Vladimir Putin arrives in China to shore up close ties with Xi Jinping

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Vladimir Putin met Xi Jinping in Beijing on Thursday morning during a state visit aimed at underscoring the leaders’ close relationship and shoring up China’s support for Russia’s wartime economy.

The Chinese president welcomed his Russian counterpart, who arrived in Beijing before dawn, at the Great Hall of the People before they kicked off two days of meetings that are expected to cover the war in Ukraine, conflict in the Middle East and economic and defence co-operation.

In his opening comments, Xi stressed the “friendship” between Moscow and Beijing, saying he and Putin provided each other with “strategic guidance”. He added that their countries would “uphold fairness and justice around the world”.

Putin is being accompanied by a high-powered delegation, Russian media reported ahead of the trip, including former defence minister Sergei Shoigu and his designated replacement Andrei Belousov, along with foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and central bank head Elvira Nabiullina.

The visit comes as Russia’s economy has become increasingly dependent on trade with China in the face of western sanctions, which have escalated in the wake of Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Analysts expect Putin to discuss how to work around these sanctions during the visit, which marks his 43rd meeting with Xi.

China has refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and argues that its relationship with Moscow is its own affair. The US has accused Beijing of supporting Putin’s war machine by providing dual-use goods.

But after a huge increase in trade between China and Russia following the outbreak of war, there are signs that Beijing has pulled back slightly. China’s exports to its neighbour fell in March and April as the US threatened to target Chinese banks that it alleged were assisting in circumventing sanctions.

Ahead of the two-day visit, Putin sought to portray Russia and China as united in their goal of creating a “multipolar world” and held out the prospect of negotiations with Ukraine, which he said would depend on security guarantees.

About half a dozen bilateral documents are expected to be signed, along with commercial deals and regional agreements, according to Russian media.

The directors-general for Russian space co-operation and military technical co-operation will also participate in talks with Chinese officials alongside Putin, Chinese business news outlet Caixin reported.

It added that six out of 10 deputy prime ministers in Putin’s newly formed government would be travelling with the Russian leader, who was sworn in for a fifth term as president last week.

They include Denis Manturov, Russia’s industry minister, who was promoted to the role of first deputy prime minister overseeing the defence sector.

On Friday, Putin will travel with Chinese leaders to lay a wreath for Soviet soldiers who fought in north-eastern China before attending a China-Russia Expo in Harbin in northern China, Caixin reported.

China’s leaders have said little officially about the visit. Analysts said Beijing was focused on trying to stabilise tensions with its important trade partners in the EU and the US, which have accused Beijing of stoking overcapacity to boost weak economic growth and have opened anti-dumping investigations.

Joe Biden on Tuesday announced tariffs on $18bn of Chinese goods, including electric vehicles, solar cells, semiconductors and other tech products, in his most significant action on trade with China as president.

As the world’s largest exporter, China’s economy is heavily dependent on its ability to sell into developed markets, despite the strides it mas made in diversifying in recent years into emerging markets.

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