Beijing September 7 2022: Xi Jinping will meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in-person for the first time since Moscow invaded Ukraine, Tass reported, as the two authoritarian leaders push back against rising geopolitical pressure from the US.
Xi will sit down with Putin on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit that runs from Sept. 15-16 in Uzbekistan, Russia’s ambassador to China Andrey Denisov said Wednesday, according to the state-run news agency.
“We are planning a serious, full-fledged meeting of our leaders with a detailed agenda, which we are now, in fact, working on with our Chinese partners,” Denisov told reporters, according to the report.
Xi is also expected to travel to neighboring Kazakhstan on Sept. 14 for a state visit. Beijing has not confirmed either trip.
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The swing through Central Asia would mark a return to the world stage for Xi, the only Group of 20 leader who hasn’t set foot outside his country during the pandemic. Xi had previously been expected to make his first trip abroad to the G-20 leaders summit in Bali in November, which President Joe Biden is set to attend, along with Putin.
Instead, his inaugural trip will be to a meeting of a group that China sees as a counter to Western alliances. That decision comes as geopolitical tensions are running high in the wake of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip last month to Taiwan, which China considers part of its territory.
Beijing has since sought to gain diplomatic support for its position, pushing back on calls by the US and its allies to exercise restraint. Xi needs to look strong on the global stage before a major leadership summit next month, where he’s expected to clinch a landmark third term in office.
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The Xi-Putin meeting would add to a flurry of diplomatic activity between Beijing and Moscow in recent weeks. China and India are currently involved in major military exercises in Russia’s Far East, while Beijing’s No. 3. official Li Zhanshu spoke in person at the Seventh Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok on Wednesday.
“China is happy to see that under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin, Russia’s economy has not been defeated by the harsh sanctions imposed by the US and other Western countries,” Li, the highest-ranking Chinese official to visit Russia since Putin’s invasion, said at the forum.
“Instead, it has stabilized in a relatively short period of time and displayed resilience,” he added. “China still sees Russia as an important country for international investment and cooperation.”
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China has previously sought to present itself as a neutral party in Russia’s war in Ukraine, despite Xi’s declaration of a “no limits” partnership with Putin weeks before the invasion. While Beijing has not explicitly criticized Moscow’s six-month-long war, its leaders have also avoided providing sanctions relief or military supplies to Russia.
Still, Chinese exports of cars, televisions and smartphones have helped Russia fill a void as foreign brands flee. In the second quarter, 81% of Russia’s new car imports were Chinese, while Xiaomi Corp. was Russia’s best-selling smartphone maker.
In contrast, China’s exports to Ukraine have decreased 75% over the past 12 months as of July, while imports over that period also fell 93%, the Observatory of Economic Complexity found. China was Ukraine’s biggest trading partner in 2019 and 2020, according to Ukrainian law firm Crane IP.