Samarkand Summit: a struggling Putin increasingly aligned with Xi Jinping
The two leaders meet on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit. The Russian leader fully backs China's Taiwan policy, and appreciates Beijing’s “balanced" position on Ukraine. For his part, the Chinese president spreads his wings in Central Asia, the Kremlin’s traditional turf.
Nur-Sultan (AsiaNews) – Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, met one-on-one on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit currently underway in Samarkand (Uzbekistan).
During the meeting the Russian leader said that his government backs Beijing’s “One China” policy vis-à-vis Taiwan, under communist rule. He also condemned the provocations by the United States and its satellites regarding the island’s status, and expressed appreciation for China’s “balanced position” on the Ukrainian conflict.
As he finds himself increasingly in trouble in Ukraine, grappling with Kyiv’s counteroffensive and the effects of Western sanctions, Putin needs more than ever Chinese support, which Beijing is providing, albeit with some nuances.
The two leaders met previously, in early February, at the inauguration of the Beijing Winter Games. Three weeks later Moscow invaded Ukraine, irking its Chinese partner, this according to several sources.
Ahead of his meeting with Putin, Xi issued a very nuanced statement, according to Russian media. “In the face of a changing world, changing times and historic changes, China is willing to work with Russia to demonstrate the responsibilities of big powers and lead, to instil stability and positive energy in a world of chaos,” Xi is quoted as saying.
The meeting between the two leaders comes as the two countries hold joint naval and air war games in the Pacific Northwest. At the start of this month, Chinese troops joined Russian troops in Eastern Siberia for the Vostok (East) 2022 military drill.
Yet, despite all the declarations about their “no-limits” friendship, the partnership between Russia and China remains "tactical" and "unbalanced".
On Ukraine, China "unofficially" supports the Russian position, but is careful to avoid indirect Western sanctions; for instance, it has increased its purchases of Russian oil, gas and coal, but is not providing military support.
For Beijing, this is a highly sensitive issue. Last week, China’s number three, Li Zhanshu, told Russian lawmakers that China understands Moscow’s actions in Ukraine. According to Li, NATO and the United States threatened Russia, which counterattacked to defend its interests.
Usually, statements by Chinese officials about the Russian-Ukrainian war tend to be more cautious, so much so that China’s official media did publish what Li said during his visit to Russia.
Xi’s trip to Central Asia is his first abroad since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. Before Uzbekistan, the Chinese president was in Kazakhstan for a meeting with his Kazakh counterpart.
The two sides said they want to boost cooperation in agriculture, e-commerce, and technological investments, while Kazakhstan pledged to provide stable gas supplies to China.
Beijing is the main economic player in Central Asia, but Moscow has the larger military footprint, at least on paper.
Nevertheless, Xi's trip is seen as an opportunity to reaffirm China's growing hegemony in the region as Russia grapples with the political and economic fallout from its aggression against Ukraine.
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