After reaffirming ties with Xi, Putin focuses on trade and cultural exchanges in Harbin, China

Beijing: Russian President Vladimir Putin focused on trade and cultural exchanges Friday on his state visit to China that started with bonhomie in Beijing and a summit with China's leader Xi Jinping that deepened their “no-limits” partnership as both countries face rising tensions with the West.

Putin will attend the China-Russia Expo in the northeastern city of Harbin and meet with students at Harbin Institute of Technology. Harbin, the capital of China’s Heilongjiang province, was once home to many Russian expatriates and retains some of these historical ties in the city’s architecture, such as the central Saint Sophia Cathedral, a former Russian Orthodox church.

Though Putin's visit is more symbolic and short on concrete proposals, the two countries, which both face rising tensions with the West, nonetheless are sending a clear message.

“At this moment, they’re reminding the West that they can be defiant when they want to,” said Joseph Torigian, a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institute.

At their summit on Thursday, Putin thanked Xi for China’s proposals for ending the war in Ukraine, while Xi said China hopes for the early return of Europe to peace and stability and will continue to play a constructive role toward this. Their joint statement explicated their worldview and expounded on criticism of U.S. military alliances in Asia and the Pacific.

Russia's Putin has become isolated globally for his invasion of Ukraine. China has a tense relationship with the U.S., which has labeled it a competitor, and faces pressure to continue to supply key components to Russia needed for weapons production.

Talks of peacefully resolving the Ukraine crisis featured frequently in Thursday's remarks, though Russia last week just opened a new front in the Ukraine war by launching attacks at the country's northeastern border area. The war is at a critical point for Ukraine, which had faced delays in getting weapons from the U.S.

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.

In a smaller meeting Thursday night at Zhongnanhai, the leaders' residential compound, Putin thanked Xi for his peace plan and said he welcomed China continuing to play a constructive role in a political solution to the problem, according to China's official Xinhua News Agency. They also attended events to celebrate 75 years of bilateral relations.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Russia has increasingly come to depend on China as Western sanctions have taken a bite. Trade between the two countries increased to $240 billion last year, as China has helped its neighbor defray the worst of Western sanctions.

European leaders have pressed China to ask Russia to end its invasion of Ukraine, though to little avail. Experts say China and Russia's relationship with each other offers strategic benefits, particularly at a time when both have tensions with Europe and the U.S.

“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.”

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

( Source : AP )
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