Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin met in the Kremlin and touted the close ties and strategic visions shared by China and Russia, on the first day of a state visit framed by Beijing as a peace project despite deep skepticism in Kiev and the West.
Xi is doing his first time since Moscow launched its unprovoked campaign. invasion of ukraine last year, just days after the International Criminal Court in The Hague accused the Russian president of committing war crimes in Ukraine and issued an arrest warrant for him.
Ukraine is expected to be a key point of discussion during Xi’s visit, which will be closely watched for any potential impact on a entrenched conflict which has killed tens of thousands and triggered a massive humanitarian crisis.
“In recent years, China has made a colossal leap,” Putin told Xi, sitting next to him in the Kremlin on Monday afternoon. “All over the world, this arouses interest and, unfortunately, even envy.”
Xi called Putin his “dear friend” and said that “Russia’s development has improved significantly under his leadership.”
China has billed the trip as a “trip of friendship, cooperation and peace,” amid a push by Beijing to frame itself as a key advocate for conflict resolution. But Xi’s trip is likely to be seen in some Western capitals as a strong endorsement of the Russian leader in the face of widespread international condemnation of his war.
Top US diplomat Antony Blinken said the visit showed China’s intention to provide “diplomatic cover” for alleged Russian atrocities in Ukraine.
“The fact that President Xi traveled to Russia days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Putin suggests that China does not feel a responsibility to hold the Kremlin accountable for atrocities in Ukraine, and instead condemn them, I would rather provide diplomatic cover for Russia to continue committing those same crimes,” Blinken said at a US State Department news conference on the release of the 2022 Human Rights Report.
Putin once again told Xi that he is “always open to the negotiation process” during a publicized part of the meeting on Monday, despite his repeated refusal to engage with Kiev on a withdrawal from Ukrainian land.
“We closely studied your proposals on settling the acute crisis in Ukraine,” Putin told Xi.
“Of course, we will have the opportunity to discuss this issue. We know that it is based on the principles of justice and commitment to the fundamental points of international law,” Putin said. “We will certainly discuss all these issues, including his initiative.”
Western leaders have expressed skepticism about China’s potential role as a peacemaker and its supposed neutrality. Instead, the United States and its allies have been warning since last month that China is considering sending lethal aid to Russia for its war effort, which Beijing has denied.
kyiv is also expected to closely watch the proceedings and reiterated on Monday that any peace plan must begin with a Russian exit from its territory.
“We hope that Beijing will use its influence on Moscow to end the aggressive war against Ukraine,” Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko told CNN on Monday.
“Restoring Ukraine’s territorial integrity should be at the center of every diplomatic effort,” he said. “We are ready to enter into a closer dialogue with China in order to restore peace in Ukraine in accordance with the principles enshrined in the UN Charter and the latest UNGA resolution on this matter.”
Xi’s visit comes days after the ICC essentially made Putin a wanted man in all 123 countries that recognize the court, deepening the Russian leader’s isolation from the West as a bloody and costly war in Ukraine continues.
The Chinese leader was expected to meet Putin later Monday afternoon local time. Upon his arrival at Vnukovo airport near Moscow, he was greeted by Dmitry Chernyshenko, one of Russia’s 10 deputy prime ministers, and a Russian military band, but Putin himself was not present at the meeting.
Russian media later showed Xi’s motorcade driving through the city ahead of three days of meetings, where he is expected to promote an alleged framework for ending the conflict that has earned a tepid reception from the West.
China has recently tried to revamp its image, presenting itself as a champion of peace and defending its relationship with Russia as good for global stability. Last month, Beijing released a loosely worded position paper on the “political solution” of the conflict in Ukraine.
On Friday, after the announcement of Xi’s trip to Moscow, the White House expressed concern about possible proposals from China that would be “one-sided and reflect only the Russian perspective.”
For example, a proposed ceasefire, which China has called for repeatedly, would simply provide a way for Russia to regroup before launching a retaliation, said John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council.
On Monday, after Xi arrived in Moscow, US Secretary of State Blinken said the “elements” of China’s peace proposal for the war were in line with efforts Washington would support.
“China’s proposal includes elements that we have long supported, such as ensuring nuclear security, resolving the humanitarian crisis, protecting civilians, and indeed the first element calls for upholding the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries,” Blinken said.
But he said that any call for a ceasefire “that does not include the withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory would be effectively supporting the ratification of the Russian conquest” as it would “allow President Putin to rest and recondition his troops, and then restart war”. at a more advantageous time for Russia.”
“The world must not be fooled by any tactical move by Russia, with the support of China or any other country, to freeze the war on its own terms,” Blinken said.
The visit is expected to provide a platform for the two countries to further deepen their close strategic alignment, which encompasses diplomatic coordination, joint military training and sound trade.
In a statement issued after Xi landed on Monday, the Chinese leader said: “In the face of a turbulent and changing world, China stands ready to continue working with Russia to firmly safeguard the international order.”
Putin and Xi touted the “new impetus” their meeting would bring to their bilateral relationship in separate letters published in each other’s national state media ahead of the visit.
Both also used the letters to denounce “hegemony,” an allusion to their shared goal of rolling back what they see as a US-led world order.
Xi will have to tread carefully during his visit to Moscow. At stake for the Chinese leader is whether he can strengthen ties with a partner China sees as crucial to countering perceived US dominance, without alienating a Europe that has grown increasingly wary of the China-Russia relationship.
Putin launched his invasion days after he and Xi declared a Association “without limits” last february.
China has since claimed its neutrality but backed Kremlin rhetoric blaming NATO for the conflict, refused to condemn the invasion and continued to support Moscow financially. significantly increase purchases of Russian fuel.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has publicly expressed interest in speaking with Xi about the conflict in the past, although communication between the two countries has not gone beyond Ukraine’s ministerial level since the war began.
Ukrainian, Chinese and US officials declined last week to confirm a possible virtual meeting between Zelensky and Xi, following a Wall Street Journal report that the two planned to speak for the first time after Xi’s then-potential trip to Moscow.
By contrast, this week’s state visit marks the 40th meeting between Putin and Xi since the Chinese leader came to power in 2012.
He personal chemistry between the two authoritarian leaders is widely seen as a key driver for closer ties between the countries in recent years, and will also be closely examined during the visit.
Past meetings between the leaders have put that relationship on full display, with photo ops including Putin giving ice cream to Xi on his 66th birthday during a 2019 gathering in Tajikistan, and the two cooked Russian pancakes together on the sidelines of a forum in Vladivostok in 2018.
The two last met in person in September during a Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit, part of Xi’s first trip abroad after almost three years without traveling during the pandemic.
Putin, who referred to Xi as his “good old friend” in his letter published on Chinese state media on Monday, is expected to present the nationwide meeting as proof that Russia is not isolated on the world stage. .