Putin’s Meeting with Xi Illustrates Limitations on “No Limits Friendship”

On May 16th, Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Beijing for a two-day visit to China, where he met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Putin and Xi met at the Great Hall of the People, where they signed several agreements and released a joint statement. They also met at Zhongnanhai for a more secluded meeting between the two leaders, where they discussed various issues.

Putin’s Arrival

Chinese State Councilor Shen Yiqin and Russian President Vladimir Putin walking together after greeting each other (Photo: TASS/Alexander Ryumin)

Putin arrived at Beijing Capital International Airport on May 16th, where Chinese State Councilor Shen Yiqyi and several Chinese and Russian officials greeted the president. Putin and Shen shook hands and exchanged greetings through interpreters. Both individuals then walked down a red carpet flanked by a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) honor guard on both sides. Putin, Shen, and the various officials then entered vehicles and exited the airport.

Xi’s and Putin’s Meetings and Joint Statement

On May 17th, Putin met with Xi at the Great Hall of the People, where they both held small and large talks with Chinese and Russian officials. Both leaders then held a joint meeting with reporters at the hall after the meetings and joint statement signing. During the small talks between Putin and Xi, both individuals pointed out “that this year is the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Russia.” However, Xi mentioned how Sino-Russian relations experienced ups and downs throughout history but withstood the test of international change. He said that the development of China-Russia relations is “conducive to peace, stability, and prosperity in the region and the world.” However, Xi said that the takeaway from the history of Sino-Russian relations is the importance of the five principles of peaceful coexistence that are “promoted between two neighboring powers.” Furthermore, the Chinese leader pointed out that relations between the two countries have a “deep historical accumulation and a solid foundation of public opinion.”

Putin then delivered comments in which he said that China and Russia have a “friendly tradition” of leaders visiting each other’s countries. He then said the visits illustrate the great importance of strengthening the “comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership between Russia and China” in the new era. Putin also pointed out that 2024 is the 75th anniversary of Russia and China establishing diplomatic relations. The Russian President stated that the relationship “does not target third parties and is conducive to international strategic stability.” Putin then said the country will continue to work with China to expand cooperation within the framework of the BRICS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the U.N. to create “a more just and reasonable international order.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping reviewing PLA honor guard as they walk to Great Hall of the People on May 16th (Photo: Xinhua)

Then the Chinese and Russian delegations held a joint meeting where both sides presented reports that explained “cooperation in investment, energy, economy and trade, the Northeast-Far East, humanities, international, and other fields, expressed satisfaction with the progress made, and affirmed future cooperation proposals.” Putin and Xi then delivered speeches after both sides gave reports regarding cooperation in various areas, such as energy and investment. Xi said China is “comprehensively promoting Chinese-style modernization with high-quality development, accelerating the development of new-quality productivity, and adding new impetus to global economic growth.”

He pointed out that both countries increased strategic collaboration, expanded mutually beneficial cooperation, and conformed to the historical trend of world multipolarization and economic globalization. He also said that both countries should use the 75th anniversary “as a new starting point” to increase the development strategy, continue to enrich bilateral cooperation, better benefit the two countries, and contribute positive energy to world prosperity and stability. Xi also said that China and Russia should increase cooperation in “traditional fields such as economy and trade.” However, he also said that both countries should increase cultural exchanges, such as the Sino-Russian Cultural Year.

Meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping and other officials (Photo: Xinhua)

Putin delivered a short speech where he said the mechanism governing cooperation between China and Russia is “working well” and cooperation in various fields “has developed steadily.” He also pointed out that Russian-Chinese relations have withstood several tests “based on the principles of good-neighborly friendship, mutual respect, and assistance to the development of their respective countries.” Putin said that both countries signed several cooperation agreements that demonstrated their determination “to continue to deepen and expand mutually beneficial cooperation.” The Russian President said that Russia is “willing to implement the Russia-China Economic Cooperation Plan before 2030” and to organize the Russian-Chinese Cultural Year event next year to strengthen the Eurasian Economic Union.” Putin also pointed out that 2025 will mark the 80th anniversary of “the victory of the world anti-fascist war,” and both countries will hold celebrations. Furthermore, he said that Russia appreciates “China’s objective and fair position in major international and regional affairs” and its willingness to increase strategic collaboration with the country. He also said Russia would also promote the “process of world multipolarization and democratization of international relations.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping shaking hands while holding joint statements (Photo: Xinhua)

Xi and Putin witnessed officials sign bilateral cooperation agreements on economy and trade, nature protection, inspection and quarantine, and media. Both leaders then signed and issued the Joint Statement of the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation on the 75th anniversary of the Establishment of the Relationship Between the Two Countries on Deepening the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership for the New Era. The joint statement outlines ten points defining Sino-Russian relations. These points include enhancing their strategic partnership between the two countries and their commitment to developing a just and stable multi-polar international order. The document also discussed China’s and Russia’s concerns about the international security situation.

