What to Know About the Summit Between Putin and Xi in China - The World News

What to Know About the Summit Between Putin and Xi in China

When China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, hosts President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia this week, the two leaders are expected to present a united front. But they have different agendas.

Mr. Putin is trying to escalate his war in Ukraine before Ukrainian forces can receive a replenishment of arms from the United States, and likely wants to know he can rely on China. Mr. Xi will seek to bolster his strategic partner and “old friend,” but is also under pressure to avoid further alienating the West over his support for Russia.

Those priorities are the backdrop of Mr. Putin’s two-day state visit, which began in Beijing on Thursday and will include a trip to the northeastern city of Harbin, where a China-Russia trade fair is being held.

Mr. Putin will most likely seek more help from Beijing, which has provided a lifeline to the Kremlin ever since Western sanctions were imposed on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine more than two years ago. China purchases huge quantities of Russian oil and provides technologies that help Moscow withstand its economic isolation and sustain its war machine.

Mr. Xi considers Russia an important counterweight in China’s rivalry with the United States, but he risks alienating Europe, a key trading partner, at a time when China is relying on exports to revive its sluggish economy.

Here is what to know about the summit.

The visit is Mr. Putin’s first foreign trip since winning his fifth presidential election in March. Mr. Xi paid the same respect to Mr. Putin when he made Russia his first foreign trip after securing his norm-shattering third term as China’s president in March 2023.

Mr. Xi has met with Mr. Putin over 40 times, including virtually, which is more than any other leader. The two men have cast their relationship as deeply personal by exchanging birthday greetings and referring to each other as “old” and “dear” friends.

In Mr. Putin, Mr. Xi sees a like-minded autocratic leader who blames the United States for holding back his country’s rise. The two leaders declared a “no limits” partnership weeks before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in 2022, to push back against what they consider American hegemony.

Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin also view themselves as architects of a new world order free of U.S. interference. The two leaders have promoted multilateral groupings of developing countries like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and BRICS, so named because it includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, as a way to counterbalance the West.

Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin will likely try to project strength and solidarity during their summit to demonstrate to other countries that there is an alternative to the U.S.-led global system.

“Russia-China relations have reached an all-time high, and even in the face of severe international situations, relations between the two countries continue to strengthen,” Mr. Putin said in an interview with Chinese state media published on Wednesday.

China has vowed not to provide lethal weapons to Russia, but the United States and Western analysts say China has been aiding Russia with satellite intelligence and fighter jet parts as well as supplying components with both civilian and military uses, such as microchips, machine tools, optical devices, electronic sensors and telecommunications gear.

Mr. Putin will likely want any such supply of parts and equipment to continue, to help sustain his military’s advances as he intensifies the war effort.

Russian forces opened a new line of attack in recent days near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. Ukraine’s forces are stretched thin and running short on weapons, but billions of dollars worth of arms from the United States are expected to trickle in soon.

Mr. Putin is also expected to seek more trade and business deals.

Mr. Putin has long sought to cement an agreement on the Power of Siberia 2 gas pipeline, which would redirect Russian gas supplies that had gone to Europe toward China instead. It is unclear whether Mr. Xi is interested in the pipeline. Analysts say the Chinese leader could be reluctant because it would travel through a third country, Mongolia, and that it could expose China to potential secondary sanctions and leave it even more reliant on Russia for energy.

Mr. Xi has attempted to align with Russia and steady ties with the West at the same time to help his ailing economy, an approach that some call a strategic straddle.

China casts itself as neutral on the war in Ukraine and as a proponent of peace. It has offered a vague, 12-point plan for a political settlement of the war and dispatched an envoy to conduct shuttle diplomacy in Europe.

Western countries have dismissed China’s efforts because they do not call for a withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine. China also sides with Russia by blaming the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for creating the tensions that led to Moscow’s invasion.

Mr. Xi’s refusal to condemn the Kremlin’s war has ultimately worsened China’s relations with the West and led to Europe’s growing alignment with the United States on security issues. This makes China’s efforts to head off a trade war with the European Union — over exports of Chinese electric vehicles and market access for European companies — harder for Mr. Xi.

Tensions are also rising with the United States, testing a tentative détente struck by President Biden and Mr. Xi in November. The Biden administration on Tuesday announced a sharp increase in tariffs on an array of Chinese imports, including electric vehicles, solar cells, semiconductors and advanced batteries.

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