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China’s Xi gives most direct backing to Putin since invasion

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday offered the most unambiguous declaration of support to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin since the invasion of Ukraine, vowing to support Moscow’s “sovereignty and security.”

The remarks were a significant rhetorical departure from Xi’s earlier call on Putin to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of “all countries” — a more universal remark that could be loosely interpreted to include Ukraine — which he made a day after the war began.

Now, more than 100 days into the war, Xi focused squarely on his support for Russia in his latest call with Putin.

“China is willing to push for the steady and long-term development of bilateral pragmatic cooperation. China is willing to mutually support Russia on core interests and matters of paramount concern, such as sovereignty and security, as well as [achieve] closer strategic cooperation,” Xi was quoted as saying by the state broadcaster CCTV.

Xi and Putin reached a “no limits” partnership just weeks before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Since the war, Beijing’s attitude has often been described as the contradictory “pro-Russia neutrality,” meaning it neither condemned Moscow nor provided it with arms or means to circumvent sanctions.

Amid concerns about China’s role as an economic lifeline for Russia’s sanction-battered economy, Xi doubled down on China’s vision with Russia.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and China’s President Xi Jinping | Pool photo by Kim Kyung-Hoon/Getty Images

“From this year, facing global turbulence and transformations, Sino-Russian relations have maintained a good momentum for development,” Xi said. “The economic and trade cooperation between the two countries is progressing smoothly.”

Notably, there’s neither a reference to “war” nor “ceasefire.” Xi also told Putin that the “Ukraine crisis” should be “reasonably resolved.” Without calling for a ceasefire, Xi only said that China sought to “facilitate world peace.”

Unlike Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe’s recent off-script remark in Singapore calling it a “war,” the Chinese leader shied away from the word in the call with Putin, who insisted it was a “special military operation.”

The Chinese readout also emphasized Putin’s support for China on Taiwan, as well as on Hong Kong and Xinjiang, home to the country’s Uyghur Muslim minority.

The call comes shortly before Europe is set to put on a show of solidarity with Ukraine. The leaders of France, Germany and Italy — the three biggest economies in the European Union — are expected to visit to Kyiv as soon as Thursday, while the EU could recommend candidate status for the war-torn country soon, pending the nod from the more hesitant conservative member countries.

Meanwhile, Xi is slated to give a video address at the widely-boycotted St Petersburg International Economic Forum on Friday, the Kremlin announced. Whether Xi will announce new projects or repeat the same rhetorical support will be an indicator of whether Beijing is prepared to take the strategic contest with the West to a new level.

Putin will officiate the forum, where only two fellow leaders will join him personally: Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and his Kazakh counterpart Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

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