Putin concludes trip to China by emphasising its ties to Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin concluded a two-day visit to China on Friday, emphasising the countries’ burgeoning strategic ties as well as his own personal relationship with Chinese leader Xi Jinping as they sought to present an alternative to US global influence.

Mr Putin praised the growth in bilateral trade while touring a China-Russia Expo in the northeastern city of Harbin. He met students at the Harbin Institute of Technology, which is said to work closely with the People’s Liberation Army.

Harbin, capital of China’s Heilongjiang province, was once home to many Russian expatriates and retains some of that history in its architecture, such as the central St Sophia Cathedral, a former Russian Orthodox church.

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Vladimir Putin talks to students of the Harbin Institute of Technology in Harbin, northeastern China’s Heilongjiang Province (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

The partnership between China and Russia “is not directed against anyone”, Mr Putin said in a veiled reference to the West. “It is aimed at one thing: creating better conditions for the development of our countries and improving the wellbeing of the people of China and the Russian Federation.”

But he still had a back-handed rebuke for the US, and others who oppose the Moscow-Beijing relationship, saying an “emerging multipolar world … is now taking shape before our eyes.”

“And it is important that those who are trying to maintain their monopoly on decision-making in the world on all issues … do everything in their power to ensure that this process goes naturally,” he said.

Joseph Torigian, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute, said the message being sent by China and Russia was clear: “At this moment, they’re reminding the West that they can be defiant when they want to.”

Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu addressed Putin’s visit in an interview with The Associated Press, saying Western powers should continue to support Ukraine as part of sending a message that democracies will defend one another.

“If Ukraine is defeated at the end, I think China is going to get inspired, and they might take even more ambitious steps in expanding their power in the Indo-Pacific, and it will be disastrous for the international community,” Mr Wu said.

Mr Putin this month began his fifth term in power and Mr Xi began his third last year.

The Russian leader’s trip “is an example of the two big authoritarian countries supporting each other, working together with each other, supporting each other’s expansionism,” Mr Wu added.

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Vladimir Putin and Chinese Vice President Han Zheng visit the Russian-Chinese EXPO in Harbin, northeast China (Sergei Bobylev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Mr Putin began the day by laying flowers at a Harbin monument to fallen Soviet soldiers who had fought for China against the Japanese during the second Sino-Japanese war, when Japan occupied parts of China.

At the trade exhibition in Harbin, Mr Putin emphasised the importance of Russia-China co-operation in jointly developing new technologies.

“Relying on traditions of friendship and co-operation, we can look into the future with confidence,” he said. “The Russian-Chinese partnership helps our countries’ economic growth, ensures energy security, helps develop production and create new jobs.”

A joint statement issued Thursday described their world view and expounded on criticism of US military alliances in Asia and the Pacific.

The meeting was yet another affirmation of the friendly “no-limits” relationship China and Russia signed in 2022, just before Moscow invaded Ukraine.

Talks of ending the fighting featured frequently in Thursday’s remarks, although Russia has just opened a new front by launching attacks in Ukraine’s northeastern border area. The war is at a critical point for Ukraine, which had faced delays in getting weapons from the US.

China offered a broad plan for peace last year that was rejected by both Ukraine and the West for failing to call for Russia to leave occupied parts of Ukraine.

European leaders have pressed China to influence Russia to end its invasion, to little avail. Experts say the Moscow-Beijing relationship offers strategic benefits, particularly when both have tensions with Europe and the US.

“Even if China compromises on a range of issues, including cutting back support on Russia, it’s unlikely that the US or the West will drastically change their attitude to China as a competitor,” said Hoo Tiang Boon, who researches Chinese foreign policy at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

“They see very little incentive for compromise.”

Mr Xi and Mr Putin have a longstanding agreement to visit each other’s countries once a year, and Mr Xi was welcomed at the Kremlin last year.

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