Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in China on Tuesday to meet his “dear friend” Xi Jinping, bolstering their relationship at a summit that will be overshadowed by the Israel-Hamas war.
China this week welcomes representatives of 130 countries for a forum of President Xi’s landmark project, the Belt and Road Initiative, that Beijing is using to extend its global influence.
Putin is at the top of the invitation list, with the Russian leader on his first trip to a major global power since the Ukraine invasion threw his regime into international isolation.
His plane landed in China just before 09:30 am, an AFP journalist on the tarmac saw.
He is due to meet Xi for talks on Wednesday, the Kremlin said.
“During the talks, special attention will be paid to international and regional issues,” it said, without elaborating.
He is on a mission to strengthen the already strong relationship with his communist neighbour, though Moscow is increasingly the junior partner.
Experts expect few big surprises during the Russian leader’s visit to China, seeing the meeting as more a symbolic gesture of support for Moscow.
“Russia is aware that China doesn’t want to sign any high publicity deals,” Alexander Gabuev, director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, told AFP.
“China holds all of the cards,” he said.
The Kremlin said the two leaders would meet on Wednesday “on the sidelines” of the BRI forum.
And global headlines will be dominated by Israel’s war with Palestinian militant organisation Hamas.
Israel declared war on the Islamist group after waves of Hamas fighters broke through the heavily fortified border with Gaza on October 7, shooting, stabbing, and burning to death more than 1,400 people, most of them civilians.
More than one million people have fled their homes in scenes of chaos and despair under heavy Israeli bombardment of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
Israel’s bombing has killed around 2,750 people in Gaza, mainly civilians, according to Palestinian authorities, and flattened entire neighbourhoods.
Western officials have criticised Beijing for not naming Hamas in statements on the Israel-Gaza conflict.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke on Sunday with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who called on China to use its “influence” in the Middle East to push for calm.
China has a warm relationship with Iran, where the clerical leadership supports both Hamas and Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group that could open a second front against Israel.
This year, China brokered an entente between former regional foes Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Beijing’s special envoy Zhai Jun will visit the Middle East this week to push for a ceasefire and peace talks, China’s state broadcaster CCTV said. No details have been given about where he will go.
– ‘Dear friends’ reunited –
China and Russia’s top diplomats were singing from the same song sheet when they met in Beijing on Monday.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov thanked China for inviting Putin as the summit’s “chief guest”, according to a readout from Moscow, which later said the top diplomat would head to North Korea after Beijing.
Putin and Xi will discuss the countries’ ties “in their entirety” when they meet this week, Lavrov told Wang.
Wang, in turn, said China “appreciates” Russia’s support for the Belt and Road Initiative.
“Both sides should plan commemorative activities, deepen strategic mutual trust, consolidate traditional friendship, and promote friendship from generation to generation,” he said.
The two nations share a symbiotic alliance, with China appreciating Russia’s role as a bulwark against the West and Moscow increasingly reliant on Beijing’s largesse in trade and geopolitical backing.
“Since Moscow embarked on its all-out invasion of Ukraine, it has been put in a position where it is unprecedentedly dependent on China,” Bjorn Alexander Duben of China’s Jilin University told AFP.
At the heart of the deepening partnership is the relationship between Xi and Putin, who have described each other as “dear friends”.
“President Xi Jinping calls me his friend, and I call him my friend, too,” Putin told Chinese state broadcaster CGTN ahead of his visit, according to a Kremlin readout.