Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet on Thursday in an ancient Uzbek Silk Road city to discuss the Ukraine war, tensions over Taiwan and the deepening partnership between the rising superpower of China and the natural resources titan of Russia.
On his first trip outside China since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Xi arrived in Central Asia on Wednesday, just a month before the Communist Party is set to cement his place as the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong.
Xi and Putin are due to meet in Samarkand on Thursday afternoon, according to a schedule distributed by the Russian delegation to media.
“The presidents will discuss both the bilateral agenda and the main regional and international topics,” Putin’s foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters in Moscow on Tuesday.
Ushakov said the leaders would discuss Ukraine and Taiwan at the meeting which he said would hold “special significance” given the geopolitical situation.
The last time Xi and Putin met in person, just weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, they declared a “no limits” partnership and inked a promise to collaborate more against the West.
Putin, though, goes into the meeting after nearly seven months of war in Ukraine that has strained Russia’s economic and military power in the biggest confrontation with the West since the height of the Cold War.
Russia’s paramount leader has yet to comment publicly on lightning rout of his forces in north-eastern Ukraine.
Xi and Putin
The deepening Xi-Putin partnership is considered one of the most significant developments in geopolitics after China’s own spectacular rise over the past 40 years.
Once the leader in the global Communist hierarchy, Russia after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union is now a junior partner to a resurgent China which is forecast to overtake the United States as the world’s biggest economy in the next decade.
Xi, the son of Communist revolutionary whose has praised the jewels of Russian literature in public, and Putin, who grew up in Leningrad, now St Petersburg, and came of age in the Soviet-era KGB, say their relations have never been better.
Though Russia and China have in the past been rivals and have fought wars, Putin and Xi share a view of the world which sees the West as decadent and in decline just as China challenges the United States’ supremacy.
The visit “shows that China is willing to not only continue ‘business as usual’ with Russia but even show explicit support and accelerate the formation of a stronger China-Russia alignment,” said Alexander Korolev, senior lecturer in politics and international relations at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.
As Europe tries to turn away from Russian oil and gas, Putin will seek to boost energy exports to China and Asia, possibly with a pipeline through Mongolia. Putin, Xi and Mongolian President Ukhnaa Khurelsukh are due to hold a three-way meeting in Samarkand.
In Uzbekistan, Xi and Putin will attend a summit of The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a security bloc comprising Russia, China, India, Pakistan and four of Central Asian states.
Iran on Thursday signed a memorandum on joining the SCO.
Putin said a delegation of 80 large Russian companies would visit Iran next week.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Xi will come face-to-face on Friday for the first time since deadly border clashes in 2020 frayed ties between the Asian rivals.
“At the SCO summit, I look forward to exchanging views on topical, regional and international issues, the expansion of SCO and on further deepening of multifaceted and mutually beneficial
cooperation within the organisation,” Modi said in a statement.
Russia has already confirmed a bilateral meeting between Putin and Modi, during which they are expected to talk about overall trade as well as sales of Russian fertilisers and mutual food supplies.
Putin will also meet Iranian, Kyrgyz, Pakistani, Turkmen and Uzbek leaders. On Friday, Putin is also set to meet the leaders of Azerbaijan and Turkey, the Kremlin said.