When Chinese President Xi Jinping last saw Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine hadn’t even started. At that meeting in early 2022, the two established a “no limits" partnership, causing the West some anxiety. Then, the war with Ukraine began. While China hasn’t directly condemned Russia’s attack on Ukraine, it’s still exercising caution. Even while boosting trade with Russia, China hasn’t offered direct material support in the war, avoiding potential Western economic sanctions as a response.
Yesterday, Xi and Putin met face to face at a conference in Uzbekistan to discuss Ukraine and Taiwan. Speaking one-on-one, Putin said Russia understood Xi’s “questions and concerns" over the Ukraine conflict but described China’s stance as “balanced." Plus, Putin backed China’s position regarding Taiwan, which it claims as part of its territory, and condemned the US for provoking conflict in the region. In addition to Putin, Xi also spoke with the leaders of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan on Thursday, pledging closer ties with the countries.
“We highly appreciate the balanced position of our Chinese friends in connection with the Ukrainian crisis. We understand your questions and concerns in this regard. During today’s meeting, of course, we will explain in detail our position on this issue, although we have spoken about this before," Putin said in an opening speech of the meeting.
“China is willing to work with Russia, display the responsibilities of the major powers, and play a leading role to inject stability and positive energy to a world in chaos," President Xi, addressing Putin as “old friend," said during the meeting.
“Xi is sending a clear note that he is able to go and travel the world, to meet with, in quotation marks, ‘world leaders’ who are friends and they are friends to China in ways and under terms that basically the Chinese can lay down," said Professor Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at SOAS University of London.