Putin thanks Xi for China’s ‘balanced’ stance on Ukraine invasion | Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin has thanked Xi Jinping for China’s “balanced” stance on the Ukraine invasion, accused the US of “provocation” in the Taiwan strait, and reiterated support for the “one China” policy which denies Taiwan’s sovereignty.

Xi called Putin an “old friend” and said that China was “willing to work with Russia to demonstrate the responsibility of big powers” and to “instil stability and positive energy in a world of chaos”.

Xi and Putin were meeting in Thursday, for the first time since the Ukraine invasion began. The sit down at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit, in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, is Xi’s first international trip since the pandemic began.

“We highly value the balanced position of our Chinese friends when it comes to the Ukraine crisis,” Putin said. “We understand your questions and concern about this. During today’s meeting, we will of course explain our position.”

Putin also explicitly backed China over Taiwan, which Beijing claims is a Chinese province it will retake by force if necessary.

China held blockade-style military drills around Taiwan after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the island last month. Taiwan’s government strongly rejects China’s sovereignty claims.

This combination of pictures created on 15 September 15, 2022 shows Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping during their meeting on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) leaders’ summit in Samarkand.
This combination picture created on 15 September 2022 shows Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping during their meeting on the sidelines of the SCO leaders’ summit in Samarkand. Photograph: Alexandr Demyanchuk/SPUTNIK/AFP/Getty Images

“We intend to firmly adhere to the principle of ‘one China’,” Putin said. “We condemn provocations by the United States and their satellites in the Taiwan Strait.”

Fifteen heads of state were expected to gather at the SCO summit, with much of the western media focus on Xi and Putin. The pair announced a limitless partnership in February, after meeting on the sidelines of the Beijing Winter Olympics. Just weeks later Russia invaded Ukraine. China’s government has struggled to balance its partnership with the global condemnation of Russia and the breadth of sanctions levelled against Moscow in response. It has at various times presented itself as a neutral party, even a potential mediator, but signs of support for Russia have grown clearer.

This week Li Zhanshu, China’s third highest ranking official, met with Russian lawmakers and told them China “fully understands and supports” Russia’s core interests and concerns. He explicitly blamed the US and Nato for the Ukraine conflict – a stance it has held since the early days of the invasion – but added that China understood and supported the fact that Russia “took the action that should be taken”, according to a translation by China monitoring group, the Great Translation Movement.

Behind the close Xi-Putin relationship however, analysts have said the summit would likely see them jostling for influence in central Asia. Global pushback to its war on Ukraine and recent battlefield losses have weakened Russia’s position as a security guarantor in the region, they said, but it remained to be seen if China would step into the role.

Rather, Xi would likely be seeking to take advantage of China’s rising power to build on trade routes through central Asia, future-proof itself against sanctions if it attacks Taiwan, and secure support in defending its policies in Xinjiang. China has been accused of crimes against humanity in the region, which borders Kazakhstan, but denies all wrongdoing.

A Taiwan military personnel observes artillery hitting targets during a joint combat training Exercises in Pingtung county, Taiwan, 6 September 2022.
A Taiwan military personnel observes artillery hitting targets during a joint combat training Exercises in Pingtung county, Taiwan, 6 September 2022. Photograph: Ritchie B Tongo/EPA

“In historical terms, China has been at its strongest whenever the global trade system is land based, not sea based,” said Niva Yau BIO BIO, prior to the summit.

“Whenever we see that China has major issue with Taiwan, we see China pivoting to central Asia.”

Prior to the summit commencing Xi traveled to Kazakhstan and met with president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev – a key figure in Xi’s likely regional goals. On Thursday morning he also met with Turkmenistan’s president, Serdar Berdimuhamedov, Kyrgyz president, Sadyr Zhaparov, Tajik president Emomali Rahmon, and was greeted on arrival by the Uzbek president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev.

According to Chinese official readouts of the meetings, Xi frequently emphasised mutual national sovereignty and decrying “external interference” – an accusation Beijing often throws at western nations critical of China’s domestic or international behaviour.

The statements also noted a push for greater bilateral agreements on trade routes and infrastructure investments, including under the belt and road initiative launched by Xi in Kazakhstan in 2013, as well as resource deals.

Analysts said Kazakhstan was a key target in the region for China, with a relatively new president who came to power two years ago, after his predecessor ruled for almost three decades. The timing of the SCO summit and China’s need for central Asian influence left Kazakhstan in a “privileged position to bargain” with Beijing.

“In every single one of these deals with China they are getting more than what other countries would get,” said Yau.

An itinerary released by India’s delegation said its president, Narendra Modi would meet Putin at 3.40pm. Xi is not expected to meet Modi, as the two governments struggle to negotiate bilateral disputes including the withdrawal of military troops from disputed border areas.

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