Chinese President Xi Jinping treated Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to a state visit on Friday as the neighbouring giants forged closer ties in the face of U.S. diplomatic and economic challenges.
Mr. Putin, re-elected to his fourth term in March, arrived at the grandiose Great Hall of the people in Beijing for talks with Mr. Xi, who could stay in power for life, after term limits were lifted this year.
The two heads of state reviewed a military honour guard, and greeted flag-waving children during the welcoming ceremony, before retreating to the Great Hall.
Two of the most powerful Russian and Chinese leaders in decades, Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin, have built closer ties,while U.S. President Donald Trump has labelled both countries as economic rivals, who challenge the U.S.’ core interests and values.
'Both are soulmates'
Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin are “soulmates who want to make their countries great again,” Alexander Gabuev, senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, told AFP .
“Both share scepticism towards American hegemony, and distrust U.S. intentions. As they are both authoritarian personalistic rulers,” he said.
China is mired in tough negotiations with the U.S. to avoid a trade war, while Moscow, Syria, and Ukraine have deep differences with Washington, on multiple diplomatic fronts.
Mr. Putin played up his bond with his “good friend” Mr. Xi in an interview with China’s state broadcaster CGTN this week.
He said that the Chinese President was the only state leader “who celebrated his birthday with him,” sharing vodka and sausage. Mr. Xi “is approachable and sincere”, Mr. Putin told CGTN . “But he is also a very dependable man to work with.”
Maria Repnikova, director of the center of Global Information Studies, at Georgia State University in the U.S., said China made Russia look “stronger and more relevant” on the global stage. For its part, Russia allowed China to show the U.S. that it had “other options” in international negotiations.
“Trump’s policies justified [the] growing closeness, especially for Russia but also for China, given the volatile relationship with the U.S.,” Ms. Repnikova told AFP .
But, she said, “It is an asymmetrical relationship with Russia who is more dependent on China than vice versa, especially in the economic sphere.”
After the Beijing visit, Mr. Putin will join Mr. Xi at a weekend summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in the eastern Chinese city of Qingdao.
China and Russia lead the regional security group, which include former Soviet states, and new members such as India and Pakistan.
Mr. Putin told CGTN that the SCO had “small” objectives when it was founded two decades ago but that it was now evolving into a larger global force.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, whose country is an observer member of the SCO, will also attend the summit at a time when China and Russia are seeking to save the Iran nuclear deal following the U.S.’ withdrawal from the pact.