Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday met with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping as he arrived in Beijing to attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games.
The Russian leader’s visit comes amid growing Chinese support for Moscow in its dispute with Ukraine that threatens to break out into armed conflict.
The two countries proclaimed a deep strategic alliance to balance what they portrayed as the malign global influence of the United States as Xi hosted Putin.
In a joint statement, the two countries affirmed that their new relationship was superior to any political or military alliance of the Cold War era.
“Friendship between the two states has no limits, there are no ‘forbidden’ areas of cooperation,” they declared, announcing plans to work together in a host of areas including space, climate change, artificial intelligence and control of the Internet.
The agreement and its symbolic timing – at a China-hosted Olympics that the United States has subjected to a diplomatic boycott – marked the strongest evidence yet of how the two giant neighbors are cementing their ties at a time of deep tensions in their relations with Washington.
Putin’s presence makes him the highest-profile guest at the event following the decision by the U.S., Britain and others not to send officials in protest over China’s human rights abuses and its treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.
Each backed the other on key points at the heart of those tensions:
Russia voiced its support for China’s stance that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, and opposition to any form of independence for the island. Moscow and Beijing also voiced their opposition to the AUKUS alliance between Australia, Britain and the United States, saying it increased the danger of an arms race in the region.
While China joined Russia in calling for an end to NATO enlargement and supported its demand for security guarantees from the West – issues at the heart of Moscow’s confrontation with the United States and its allies over Ukraine.
The two countries expressed concern about “the advancement of U.S. plans to develop global missile defence and deploy its elements in various regions of the world, combined with capacity building of high-precision non-nuclear weapons for disarming strikes and other strategic objectives.”
Elsewhere, without naming Washington, they criticized attempts by “certain states” to establish global hegemony, fan confrontation and impose their own standards of democracy.
Dmitri Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center said the statement marked an important evolution in ties and “takes Sino-Russian entente to the level of a common front to push back against U.S. pressure on Russia and China in Europe, Asia and globally.”
The discussions mark their first in-person meeting since 2019 and come as China and Russia increasingly align their foreign policies bilaterally and in world bodies such as the United Nations, in opposition to the U.S.-led bloc.
Leaders of the five ex-Soviet Central Asian nations, which have close ties with both Russia and China, all followed Putin’s lead and are attending, along with other states that have political and economic interests with Beijing.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, World Health Organization Director (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Daren Tang were among other dignitaries who arrived Thursday.
The Russian president criticized “attempts by some countries to politicize sports to the benefit of their ambitions,” an apparent reference to a U.S.-led diplomatic boycott, which does not affect the participation of athletes in the Games.
Yuri Ushakov, Putin’s foreign affairs adviser, earlier said that Moscow and Beijing plan to issue a joint statement that will reflect their shared views on global security, as officials from the two countries are set to sign more than a dozen agreements on trade, energy and other issues.
Ushakov noted that Moscow and Beijing have close or identical stances on most international issues. He said China supports Russia’s demands for security guarantees that have underpinned the standoff over Ukraine.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a call last week that Moscow’s security concerns need to be taken seriously and addressed, a statement that marked a notable policy shift for Beijing.
A buildup of more than 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine has fueled Western fears that Moscow is poised to invade its neighbor. Russia has denied planning an offensive but urged the U.S. and its allies to provide a binding pledge that NATO won’t expand to Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations or deploy weapons there, and roll back its forces from Eastern Europe – demands firmly rejected by the West.
Some observers suggested that Beijing is closely watching how the U.S. and its allies act in the standoff over Ukraine as it ponders further strategy on Taiwan, arguing that indecision by Washington could encourage China to grow more assertive.
Russia and China have held a series of joint war games, including naval drills and patrols by long-range bombers over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea. In August, Russian troops for the first time deployed to Chinese territory for joint maneuvers.
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