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    HomeWorldChina’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin Showcase Deepening Ties

    China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin Showcase Deepening Ties

    Chinese leader

    Xi Jinping

    and Russian President

    Vladimir Putin

    met in person for the first time since the start of the Ukraine war, as the two countries displayed growing ties in the wake of major battlefield setbacks for Moscow.

    Mr. Putin told his Chinese counterpart on Thursday that Moscow highly values what he called Beijing’s balanced position regarding the Ukraine crisis. He added that China raised its concerns regarding the conflict and that the Kremlin would clarify its position on Ukraine, without explaining further.

    “We understand your questions and your concerns,” he said, in remarks broadcast on Russian state television from the meeting, which took place at a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Uzbekistan.

    He also struck out at the U.S. for what he called provocations in Taiwan and said Moscow would adhere to its One China policy, which asserts that the People’s Republic of China is the sole legitimate government of China.

    China and Russia have maintained “an effective strategic communication” since the beginning of the year, Mr. Xi said in the meeting, according to state-run Xinhua News Agency.

    “In the face of historical changes in the world and times, as major countries, China is willing to work together with Russia to play a leading role and to inject stability into the turbulent world,” said Mr. Xi.

    With the world’s second-largest economy and a shared interest in countering the West, China may be Russia’s most important partner as Moscow weathers many international economic sanctions. At their last meeting, just before the start of the war, the two leaders declared that the relationship between the two countries has “no limits.”

    At the time, Russia had nearly 200,000 soldiers within striking distance of Kyiv. Since then Russia’s invading forces have been driven back from the Ukrainian capital and dealt a number of battlefield blows. Last week a Ukrainian advance routed Russian soldiers in northeastern Ukraine. On the heels of that and other defeats that have raised questions about Russian capabilities, Mr. Putin might need to dial down his expectations for meaningful assistance from Mr. Xi or their Central Asian counterparts.

    “This meeting is occurring mere days after Russia suffered catastrophic battlefield setbacks in Ukraine,“ said

    Craig Singleton,

    a former U.S. diplomat and a senior China fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a conservative think tank based in Washington. “Putin almost certainly understands that China’s support for Russia’s war in Ukraine will remain performative.”

    While China has been an important trading partner for Russia, with Beijing’s oil purchases helping to offset a decline in exports to Europe, Beijing has been careful not to run afoul of Western sanctions. Chinese leaders have said the country isn’t selling weapons to Russia.

    As the West scrambles to move away from Russian energy sources and imposes sanctions on Moscow, China and India have stepped in to fill the gap. WSJ examines how those countries have boosted Russia’s revenue from oil sales, supporting its economy. Photo illustration: Sharon Shi

    The Russian economy, cushioned by a windfall from high-price energy exports, has defied earlier expectations of a severe recession. Russian officials have significantly revised expectations, most recently predicting gross domestic product to fall by 2.9% this year compared with a year earlier. Previously the government had said it expected a contraction of nearly 10%.

    Still, the outlook remains bleak, economists say, as sanctions on critical imports and an exodus of Western companies are expected to degrade the long-term potential of the economy.

    Ahead of the meeting, the Kremlin said ties between Moscow and Beijing were stronger than they have ever been and that trade between the two countries this year had risen by a quarter from 2021, when Russian-Chinese bilateral trade hit a record of $140 billion.

    Mr. Putin will need China “to continue to export semiconductors, without which both Russia’s civil but also military industrial capacity cannot continue to operate,” said

    Alicia García Herrero,

    chief economist for Asia Pacific at Natixis. “This is becoming increasingly difficult due to the U.S. expanding export bans on semiconductors.”

    The summit in Samarkand, which concludes on Friday, will include Iran as the ninth member of the regional security bloc founded by China, Russia and Central Asian countries in 2001. The leaders are also expected to issue a declaration on its position on international and economic issues. Such announcements are likely to further fuel U.S. concern about an anti-American axis between the two powers that could threaten Washington’s security and economic interests.

    Both Chinese and Russian leaders see U.S. foreign policy as being part of a grand strategy to contain the rise and influence of the two major powers through America’s economic heft and its global network of alliances. They have challenged the U.S.-led international order, saying that America’s democratic system isn’t superior to other forms of governance and that Washington is losing authority in the world.

    Beijing sees America’s commitment to defend Taiwan and its support for Vietnam in its maritime disputes as a threat, while Moscow views Washington’s backing for Ukraine and other former Soviet republics such as Georgia as a menace. In their last joint statement issued when Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi met in Beijing in February, they opposed expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Washington’s efforts to strengthen its alliances in the Indo-Pacific.

    Vladimir Putin sees U.S. foreign policy as part of a strategy to contain the influence of Russia.


    pavel bednyakov/sputnik/kremlin/Shutterstock

    “It is a very useful and important strategic alignment,” said

    Raffaello Pantucci,

    a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a defense and security think tank. “They are two strongmen who don’t share a language. But they do share a worldview, and they agree on who their main threats and enemies are.”

    Nevertheless, China has walked a careful line in its dealings with Moscow to avoid being ensnared in any potential sanctions and alienating other countries, such as those in Central Asia, where China is building economic ties. Kazakhstan, the regional economic heavyweight that shares a border with Russia, has refused to support Russia’s actions in Ukraine, a decision that has boosted tensions between the two countries.

    Mr. Xi has a lot at stake in a strategic partnership with Russia, but if he goes too far, he risks damaging relationships with some of the Central Asian countries who are wary of Moscow’s war in Ukraine, said

    Evan Feigenbaum,

    vice president at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington and a former deputy assistant secretary of state.


    What does the alignment between China and Russia mean for the U.S. and the rest of the world? Join the conversation below.

    Beijing signed a new railway agreement with Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, China’s Xinhua News Agency reported on Thursday, an ambitious plan to link the Central Asian countries with China that has been under discussion for nearly two decades. Beijing sees the new route as an alternative to its current dependence on a route through Russia and Kazakhstan for overland transit to Europe. That has become even more important in light of the Ukraine war.

    “The China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway will link us to Asia-Pacific countries, paving the way for new economic opportunities. It will be a great addition to the existing east-west railways,” Uzbekistan’s president,

    Shavkat Mirziyoyev,

    said at a May 27 meeting of the Eurasian Economic Union, a Moscow-led trade and economic bloc made up of former Soviet states.

    The Central Asians will privately express their discomfort to China if Beijing gets too close to Moscow, said Mr. Feigenbaum.

    China has tried to balance those interests by keeping its commitments vague. The country is ready to work with Russia to take the global order in a “more just and rational direction,” China’s top diplomat,

    Yang Jiechi,

    said in a meeting Monday with Russian Ambassador

    Andrey Denisov

    in Beijing, without detailing any explicit pledges of support.

    Write to Keith Zhai at and Thomas Grove at

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