Xi and Putin Bind China and Russia’s Economies Further, Despite War in Ukraine
MOSCOW — President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, declared an enduring economic partnership on Tuesday, promising to bring more Russian energy to China and more Chinese companies to Russia as the two leaders sought to insulate their countries from Western sanctions and other consequences of the war in Ukraine.
The economic pledges, trumpeted by the leaders on the second day of Mr. Xi’s state visit to Moscow, were a sign that China would continue to do business as normal with Russia and that Moscow and Beijing were circling their wagons, economically at least, against any punitive measures from the United States or Europe.
As the two leaders met on Tuesday, Japan’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, visited Kyiv in a show of support that put the geopolitical fault lines created by Russia’s invasion into even sharper relief.
It was a significant change for Japan, which has drawn a clear line on the war and joined with other Group of 7 nations to impose sanctions on Russia and provide billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine.
Embattled economically and isolated on the world stage, Russia has leaned heavily on China to make up for lost business since its economy was abruptly severed from the West. Mr. Putin’s economic outreach this week was a clear sign that Beijing was gaining leverage over Russia even as it gave its neighbor help, said Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“That’s a statement to Russia that, ‘You know, relax; we are with you,’” Mr. Gabuev said of Mr. Xi’s trip. “But it’s also a statement to the West and to the global south that China is a country that will not be dictated to, that the Western attempts to say, ‘Putin’s a bad kid; don’t touch him on the playground’ is not working with China.”
Though Ukraine’s Western allies have warned that Beijing may provide Moscow with arms for its invasion, neither Mr. Putin nor Mr. Xi made any reference to military assistance, focusing instead on economic cooperation.
The Chinese government had described Mr. Xi’s trip as a peace mission, following Beijing’s release last month of a broad framework for a political solution to the war. But the noncommittal comments from the two leaders on Tuesday suggested that there had been no breakthrough.
Instead, the joint statement issued by Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin suggested that Western powers were an obstacle to peace by forming security blocs.
“Russia reaffirmed that it was committed to restarting peace talks as soon as possible, and China expressed its approval,” said the excerpt from the joint statement that was issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry. “Settlement of the Ukraine crisis must respect the reasonable security concerns of every country and prevent the formation of confrontational blocs that add fuel to the flames.”
The White House made a sharp rebuttal to the joint statement, accusing China of parroting Russian propaganda and saying Beijing could do far more if it truly wanted to broker peace.
“If China wants to play a constructive role in this conflict, then it ought to press Russia to pull troops out of Ukraine,” John F. Kirby, a U.S. national security spokesman, told reporters.
In contrast, American officials praised Japan’s prime minister. On his unusual, unannounced trip to Kyiv, Mr. Kishida announced $470 million in aid for energy and other sectors, and $30 million in nonlethal equipment aid to Ukraine through a NATO trust fund. In a news conference, he called Russia’s actions “an aggression that shakes the foundation of international order.”
The war has galvanized Japan toward a more active foreign and military policy, a significant change given its Constitution limits engaging in military action and the public’s long resistance to walking back an official stance of pacifism. But since the invasion began, Japan has moved to double its budget for military spending over the next five years. The increase raises spending to around 2 percent of annual economic output, aligning Japan with NATO members.
Its more assertive position reflects both the war and rising concerns about North Korean aggression and China’s power in the Pacific. A spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry responded to Mr. Kishida’s visit by saying Japan should “help de-escalate the situation instead of the opposite.”
Since the war began, China has voiced sympathy with Mr. Putin’s grievances against the United States and NATO, while arguing that Beijing believes in respecting the sovereignty of all countries. China has not sent arms to Russia for use in the war, although it has sold technology like drones that could have a military use.
At their meeting, Mr. Xi indicated that he could also extend Mr. Putin an economic lifeline, albeit one that would also benefit China by extending its access to Russian resources, energy and markets. And although Mr. Xi called the talks “frank, friendly and rich in results,” and Mr. Putin called them “successful,” it was not clear that the Russian leader had accomplished everything he had sought.
The agreements included two broad statements about strategic and economic cooperation, and smaller items about working together in sectors like forestry, soybeans, television and industry in Russia’s Far East, according to a list released by the Kremlin. Some agreements were incremental updates to decisions made before the summit, like one regarding a nuclear power plant Russia is building in China.
Mr. Putin boasted that a new pipeline for sending natural gas to China via Mongolia would be ready by 2030, but Mr. Xi did not confirm such an agreement was in place.
The subtext of the meeting, analysts said, was Russia’s increasing reliance on China over the past 13 months. Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin have remained closely aligned through that time, but not always with the public enthusiasm the Chinese leader once showed.
Last year, weeks before Mr. Putin ordered his troops into Ukraine, he and Mr. Xi issued a joint statement that was combative, even swaggering. The leaders declared their countries had a friendship with “no limits.”
This year, the statement was more measured.
“The parties note that relations between Russia and China, while not constituting a military-political alliance similar to those set up during the Cold War, are superior to this type of interstate cooperation,” it said.
These relations “do not constitute a bloc, do not have a confrontational nature and are not directed against third countries,” though the countries did accuse the United States of “undermining” global security.
And in contrast to last year’s summit, where Mr. Xi signed onto Mr. Putin’s opposition to any expansion of NATO, and Mr. Putin endorsed China’s opposition to U.S. military alliances across Asia, their joint appearance on Tuesday gave the appearance of two leaders who have hunkered down to focus on economic survival.
The invasion of Ukraine has depleted the Russian economy and the Kremlin’s coffers. In China, Mr. Xi is focused on repairing the economy, worn down by three years of pandemic restrictions. And while Mr. Xi may be reluctant to sell military weapons to Russia and risk sanctions from the United States, he seemed willing to stand with Mr. Putin in other ways.
Analysts say that Mr. Xi may not have an interest in ending the conflict in Ukraine, but China does want to ensure that Mr. Putin remains in power.
“China is agnostic about where the front lines in Ukraine are,” said Mr. Gabuev, the Carnegie fellow. “What they care about is that he doesn’t lose this war to the degree that this regime collapses and a pro-Western government is installed in Russia.”
Mr. Gabuev said that Russia and China’s insistence that Ukraine was at the top of their joint agendas was a “fig leaf” for China’s growing leverage in the Beijing-Moscow relationship. He added that Mr. Xi sought to telegraph China’s growing influence to the White House.
“The optics of Russia as a junior partner, deeper in China’s pocket, with no options other than China, is massively beneficial if China believes that it’s in a long-term confrontation with the U.S.,” he said.
The divisions between the United States and its allies and Russia and China opposite them only seemed more entrenched on Tuesday. The Pentagon announced that the dozens of M1 Abrams tanks it is sending to Ukraine were scheduled to arrive by the fall — more quickly than expected — and perhaps in time to reinforce Ukraine after an expected counterattack.
Valerie Hopkins reported from Moscow, and Chris Buckley from Taipei, Taiwan. Reporting was contributed by Ben Dooley, Hiroko Masuike and Hiroko Tabuchi from Tokyo; Anton Troianovski from Berlin; Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia; Victoria Kim from Seoul; Anushka Patil from New York; and John Ismay and Peter Baker from Washington.
Source of data and images: nytimes