Updated May 17th, 2024 at 20:21 IST

Putin Concludes Trip to China by Emphasising Its Strategic and Personal Ties to Russia

Putin concluded a two-day visit to China, emphasizing the countries’ burgeoning strategic ties as well as his own personal relationship with Xi Jinping.

Vladimir Putin crosses himself as he visits the Church of the Intercession of the Mother of God in Harbin, northeastern China's Heilongjiang Province, May 17, 2024. | Image: (Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
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Beijing: Russian President Vladimir Putin concluded a two-day visit to China on Friday, emphasizing the countries’ burgeoning strategic ties as well as his own personal relationship with Chinese leader Xi Jinping as they sought to present an alternative to U.S. global influence.

Putin praised the growth in bilateral trade while touring a China-Russia Expo in the northeastern city of Harbin. He met students at the Harbin Institute of Technology, which is said to work closely with the People's Liberation Army.

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Harbin, capital of China’s Heilongjiang province, was once home to many Russian expatriates and retains some of that history in its architecture, such as the central St. Sophia Cathedral, a former Russian Orthodox church.

Students listen to Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit to the Harbin Institute of Technology in Harbin, northeastern China's Heilongjiang Province, on Friday, May 17, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Underscoring the personal nature of the relationship, Putin said the Harbin institute and his alma mater, St. Petersburg State University, will open a joint school for 1,500 students. “I’m sure that it will become a flagship of the Russian-Chinese cooperation in science and education,” he said.

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Speaking to reporters, Putin thanked Xi and praised their talks as “substantive,” saying that he spent “almost a whole day, from morning till evening” with the Chinese leader and other officials in Beijing the previous day.

The partnership between China and Russia “is not directed against anyone,” Putin said in a veiled reference to the West. “It is aimed at one thing: creating better conditions for the development of our countries and improving the well-being of the people of China and the Russian Federation.”

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Russian President Vladimir Putin crosses himself as he visits the Church of the Intercession of the Mother of God in Harbin, northeastern China's Heilongjiang Province, on Friday, May 17, 2024. (Alexander Ryumin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

 

But he still had a back-handed rebuke for the U.S., and others who oppose the Moscow-Beijing relationship, saying an “emerging multipolar world ... is now taking shape before our eyes.”

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“And it is important that those who are trying to maintain their monopoly on decision-making in the world on all issues ... do everything in their power to ensure that this process goes naturally,” he said.

Both Russia and China have frequently spoken of the “emerging multipolar world” in response to what they view as U.S. hegemony.

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Joseph Torigian, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute, said the message being sent by China and Russia was clear: “At this moment, they’re reminding the West that they can be defiant when they want to.”

Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu addressed Putin's visit in an interview with The Associated Press, saying Western powers should continue to support Ukraine as part of sending a message that democracies will defend one another.

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“If Ukraine is defeated at the end, I think China is going to get inspired, and they might take even more ambitious steps in expanding their power in the Indo-Pacific, and it will be disastrous for the international community,” Wu said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, and Chinese Vice President Han Zheng, left of Putin, visit an exhibition of the Russia-China Expo and the Russia-China Forum on Interregional Cooperation in Harbin, northeastern China's Heilongjiang Province, on Friday, May 17, 2024. (Sergei Bobylev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

 

Putin this month began his fifth term in power and Xi began his third last year. The Russian leader's trip "is an example of the two big authoritarian countries supporting each other, working together with each other, supporting each other’s expansionism,” Wu added.

Russia has become isolated globally following the 2022 invasion of Ukraine. China has a tense relationship with the U.S., which has labeled it a competitor, and faces pressure for continuing to supply key components to Russia needed for weapons production.

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Putin began the day by laying flowers at a Harbin monument to fallen Soviet soldiers who had fought for China against the Japanese during the second Sino-Japanese war, when Japan occupied parts of China.

At the trade exhibition in Harbin, Putin emphasized the importance of Russia-China cooperation in jointly developing new technologies.

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“Relying on traditions of friendship and cooperation, we can look into the future with confidence,” he said. “The Russian-Chinese partnership helps our countries’ economic growth, ensures energy security, helps develop production and create new jobs.”

A joint statement issued Thursday described their world view and expounded on criticism of U.S. military alliances in Asia and the Pacific. The meeting was yet another affirmation of the friendly “no-limits” relationship China and Russia signed in 2022, just before Moscow invaded Ukraine.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks to Russian journalists in Harbin, northeastern China's Heilongjiang Province, on Friday, May 17, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Talks of ending the fighting featured frequently in Thursday's remarks, although Russia has just opened a new front by launching attacks in Ukraine's northeastern border area. The war is at a critical point for Ukraine, which had faced delays in getting weapons from the U.S.

China offered a broad plan for peace last year that was rejected by both Ukraine and the West for failing to call for Russia to leave occupied parts of Ukraine.

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Since the invasion and subsequent Western sanctions on Moscow, Russia has increasingly depended on China. Trade between the two countries increased to $240 billion last year.

European leaders have pressed China to influence Russia to end its invasion, to little avail. Experts say the Moscow-Beijing relationship offers strategic benefits, particularly when both have tensions with Europe and the U.S.

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“Even if China compromises on a range of issues, including cutting back support on Russia, it’s unlikely that the U.S. or the West will drastically change their attitude to China as a competitor,” said Hoo Tiang Boon, who researches Chinese foreign policy at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University. “They see very little incentive for compromise.”

Xi and Putin have a longstanding agreement to visit each other’s countries once a year, and Xi was welcomed at the Kremlin last year.

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Published May 17th, 2024 at 20:21 IST