Chinese president Xi Jinping and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin said their summit this week heralded a “new era” in co-operation, but it also confirmed the dominant partner in what they call their “no-limits” relationship.
The Kremlin and Moscow’s state media celebrated the simple fact of Xi’s visit, which they said disproved western claims that Putin was now an international pariah, but the substance of their talks highlighted Russia’s rapidly growing reliance on its Asian neighbour.
Sweeping EU and US sanctions imposed over Putin’s invasion of Ukraine have put pressure on Russia’s economy, allowing China to ramp up energy purchases from Moscow at discount prices and increase its sale of a vast range of goods to Russian markets now starved of Western imports.
Putin listed sectors in which he would welcome Chinese involvement – from infrastructure building to farming and from artificial intelligence to car manufacturing – which essentially covered Russia’s entire economy, but he did not secure a deal for a new gas pipeline to China from Siberia that Moscow needs to offset lost EU energy revenue.
Putin said he and Xi “reached agreement on most of the deal’s parameters”, but Russia needs the so-called Power of Siberia 2 project far more urgently than China, which is not forecast to require any additional gas supplies until at least 2030; if a deal is finally reached, it will be on Beijing’s terms.
Russia’s leader also said Moscow supported use of the yuan in deals between his country and states in Asia, Africa and Latin America, proposing China’s currency for the sort of international role that he sought for the rouble earlier in his 23-year presidency.
[ Kremlin welcomes China’s ‘peace plan’ on Ukraine and warns Britain over arms supplies ]
In a similar way, Putin has now tacitly accepted Russia’s role as junior partner to China in their alliance against the West. The role is not new, but the power balance has never been more strongly tilted in Beijing’s favour, given Moscow’s isolation from the West and the arrest warrant issued for Putin this month by the International Criminal Court.
Close ties with energy-rich, nuclear-armed Russia, a fellow autocratic state with a UN Security Council veto, are clearly of value to China in its power struggle with the US.
Defeat for Putin in Ukraine would be blow for Xi, and though they did not announce any weapons deals or deeper military co-operation, it is unclear for now if any such understanding was reached in private.
“Now there are changes taking place that haven’t happened in 100 years. And we are driving these changes together,” Xi told Putin as he left the Kremlin on Tuesday night.
“I agree,” Putin said, to which Xi replied: “Take care of yourself, dear friend.”