Russian President Putin In China To Meet ‘Dear Friend’ Xi

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin travelled in China to visit his “dear friend” Xi Jinping and strengthen their ties at a summit clouded by the Israel-Hamas conflict.

This week, China will host representatives from 130 countries for a summit to discuss President Xi’s massive economic and infrastructure Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Putin is at the top of the guest list, making his first trip to a major global power since his regime was isolated internationally during the invasion of Ukraine.

He is scheduled to meet with Xi on the margins of the conference on Wednesday, according to the Kremlin, with the battle between Israel and the Palestinian militant organization Hamas looming big over the summit.

“During the talks, special attention will be paid to international and regional issues,” the Kremlin said in a statement, without elaborating.

Since October 7, when Hamas launched the bloodiest attack in Israeli history, killing over 1,400 people, predominantly civilians, Western countries, led by the United States, have rallied to Israel’s side.

The US has encouraged China to use its influence to help de-escalate the war, which has seen over a million Palestinians flee their homes in the blockaded Gaza Strip as a result of Israel’s continuous bombardment in retribution for the strike.

China engineered an agreement earlier this year between main Hamas sponsor Iran and regional adversary Saudi Arabia, and will dispatch Middle East ambassador Zhai Jun to the turbulent region this week.

There are no details on where or when Zhai will visit, but China’s state television CCTV has stated that he will urge for a truce and peace talks.

Russia, which has long maintained friendly relations with both Israeli and Palestinian administrations, has urged for a “immediate ceasefire” in the crisis.

Putin is in Beijing on a mission to improve his already strong ties with his communist neighbor, despite the fact that experts say Moscow is increasingly the junior member in the relationship.

According to Beijing customs figures, China is Russia’s greatest commercial partner, with trade between the two countries hitting a record $190 billion last year.

Western countries have criticized Beijing for its attitude on the Ukraine war, in which China maintains its neutrality while refusing to condemn Moscow’s invasion.

When Xi paid a state visit to Moscow in March, Putin lauded the “truly unlimited possibilities” that their countries’ cooperation provided.

However, while the BRI summit provides a new opportunity for Putin and Xi to flaunt their cooperation, no new substantial agreements are expected to be unveiled.

“Russia is aware that China doesn’t want to sign any high publicity deals,” Alexander Gabuev, director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, told AFP.

“China holds all of the cards,” he said.

Friends reunited

Xi began the summit on Tuesday with talks with Chilean and Kazakhstan Presidents Gabriel Boric and Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, according to Chinese official media.

He next met with Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whom he described as a “friend” and thanked for his support for the BRI, according to state news agency Xinhua.

Xi also met with Papua New Guinea and Ethiopian prime ministers.

When China and Russia’s top diplomats met in Beijing on Monday ahead of the forum, they were singing from the same song sheet.

According to a statement from Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hailed China for hosting Putin as the summit’s “chief guest,” and later stated the senior diplomat will travel to North Korea following Beijing.

Lavrov told Wang that Putin and Xi will address the countries’ ties “in their entirety” when they meet this week.

The two countries have a symbiotic relationship, with China respecting Russia’s role as a bulwark against the West and Moscow becoming increasingly reliant on Beijing’s generosity in commerce and geopolitical support.

“Since Moscow embarked on its all-out invasion of Ukraine, it has been put in a position where it is unprecedentedly dependent on China,” Bjorn Alexander Duben of China’s Jilin University told AFP.

At the heart of the deepening partnership is the relationship between Xi and Putin, who have described each other as “dear friends”.

“President Xi Jinping calls me his friend, and I call him my friend, too,” Putin told Chinese state broadcaster CGTN ahead of his visit, according to a Kremlin readout.

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