Xi Jinping said Tuesday that China would prioritise ties with Russia, calling the two “great neighbouring powers” as he prepared for a second day of talks with Vladimir Putin expected to focus on Ukraine.
The Chinese president also said he invited the internationally isolated Putin to visit China later this year as both leaders seek an alliance to counteract Western power.
Beijing and Moscow’s trade ties have boomed since Russia’s Ukraine campaign, linking the nations more closely and raising worries in the Western capital over how far the ties will go.
Xi said China’s government would “continue to prioritise the all-round strategic partnership between China and Russia”.
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“We are great neighbouring powers,” he was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying during a meeting with Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin.
Xi’s trip coincides with a surprise visit to Kyiv by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who arrived Tuesday in what Ukraine’s First Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dzheppar called a “historic” visit.
Writing on Twitter, she called it “a sign of solidarity and strong cooperation between (Ukraine and Japan). We are grateful to Japan for its strong support and contribution to our future victory.”
Xi’s visit to Moscow has been viewed as a major boost for Putin, who is under Western sanctions and subject to an International Criminal Court warrant over accusations of unlawfully deporting Ukrainian children.
On Monday, Xi and Putin held four and a half hours of talks, calling each other “dear friend.”
In a rare move, Putin escorted Xi to his car after the talks, and the two were seen smiling together.
During the meeting, the Russian leader said he was open to talks on Ukraine and praised Beijing’s 12-point position paper on the conflict, which includes a call for dialogue and respect for all countries’ territorial sovereignty.
Xi and Putin are also expected to discuss boosting economic cooperation as Russia boosts energy exports to China after being mostly shut out of European markets.
Ahead of the talks, Russian gas giant Gazprom said that supplies through the Power of Siberia pipeline to China had reached a daily record on Monday.
Xi’s three-day visit began a day after Putin travelled to Mariupol in eastern Ukraine, his first trip to territory captured from Kyiv since the start of the assault in February 2022.
China has sought to portray itself as a neutral party in the Ukraine conflict, but Washington has said Beijing’s moves could be a “stalling tactic” to help Moscow.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Xi’s Moscow visit “suggests that China feels no responsibility to hold the president accountable for the atrocities committed to Ukraine.”
“And instead of even condemning, it would rather provide diplomatic cover for Russia to continue to commit those great crimes,” he added.
The United States has accused Beijing of mulling arms exports to Moscow, claims China has vociferously denied.
Zelensky has said he would welcome talks with Xi, though there has been no indication from Beijing of any such plans.