The Irish Times view on Putin in Beijing: Xi’s vital role

Xi is in a unique position to urge Putin to reciprocate any Ukrainian move

Vladimir Putin’s visit to China last week, his first foreign trip since starting a fifth presidential term, demonstrated the strength and growing importance of his friendship with Xi Jinping. And it reaffirmed their shared determination to protect what they assert to be their legitimate security interests from American military deterrence and economic sanctions.

The two leaders did not repeat the declaration of a “no limits” friendship they made just before Putin invaded Ukraine in February 2022. But a joint statement made clear that, despite western appeals to Xi, the war has brought Russia and China closer together. Russia last year overtook Saudi Arabia as the biggest oil supplier to China and Chinese goods have replaced many European products in Russian shops. As part of a broader effort to protect their economies from western sanctions, much of their trade is now conducted in roubles and yuan rather than in US dollars.

Their joint statement was unusually direct in its criticism of the US, which they accused of undermining global stability and security through a policy of “dual containment” of Russia and China. They promised to strengthen cooperation and coordination in response to what they described as “unconstructive and hostile” US actions.

Xi maintains an official policy of neutrality in the Ukraine war but his diplomatic and economic support has been crucial to Putin’s war effort. Although China has not supplied weapons to Russia, western governments complain that Chinese companies are exporting “dual-use” components such as drones and jet engines and semi-conductors which could be used in weapons production.


Ukraine has become the greatest obstacle to better relations between China and the European Union and Xi has come under pressure from European leaders over the issue. He endorsed a call from Emmanuel Macron for an Olympic truce but when he put the proposal to Putin in Beijing, the Russian leader rejected it.

China has not yet confirmed that it will attend a peace conference in Switzerland next month, to which Russia has not been invited. The starting point for the conference is Ukraine’s peace plan, which requires the withdrawal of all Russian forces from Ukrainian territory, including Crimea.

Russia’s recent advances on the battlefield mean that Ukraine’s full war aims can only be achieved if the situation is reversed in a military campaign that could last years and cost many more lives. If Russia is to be included in a peace process, next month’s conference must move Ukraine from its current position.

Xi last week restated China’s commitment to playing a role in facilitating a negotiated settlement to the war. He is in a unique position to urge Putin to reciprocate any Ukrainian move. It is in the interest of China, Russia, Europe and above all the people of Ukraine that he should do so.