Xi Jinping receives Vladimir Putin and praises a relationship "conducive to world peace"

The diplomatic and trade relationship between Beijing and Moscow has only grown stronger
Un hombre pasa en bicicleta por delante de una pantalla gigante en un centro comercial mientras muestra un reportaje sobre la visita de Estado del presidente ruso Vladimir Putin a Pekín el 16 de mayo de 2024 – PHOTO/Héctor RETAMAL/AFP
A man rides his bicycle past a giant screen in a shopping mall while showing a report on Russian President Vladimir Putin's state visit to Beijing on 16 May 2024 - PHOTO/Hector RETAMAL/AFP
  1. "Personal friendship" 
  2. Curbing trade 

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday said his relationship with Russia is "conducive to world peace" and called for strengthening their cooperation as he welcomed his "old friend" Vladimir Putin to Beijing. 

It is Putin's first foreign trip since his re-election in March and his second in half a year to China, a vital economic mainstay for Russia after sanctions imposed by Western countries over its offensive in Ukraine. 

The Chinese president, who referred to his guest as an "old friend", said the relationship between Beijing and Moscow "is not only in the fundamental interest of the two countries and the two peoples, but also conducive to peace". 

"The current relationship between China and Russia has been hard-won, and the two sides should cherish and cultivate it," he insisted, according to excerpts released by his foreign ministry. 

For his part, the Kremlin chief assured that relations between the two countries "are neither opportunistic nor directed against anyone". 

"Our cooperation in international affairs is one of the factors of stability on the international scene," Putin said, according to a Russian media broadcast. 

"Personal friendship" 

The trip should reaffirm the "boundless" friendship that the two leaders proclaimed days before the start of the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. 

Since then, the diplomatic and trade relationship between Beijing and Moscow has only grown stronger. 

Xi has ignored Western criticism of the alliance, which allows China to import cheap energy from Russia and access its vast natural resources. 

"This is Putin's first trip since his inauguration and he intends to show that Sino-Russian relations are moving to another level," independent Russian political analyst Konstantin Kalachev told AFP. 

"Not to mention the visibly sincere personal friendship between the two leaders," who will have seen each other face-to-face four times since the start of the invasion of Ukraine. 

On Thursday, Putin declared himself "grateful" to China for its peace "initiatives" in the Ukrainian conflict, according to Russian agencies. 

Speaking to reporters with Xi, the Russian president called "harmful" any "closed" political and military alliance in the Asia-Pacific region, where Beijing competes with its US rival, which is cooperating with Australia and the UK to curb China's influence. 

China often calls for respect for the territorial integrity of all countries (including, implicitly, Ukraine), but has also asked that Russia's security concerns be taken into account. 

"Both sides agree that the way forward is a political solution to the crisis in Ukraine," Xi told reporters, recalling that "China's position on this issue has always been clear". 

Beijing claims to be a neutral actor in the Ukrainian war, but is criticised by Western countries for failing to condemn the invasion and for strengthening its economic cooperation with Moscow. 

Washington has set a red line for Beijing not to supply arms directly to Russia, and claims it has so far had no evidence to the contrary. 

Curbing trade 

Following the invasion of Ukraine, which began in February 2022, trade between China and Russia soared to a record 240 billion dollars in 2023, according to data from Beijing's customs services. 

However, China's exports to Russia fell in March and April from a year earlier after the US threatened sanctions on Chinese banks. 

This threat, coupled with a willingness to repair relations with Washington, makes Beijing more reluctant to boost its cooperation with Russia despite Moscow's wishes, analysts say. 

Nevertheless, Moscow and Beijing signed several trade agreements during Putin's visit.