Putin and Xi met with reporters after they signed the joint statement. Xi pointed out that they witnessed the signing of several important cooperation agreements that “injected new and strong impetus into the healthy development of Sino-Russian relations.” He said China and Russia achieved these “remarkable achievements” due to the countries abiding by the ‘five adherences.’ The five points Xi outlined included mutual respect and cooperation, conveying the Sino-Russian friendship, insisting on strategic cooperation to correct the direction of global governance, and promoting the political settlement of conflicts.

Putin then spoke to reporters, saying he visited China first to show the “high level of relations between Russia and China” and to deepen comprehensive strategic cooperation. He then said that the 75-year relationship between the countries showed how major powers and neighboring countries can develop peaceful relations. The Russian President said he “maintained close communications and good relations with” Xi, and both are satisfied with the status of Russian-Chinese relations. Putin stated that Russia views China as a “long-term and reliable partner and is willing to cooperate with China to continue to expand its political, economic, cultural, educational, and security fields.” Furthermore, Putin said Russia and China will “maintain close collaboration on the international stage.” The two countries will also work to promote “the establishment of a more democratic and multi-polar world order.”

Analysis

While the meeting between Putin and Xi shows that China and Russia are increasing their “no-limits friendship,” there are signs that China continues to place restrictions on their relationship to shield the country from any potential effects. For example, State Councilor Shen greeted Putin as he arrived in Beijing for his state visit, with no one from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) present. While Shen’s status as a State Councilor is notable since it is the third highest position in the Chinese government’s bureaucracy, she is not a member of the Politburo. Furthermore, Shen’s focus as a councilor does not involve foreign affairs but domestic issues such as civil affairs. Shen’s presence at the airport to greet Putin allows Xi to demonstrate to the Russian leader that he places emphasis on the relationship between China and Russia. However, Xi used Shen’s presence to also limit the amount of support he provides to Putin since she is not a Politburo member.

Xi’s comments regarding China’s relationship with Russia also indicate that the country is balancing or restricting the amount of support it provides to Russia. For example, Putin spoke highly of China in all the speeches he gave during his meetings with Xi. However, Xi took a more measured approach to his comments regarding Russia and the relationship between both countries. For example, Xi mentioned how China and Russia will bilaterally cooperate on issues that mutually benefit both countries. Xi chose to say that China and Russia will cooperate only in areas mutually beneficial to both countries to show that there are limits to their cooperation. China would be hesitant to increase its cooperation with Russia due to the potential for the United States and other countries to enact sanctions against Chinese banks and other financial institutions. This hesitancy is still apparent even after China enacted laws that specified that banks are required to ignore sanctions. However, the Chinese banks want to continue to maintain links to the western financial system since it allows them to more easily access capital. Furthermore, the links allow the banks to access more liquid capital markets than those in Russia.

Xi also did not reciprocate Putin’s sentiment during his speeches because the country views Russia as an ultimately unreliable partner. Putin said that Russia views China as a long-term and reliable partner during his speech to reporters. Xi did not say China held the same viewpoint because China views its relationship with Russia as increasing the risks the country is exposed to. These risks range from economic and trade sanctions to sanctions against Chinese banks and other financial institutions. For example, the Ukrainian conflict led to several Chinese companies receiving sanctions for selling dual-purpose components to Russia. China views the sanctions as unwarranted since they view the sale of the components as part of normal trade that does not violate international laws.

Furthermore, the joint statement contained a passage that explicitly states the rationale behind the objectives. China also views Russia as unreliable due to the country releasing statements or videos in which Chinese officials said China supported Russia in the Ukrainian conflict. Russia released the statements and videos in an attempt to compel China to increase the support it provides to Russia. Russia also wants to force China to expand its assistance to other areas, specifically direct material support. Russia also wants China to increase its economic and trade support for it through additional deals related to building oil pipelines to move oil to Chinese ports. Furthermore, Russia also released the videos to prevent China from increasing its economic relationships with the United States or the European Union.

Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin the panda began Sino Talk in 2022 primarily to give an objective, unbiased view on China related topics as well as other issues related to the Indo-Pacific region. He spent several years studying and traveling throughout China and many countries in the Indo-Pacific region. In another life, the panda was also a U.S. Marine intelligence analyst who enjoyed bamboo MREs and drinking bourbon and soju. Indo-Pacific Division Desk Chief for Atlas News.

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