China’s President Xi Jinping has said he signed an agreement with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin bringing their ties into a “new era” of cooperation, as the two leaders called for “responsible dialogue” to resolve the Ukraine crisis.
“We signed a statement on deepening the strategic partnership and bilateral ties which are entering a new era,” Xi said following talks with Putin in the Kremlin on Tuesday.
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He added that China and Russia should work more closely to push forward greater “practical cooperation”.
In turn, Putin said “all agreements have been reached” and that economic cooperation between Moscow and Beijing was a “priority” for Russia.
The Chinese leader visited Moscow days after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Putin for crimes committed in the neighbouring country, where Russian forces have made little progress in recent months despite suffering heavy losses.
The talks were intended to cement the “no limits” partnership the two leaders announced last February, less than three weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine.
On the conflict, the Chinese leader said Beijing was “guided by the principles of the United Nations … and promote a peaceful settlement” of fighting in Ukraine.
“We are always for peace and dialogue,” he added.
A joint statement
A joint statement included familiar accusations against the West – that Washington was undermining global stability and NATO was barging into the Asia-Pacific region.
Putin said a Chinese proposal to end the conflict could be used as the basis of a peace settlement, but that the West and Kyiv were not yet ready.
“We believe that many of the provisions of the peace plan put forward by China are consonant with Russian approaches and can be taken as the basis for a peaceful settlement when they are ready for that in the West and Kyiv. However, so far we see no such readiness from their side,” Putin said.
China’s proposal – a 12-point paper calling for de-escalation and eventual ceasefire in Ukraine – lacked details on how to end the war.
The United States has been dismissive of the plan, given Beijing’s refusal to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and has said a ceasefire would lock in Russian territorial gains and give Putin’s army more time to regroup.
Responding to the meeting, the White House said China’s position was not impartial, and urged Beijing to pressure Russia to withdraw from Ukraine’s sovereign territory to end the war.
After the meeting with Xi, Putin accused Western powers of fighting “to the last Ukrainian” and praised the growing trade, energy and political ties between China and Russia.
Describing his talks with Putin as “open and friendly”, Xi reiterated China’s “neutral position” on Ukraine and called for dialogue.
Kyiv had welcomed China’s diplomatic involvement but said Russia must pull its troops out of Ukraine and underscore the importance of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday said Kyiv had suggested to China that Beijing join a Ukrainian peace formula to end Russia’s war in Ukraine, but that it was still waiting for an answer.
The agreement also pushed forward the planned Power of Siberia 2 pipeline, which would deliver 50 billion cubic metres (bcm) of natural gas per year from Russia to China via Mongolia.
Putin said Moscow was ready to increase oil exports to Beijing after Russia, China and Mongolia had completed all agreements on a planned pipeline to ship Russian gas.
The pipeline has gained urgency as Moscow seeks to replace Europe as its major gas customer.
Russia’s news agency, TASS, reported that the two leaders also discussed the internet and agreed that they stand “against militarization of information and communication technologies and support multilateral, equal and transparent management of the Internet”.
“[They] support creation of a multilateral, equal and transparent global management system of the Internet with the support of sovereignty and security of all countries in this sphere,” TASS quoted the agreement as saying.
At a state dinner following the talks, Putin toasted the “prosperity” of the Russian and Chinese peoples.
“I am sure that Russian-Chinese cooperation has truly unlimited possibilities and prospects,” he said.
Xi’s state visit was a major boost to Putin as he squares off against what he sees as a hostile West bent on inflicting a “strategic defeat” on Russia.
Samuel Ramani, the associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), told Al Jazeera that while Tuesday’s agreement was not an alliance, it was “very clear that China and Russia are coordinating on a variety of fronts.”
The meeting between Xi and Putin coincided with a rare, unannounced visit to Kyiv by the Japanese prime minister that underscored Tokyo’s support for Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s invasion.
Zelenskyy posted footage of him greeting Japan’s Fumio Kishida, whom the Ukrainian leader called “a truly powerful defender of the international order and a longtime friend of Ukraine”.