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Xi, Putin hold first in-person talks since Ukraine invasion at Samarkand

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi JinpingPremium
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping

Russia and China are sailing on kind of similar boat with pressure mounting on both nations with respect their aggressions over Ukraine and Taiwan respectively. Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian leader Vladimir Putin began their first in-person talks since the war in Ukraine on Thursday

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On the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit (SCO) in the ancient Uzbek Silk Road city of Samarkand, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian leader Vladimir Putin began their first in-person talks since the war in Ukraine on Thursday. 

Russia and China are striking a similar chord as they both have their axes to grind, since both are facing growing pressure from the US and its allies over the war in Ukraine and Beijing’s increased military activity around Taiwan.

Xi has resisted Washington’s call to condemn Russia’s invasion, while Moscow has pledged its “solidarity" for Beijing over Taiwan, a self-ruled island that China claims as its territory. 

Russia's President also said that Moscow backs Beijing's "One China" policy, opposes "provocations" by the United States in the Taiwan Strait, and acknowledged China's "balanced position" on Ukraine.

"China is willing to make efforts with Russia to assume the role of great powers, and play a guiding role to inject stability and positive energy into a world rocked by social turmoil," Xi told Putin.

He further added, "Recently, we have been overcoming the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, spoken many times via phone, and kept up effective strategic communications."

"We are extremely willing to use this meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation to exchange views with you on international and regional issues of common concern," he said.

Last meeting before the war

When Xi and Putin last met in February at the Beijing Winter Olympics they declared a “no limits" friendship. The Russian leader ordered an attack on Ukraine weeks later, a move that initially seemed to surprise Beijing. 

China has since provided verbal backing for Moscow. The Asian nation’s No. 3 official, Li Zhanshu, recently told Russian lawmakers that leaders in Beijing “fully understand the necessity" of Putin’s actions.

Although China supports Moscow's actions in Ukraine verbally, at the same time China has avoided sending military supplies or providing financial support, to avoid Beijing becoming a target of economic sanctions that Washington and others have applied to Russia.

Xi’s presence in Central Asia marks his return to the world stage after nearly 1,000 days at home, after he became the only Group of 20 leader to avoid leaving his country since the first Covid lockdown began in January 2020.

In the light of US attempts of putting sanctions over Russia and subduing China's claim over Taiwan, Putin condemned 'attempts to create unipolar world' in talks with Xi.

What is Xi expecting from SCO summit?

Originally Xi was expected to make his inaugural international trip in November for the G-20 summit in Bali, which will be attended by President Joe Biden as well as Putin. Instead, he decided to visit Central Asia first focusing on meetings with leaders from Russia, India, Pakistan and Iran -- countries more aligned with Beijing’s efforts to push back on the US and its allies.

The Chinese leader is expected to use the SCO summit as a platform to promote his vision of a world where Beijing can expand its interests without US economic or military pressure.

This summit is also significant for Xi as he is a month away from a twice-in-a-decade Communist Party congress where he’s expected to clinch a precedent-busting third term. His aim is to push his agenda for a multipolar world. 

China’s ties with the US have worsened recently over Taiwan, after Nancy Pelosi became the first House Speaker in 25 years to visit the democratic island to which Beijing responded with unprecedented military drills around the island nation.

The situation is escalating further as on Wednesday, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a bill to boost ties with Taipei and give it more military hardware to deter a Chinese invasion. This development is likely to further strain ties between China and US.

Xi strengthening ties with Central Asian nations

Prior to his meeting with Putin, Xi also sat down with leaders from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan on Thursday, pledging closer ties with the Central Asian nations. 

The Chinese leader told Kyrgyzstan’s President Sadyr Japarov construction should start soon on the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway, according to state broadcaster China Central Television. The route will reduce Beijing’ dependence on Russia and Kazakhstan to transit goods. 

In a separate meeting with his Turkmenistan counterpart, Serdar Berdimuhamedov, Xi said the two countries should scale up cooperation on natural gas, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. 

Xi also held talks with Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon, pledging to import more agricultural goods from the central Asian nation and deepen cooperation in areas including transit and anti-terrorism, CCTV reported.

(With inputs from agencies)

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