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Putin to Visit China: ‘No Limits’ Partnership under Test

Russian President Vladimir Putin will start a state visit to China on Thursday at the invitation of the Chinese President Xi Jinping. The visit, the second for the Russian President in two years, is the latest show of their growing alignment and deepening strategic ties against the US-led global order.

Deepening Cooperation

The Kremlin announced that Putin will make a visit to China on May 16-17, 2024. It will be his first foreign trip since he was sworn in as a president and began his fifth term. The Russian and Chinese leaders will discuss the overarching partnership and strategic cooperation between both countries.

They will also have an in-depth exchange of opinions on the most pressing international and regional issues. After the talks, they will sign a joint statement and several bilateral documents.

During the visit, Putin and Xi will attend a gala event marking 75 years of diplomatic relations. The Russian president will hold a meeting with Chinese Premier of the State Council Li Qiang to discuss bilateral cooperation in trade, economy and humanitarian affairs.

Putin will attend the opening of the 8th Russia-China EXPO and the 4th Russia-China Forum on Interregional Cooperation at Harbin, the administrative center of the Heilongjiang Province.

According to Reuters, the newly appointed Russian Defense Minister Andrei Belousov, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Security Council Secretary Sergei Shoigu and foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov will also attend an informal meeting between Putin and Xi on May 16.

Advancing Ambitions

The meeting between Russian and Chinese leaders will provide a platform to discuss ways to advance their shared ambition to offer an alternative for American supremacy. The US is facing mounting criticism over its support for Israel’s war on Gaza months before the US presidential election.

Washington views China as its biggest competitor and Russia as its biggest threat. Putin and Xi believe that the West is in decline, and advocate for a multipolar world.

Multipolar World

Both Russia and China seek an opportunity to advance their shared goal of “establishing a fair multipolar world order,” according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Their shared goals also include working together to “consolidate the nations of the Global South.”

The conflict in Gaza has provided them with this opportunity. Moscow and Beijing have criticized Israel and the US, aligning themselves with the mounting global backlash, especially in the Global South, against Israel’s war.

Manoj Kewalramani, from the Takshashila Institution research center in Bangalore, told CNN, that China and Russia “see each other as force multipliers” in the Middle East. He added that the conflict has impacted how they view their relations with countries there.

For example, they view Iran, which joined BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in the past year, “as part of the new order (they are working to create), whereas they see Israel as a proxy for the United States,” he said.

‘No Limits’ Partnership

In February 2022, just days before the outbreak of the Ukraine war, Russia and China declared a “no limits” partnership during Putin’s visit to Beijing.

Ever since, China has provided political support to Russia during the war. It has continued to export electronics and other dual-use items that contribute to the Russian war effort without actually exporting weapons or military equipment.

It is also a major export market for Russian energy supplies, providing an economic lifeline to the Kremlin while Russia remains largely isolated on the world stage.

Moreover, both countries have held several joint military drills and China has been a strong opponent to economic sanctions against Russia in response to its war on Ukraine.

In an interview with Chinese state news agency Xinhua, ahead of the trip, Putin said Russia-China economic and trade relations have seen rapid development, “demonstrating their continued ability to respond to external challenges and crises.”

He added that they aim to deepen cooperation in “industry and high-tech, outer space and peaceful uses of nuclear energy, artificial intelligence, renewable energy and other innovative sectors.”

Underlying Challenges

Putin’s visit comes amid Russia’s major offensive in northeastern Ukraine’s Kharkiv region. For the Chinese president, who has just returned from a tour to Europe, this visit presents an opportunity to show that his ties to Putin has not damaged his ability to engage with the west.

However, their growing allegiance hides challenges, according to CNN. China is facing mounting pressure from the US and the West over its alleged dual-use exports to Russia.

Li Mingjiang, an associate professor of international relations at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, said: “The pressures are arguably bigger than they were in the past two years.”

In an indication that China might be stepping back to avoid Western sanctions, exports to Russia declined in March and April compared with the same periods the previous year, according to Chinese official trade data.

This is unlikely to stop both sides from strengthening their cooperation in other areas.

Balancing Act

Xi is attempting to keep his relations with Russia as a counterweight to the US without further alienating Europe, as he is trying to retain access to its markets to boost his stagnant economy.

Kewalramani, from the Takshashila Institution research center said: “Russia is fundamental to China’s grand strategy.” He added that “there is a deep interest in making sure that Russia doesn’t lose the war,” although Beijing doesn’t want escalation.

“China sees Russia as an important strategic partner and wants to give Putin proper respect, but it also wants to maintain sound relations with Europe and the United States for economic reasons and beyond. It is a very difficult balancing act,” Shen Dingli, a Shanghai-based international relations scholar, told the New York Times.

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