The warmth of Russia’s and China’s relationship has been on display in the Kremlin as President Vladimir Putin held talks with China’s top diplomat Wang Yi and hailed the importance of the two countries’ cooperation.
Images showed Wang and Putin exchanging a firm handshake and sitting across the table from each other during their meeting on Wednesday. Others showed Wang, the Chinese Communist Party’s most senior foreign policy official, looking relaxed as he walked with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Wang’s visit to Moscow – at the end of a tour of a number of European countries – comes nearly a year after Putin ordered troops into neighbouring Ukraine, starting a conflict that has left thousands dead, forced millions to flee and left Ukrainian towns and cities in ruins.
The war has also widened divisions between Russia and the world’s liberal democracies, mostly in the West, which are backing Ukraine and have imposed sanctions on Moscow. Ties between China and the United States are also under serious strain.
Noting the escalation in international tensions, Putin said that “in this context, cooperation between the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation on the global arena is particularly important for stabilising the international situation”.
Ties between the two had reached “new frontiers”, he said, confirming that Chinese President Xi Jinping might soon travel to Moscow for a summit. The two men have met dozens of times since Xi became Chinese president.
Beijing has not condemned Moscow over the war although the invasion, which Moscow calls a “special military operation”, took place shortly after Xi and Putin met in China and affirmed a “no limits” partnership.
The US and NATO have recently expressed concern that China might provide arms or other support to Russia’s war, although China has denied having any such plan.
Wang emphasised that Moscow and Beijing both support “multipolarity and democratisation of international relations” – a reference to their shared goal of countering the perceived US dominance in global affairs.
“Chinese-Russian relations aren’t directed against any third countries and certainly can’t be subject to pressure from any third countries,” he said.
Earlier on Wednesday, Wang held talks with Russia’s foreign minister. “Our ties have continued to develop dynamically and despite high turbulence in the global arena, we have shown the readiness to speak in defence of each other’s interests,” Lavrov said.
Wang responded in kind, underlining Beijing’s focus on deepening ties with Russia. Russia’s foreign ministry said there was no discussion about a purported Chinese peace plan for Ukraine.
China has echoed Moscow’s claim that the US and NATO are to blame for the conflict by “provoking” the Kremlin.
Russia, in turn, has staunchly supported China amid tensions with the US over Taiwan and other issues, such as in the northwestern Xinjiang region, where the United Nations has found crimes against humanity might have been committed.
Still, some analysts say while China has emphasised its close ties with Moscow, it is also wary of escalating tensions with the West when it needs to boost its economy after the prolonged lockdowns of its now-defunct zero-COVID policy.
“Isolation from the West is not something (Beijing) wants to risk,” Yu Jie, a senior research fellow for China in the Asia-Pacific programme at Chatham House, a United Kingdom think tank, said in comments published on Wednesday.
“President Xi and his colleagues have begun to realise that cooperation with Russia comes with substantial limits to avoid undermining China’s own political priorities and longer-term economic interests.”
The war in Ukraine began on February 24 last year and has become the biggest land conflict in Europe since World War Two.
At a meeting on Wednesday of the 193-member UN General Assembly to mark the first anniversary of the war, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned Russia’s invasion as a violation of the UN Charter and international law.
The General Assembly is set to vote later on Thursday on a resolution put forward by Ukraine and supporters, stressing “the need to reach, as soon as possible, a comprehensive, just and lasting peace” in line with the UN Charter.
Guterres said the Charter was “unambiguous”, citing from it: “All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”
Ukraine and its supporters hope to deepen Russia’s diplomatic isolation by securing the support of nearly three-quarters of the assembly to match – if not better – the support received for several resolutions last year.
Russia’s UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzya, told the assembly that Moscow had been left with “no other option” but to ensure “the safety and security of our country, using military means”.