(Bloomberg) – Chinese leader Xi Jinping is making his first state visit to Russia since it invaded Ukraine to send a strong show of support to President Vladimir Putin.
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According to a statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Xi will be in Russia next week from Monday to Wednesday. Xi, who secured a third term as president a week ago, will be the most prominent international leader to visit Putin since his invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
“Xi’s visit to Russia will be a journey of friendship” and deepening mutual trust, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a regular news conference in Beijing on Friday.
During the trip, Xi is expected to discuss China’s 12-point plan to end the war, a document opposed by most Western governments. Criticism of the plan has been more muted from Kiev, which has sought senior-level talks with China since the war broke out, while urging Beijing to take a more critical stance on Russia.
The Kremlin confirmed the state visit at Putin’s invitation. The two leaders will discuss “the development of the unlimited partnership and strategic cooperation between Russia and China,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
Xi and Putin will “exchange views in connection with deepening Russian-Chinese cooperation at the international level,” it said, adding that several bilateral documents would be signed without giving details.
Zhang Hanhui, China’s ambassador to Russia, said economic and trade cooperation between the two countries has become “progressive” despite the pandemic, geopolitical challenges and sluggish global recovery, the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, reported on Sept Saturday.
“The more unstable the world becomes, the more steady progress China and Russia should make in their relations,” Zhang said in a joint interview with Chinese media, according to the report. Bilateral trade could reach the 200 billion yuan target set by leaders of the two nations this year, up 26% year on year in the first two months, he added.
The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index extended its loss after news of the visit, falling as much as 0.5%.
This visit comes as Xi refreshes his image as a global statesman. He has already made a significant win by recently helping negotiate a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran to restore diplomatic ties.
Xi reboots statesman image to counter US on world stage
Shortly after his return from Russia, he will receive Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing said. Xi and Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy also plan to speak via video link soon, in what would be their first conversation since invading Russia, a Ukrainian official familiar with the preparations said.
Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang discussed bilateral relations and the invasion with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba on Thursday. Xi and President Joe Biden could also hold their first call since the crisis over an alleged spy balloon that has flown over the US.
When visiting Russia, the Chinese head of state must carefully consider trying to project an image as a potential neutral mediator on the one hand, and maintaining close ties with Putin on the other.
“Russia’s economic isolation has already benefited the Chinese economy in some ways,” said Joseph Torigian, an assistant professor at American University who studies Chinese and Russian politics. “We don’t know if Xi will push for more advantageous deals or if he will try to avoid feeling in Moscow that he is exploiting their position.”
Xi last visited Russia in mid-2019, while Putin traveled to Beijing in early 2022 to attend the opening of the Winter Olympics. At this meeting, the two heads of state agreed on a friendship without borders and signed a series of long-term energy supply contracts.
The two met at a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Forum last September, where Putin said he understood Beijing’s “questions and concerns” about its invasion of Ukraine, a rare admission of tensions between the diplomatic allies.
–Assisted by Jing Li, Fran Wang and Chris Bourke.
(Updates with Chinese Ambassador’s comments from paragraph 7.)
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