Xi to Visit Russia For First Time Since Putin's Invasion of Ukraine

  • In Business
  • 2023-03-18 01:12:38Z
  • By Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) -- Chinese leader Xi Jinping is making his first state visit to Russia since it invaded Ukraine, in a strong show of support for President Vladimir Putin.

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Xi will be in Russia from Monday to Wednesday next week, according to a statement from China's Foreign Ministry. Xi, who secured a third term as president a week ago, will be the most prominent international leader to visit Putin since his February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

"Xi's visit to Russia will be a journey of friendship" and deepening mutual trust, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Friday at a regular press briefing in Beijing.

During the trip, Xi is expected to discuss China's 12-point blueprint for ending the war, a document dismissed by most Western governments. The criticism of the plan was more muted from Kyiv, which has sought talks at a leader level with China since the war broke out, while also urging Beijing to take a more critical stance against Russia.

The Kremlin confirmed the state visit, saying it was at Putin's invitation. The two leaders will discuss "developing the no-limits partnership and strategic cooperation between Russia and China," the Kremlin said in a statement.

Xi and Putin will "exchange views in the context of deepening Russo-Chinese cooperation in the international arena," it said, adding that several bilateral documents will be signed, without providing details.

Zhang Hanhui, China's ambassador to Russia, said economic and trade cooperation between the two countries has "advanced" despite the pandemic, geopolitical challenges and sluggish global recovery, the People's Daily, the Communist Party's official newspaper, reported Saturday.

"The more unstable the world gets, the more steady strides China and Russia should make in their relations," Zhang said in a joint interview with Chinese media, according to the report. Bilateral trade this year could reach the 200 billion yuan target set by leaders of the two nations, with a 26% year-on-year jump in the first two months, he added.

The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index extended its loss after the news of the visit, falling as much as 0.5%.

This visit comes as Xi is rebooting his image as a global statesman. He already got a significant win by recently helping broker a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran to restore diplomatic ties.

Xi Reboots Statesman Image in Bid to Counter US on World Stage

Soon after he returns from Russia he will host Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the Foreign Ministry in Beijing said. Xi and Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy also plan to speak by video link soon, in what would be their first conversation since Russia's invasion, a Ukrainian official familiar with the preparations said.

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang spoke Thursday with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba about bilateral ties and the invasion. Xi and President Joe Biden may also hold their first call since the crisis over an alleged spy balloon that flew over the US.

The Chinese leader needs to strike a careful balance on the visit to Russia, on the one hand seeking to project an image as a potential neutral mediator, while also managing his close ties with Putin.

"Russia's economic isolation has already benefited the Chinese economy in certain ways," said Joseph Torigian, an assistant professor at American University who researches Chinese and Russian politics. "We don't know whether Xi will push for even more beneficial deals or whether he will try to avoid a sense in Moscow that he is exploiting their position."

Xi last visited Russia in mid-2019, while Putin wen to Beijing in early 2022 to attend the opening of the Winter Olympics. At that meeting the two leaders agreed to a "no limits" friendship and signed a series of long-term energy supply deals.

The two met in September last year at a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Forum, where Putin said he understands Beijing's "questions and concerns" about his invasion of Ukraine, a rare admission of tensions between the diplomatic allies.

--With assistance from Jing Li, Fran Wang and Chris Bourke.

(Updates with Chinese ambassador's comments from 7th paragraph.)

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