Xi and Putin Strengthen Strategic Partnership in Beijing Meeting

Xi and Putin's Beijing Meeting: A Strategic Alliance Unveiled

by Faruk Imamovic
Xi and Putin Strengthen Strategic Partnership in Beijing Meeting
© Getty Images

Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin’s meeting in Beijing on Thursday left no doubt about the depth of their strategic alignment. The Chinese and Russian leaders demonstrated a unified vision for the world, underscoring their commitment to reinforcing the “powerful driving force” of their autocratic partnership.

The two leaders vowed to deepen their strategic partnership and criticized the United States, which they portrayed as a destabilizing force. In a comprehensive 7,000-word joint statement, they articulated their shared perspectives on issues ranging from Taiwan to the conflict in Gaza. “Russian-Chinese relations stand the test of rapid changes in the world, demonstrating strength and stability, and are experiencing the best period in their history,” they proclaimed.

The meeting’s optics were strikingly incongruous. While Xi and Putin enjoyed tea in the manicured gardens of the official Zhongnanhai compound, discussing how to “promote world peace and common development,” Ukrainian civilians were calling for evacuation from villages under Russian assault. This juxtaposition highlighted the stark realities of their geopolitical maneuvers.

Putin’s two-day state visit came amid Western concerns about China’s role in supporting Russia’s war effort through soaring exports. Beijing has consistently denied these claims. Despite the ceremonial welcome in Beijing, Putin appeared to leave with few tangible gains, though the details of closed-door discussions remain undisclosed.

Taking Aim at a US-Led World Order

Xi and Putin used their meeting to criticize a global security system defined by US-backed military alliances, pledging to counter it collaboratively. “We intend to increase interaction and tighten coordination in order to counter Washington’s destructive and hostile course towards the so-called ‘dual containment’ of our countries,” they stated in their joint declaration.

The statement also urged the US to refrain from arming its allies with missile systems and condemned US cooperation with allies as “extremely destabilizing.” The US, in turn, views China as the “most serious long-term challenge to the international order” and Russia as “a clear and present threat.”

This bold stance comes at a time when both Russia and China have criticized US support for Israel in its conflict with Hamas and sought to strengthen ties across the Global South, where there is growing backlash against Israel’s actions in Gaza. On this issue, they called for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and expressed aligned positions on other contentious geopolitical matters, including Taiwan and North Korea.

Xi and Putin
Xi and Putin© Getty Images

Growing Military Cooperation

Amid their condemnation of US military alliances, Xi and Putin pledged to deepen military “trust and cooperation.” They committed to expanding joint exercises and combat training, conducting regular joint sea and air patrols, and enhancing their joint response capabilities to various challenges and threats.

In recent years, the two nations have increased their military drills globally, continuing even after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. This collaboration has raised concerns among Western observers about the growing military interoperability between the two US adversaries.

Putin’s visit included key security officials, such as newly appointed Russian Defense Minister Andrey Belousov and his predecessor, Russian Security Council Secretary Sergey Shoigu. They participated in informal talks on Ukraine, though it remains unclear if Chinese defense officials were involved. These discussions reportedly took place during four-hour informal negotiations at the heavily secured Zhongnanhai compound.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry reiterated Xi’s call for a “political solution” in Ukraine and his support for a mutually recognized peace conference. Observers suggest that Putin likely sought material support for Russia’s war or defense industry, including dual-use items that the US claims China is exporting to Russia. However, analysts believe China is unlikely to increase its support to include weapons, aiming to maintain its neutrality and avoid crossing Western red lines.

Broad Rhetoric, Few Concrete Pledges

Despite the grand rhetoric, concrete outcomes from the meeting were limited. As Putin departed Beijing for Harbin, details on major deals remained scant. One notable uncompleted agreement was the “Power of Siberia 2” pipeline, intended to transport Russian natural gas to China. Beijing’s hesitation on this deal reflects its cautious approach, despite Putin’s push to compensate for lost European gas revenues following the Ukraine invasion.

Instead, the leaders broadly pledged to promote large-scale energy projects and enhance cooperation across various sectors, including oil, liquified natural gas, coal, and electricity. They also aimed to strengthen industrial collaboration in fields like civil aviation, electronics, chemical industry, shipbuilding, and industrial equipment.

These pledges, although vague, indicate a commitment to more profound economic coordination in the future. For Putin, maintaining economic stability through China’s support is crucial, despite the inherent imbalance in their relationship. “For Putin, it’s a glory moment that Russia is still on its feet (economically) … mostly because of the lifeline provided by China,” said Alexandra Prokopenko, a fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center. She added, “He’s okay with ongoing dependency between Russia and China – and with inequality in this relationship.”