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Russia and China hail ties amid tensions with West

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, have held a video meeting, as friction persists in both countries’ relations with the West.

In their opening remarks at the virtual summit on Wednesday, Putin and Xi hailed relations between Russia and China, with the Russian leader declaring them “a proper example of interstate cooperation in the 21st century”.

“A new model of cooperation has been formed between our countries, based among other things on such principles as not interfering in internal affairs [of each other], respect for each other’s interests, determination to turn the shared border into a belt of eternal peace and good neighborliness,” Putin said.

Xi said that the Russian president “strongly supported China’s efforts to protect key national interests and firmly opposed attempts to drive a wedge between our countries.”

“I appreciate it very much,” the Chinese leader said.

Putin also said that he plans to meet with Xi in person in Beijing in February and attend the 2022 Olympics. “As agreed, we will hold talks and then take part in the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games,” Putin said.

Tensions between Russia and Western countries have escalated in recent months over a Russian military build-up near the border with Ukraine. The Ukrainian government has accused Moscow of massing tens of thousands of troops in preparation for a possible large-scale military offensive. The Kremlin denies it plans to invade and says the West is gripped by Russophobia.

Earlier on Wednesday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the two leaders would discuss tensions in Europe and “aggressive” rhetoric from the United States and NATO.

“The situation in international affairs, especially on the European continent, is very, very tense right now and requires discussion between allies,” Peskov said, referring to Moscow and Beijing.

“We see very, very aggressive rhetoric on the NATO and US side, and this requires discussion between us and the Chinese.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the meeting was expected to “further enhance the high-level mutual trust between the two sides”.

Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu, reporting from Beijing, said the summit would enhance the already high level of trust between the two countries.

“The strength of this bilateral relationship seems to be based on two things … It’s extremely practical,” Yu said, referring to the mutual investments and trade ties.

They also value each other “enormously when it comes to the diplomatic side of things,” she said, noting the “common criticism” that they have received from the US and Europe.

Russia has cultivated closer ties with China as its relations with the West have worsened, and Putin has used the partnership as a way of balancing US influence while striking lucrative deals, especially on energy. He and Xi this year agreed to extend a 20-year friendship and cooperation treaty.

The summit comes years after Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula led to a serious rift with its Western partners and a subsequent turn towards its neighbour to the east.

According to Yu, many in the West perceive this relationship as a “potentially growing threat to Western interests”.

Wide-ranging ties
Russia and China do not only cooperate militarily but have also strengthened ties on the diplomatic and economic fronts.

Peskov earlier said the two leaders were expected to hold a long conversation with a broad agenda including energy, trade and investment. China’s Xi has previously described Putin as his “best friend“.

Their discussion took place eight days after a Russia-US video call in which US President Joe Biden warned Putin against invading Ukraine and Putin told him Russia needed legally binding security guarantees from the West.

Biden warned Putin that Russia would face painful sanctions that would cause resounding economic harm if it invaded Ukraine again.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attend the U.S.-Russia summit at Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The meeting also comes as Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and US Assistant Secretary of State Karen Donfried met in Moscow to discuss Moscow’s demand for security guarantees.

“A thorough discussion took place on the issue of security guarantees [for Russia] in the light of persistent attempts by the United States and NATO to change the military and political situation in Europe in their favour,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement, with no further details.

Russia and China have faced sanctions over their internal policies in the past – China over abuses against minorities, especially Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, and for its crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

Beijing and Washington also remain at odds over trade and technology, among other issues.