western capital over how far the ties will go

China has sought to portray itself as a neutral party in the Ukraine conflict, but Washington has said Beijing’s moves could be a ‘stalling tactic’ to help Moscow.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Xi’s Moscow visit ‘suggests that China feels no responsibility to hold the president accountable for the atrocities committed to Ukraine’.

‘And instead of even condemning, it would rather provide diplomatic cover for Russia to continue to commit those great crimes,’ he added.

The United States has accused Beijing of mulling arms exports to Moscow, claims China has vociferously denied.

Zelensky has said he would welcome talks with Xi, though there has been no indication from Beijing of any such plans.

As part of Kishida’s visit to Kyiv, he is to offer ‘solidarity and support’ in a meeting with Zelensky.

Kishida is the last Group of Seven leader to visit Ukraine and has come under increasing pressure to make the trip, as Japan hosts the grouping’s summit this May.

Japan and China are close trading partners, but Tokyo has been increasingly worried about Beijing’s growing assertiveness in the region.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Chinese President Xi Jinping pose for a photo during an official welcome ceremony

President Xi Jinping arrives at the Grand Kremlin Palace for talks with Russian President Putin

China and Russia have often worked in lockstep at the UN Security Council, using their veto power as permanent council members to counter the West

Japan is part of the US-led security alliance known informally as the Quad, which also includes India and Australia, and positions itself as a bulwark against China’s military ambitions in Asia and the Pacific.

Moscow and Beijing have over the past years ramped up cooperation, both driven by a desire to counterbalance US global dominance.

While Beijing has called for an ‘impartial’ mediation in the conflict, Western countries have argued that China’s proposals are heavy on grand principles but light on practical solutions.

The United States said last week that China’s proposals would simply consolidate ‘Russian conquest’ and allow the Kremlin to prepare a fresh offensive.

China and Russia have often worked in lockstep at the UN Security Council, using their veto power as permanent council members to counter the West.

Russia’s assault on Ukraine has also deepened fears among Western powers that China could one day try to take control of the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which Beijing sees as part of its territory.