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Russia and China deepen their solidarity with meeting between leaders

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Russian President Vladimir Putin was in China today where he held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping. It's a symbolic moment in a relationship that has blossomed out of shared opposition to a U.S.-led world order. And as NPR's Jon Ruwitch reports, both China and Russia are keen to portray their relationship as strong.

JOHN RUWITCH, BYLINE: Before coming to Beijing, Putin sat down for an interview with China's state broadcaster, CCTV, and he laid it on pretty thick.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Non-English language spoken).

RUWITCH: According to CCTV's transcript, he said Xi is a firm, calm, pragmatic and reliable partner. A real world leader, Putin said, not like the, quote, "temporary workers" who show up for five minutes, put on a show and then disappear without a trace. That kind of flattery is perhaps to be expected. Russia has become much more isolated since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine more than a year and a half ago. That's made China its most important friend.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT XI JINPING: (Non-English language spoken).

RUWITCH: As for Xi, he called Putin an old friend when they met in Beijing today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

XI: (Non-English language spoken).

RUWITCH: The Chinese leader said, not only has mutual political trust grown deeper...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

XI: (Non-English language spoken).

RUWITCH: ...Their strategic cooperation has been close and effective. And in the 42 times since the two leaders have met over the past decade, Xi said, they've developed a good working relationship and a deep friendship. China and Russia declared that there were no limits to the relationship in February 2022, Putin's last trip to China on the eve of the Ukraine invasion. The reality is more complex, says Moritz Rudolf with Yale University's Paul Tsai China Center.

MORITZ RUDOLF: It's not that you have, like, 100% trust between those two countries. You have, like, decades of mistrust and competing interests.

RUWITCH: China and Russia have a long and fraught history, and they share a long border, where wars have been fought in the past.

RUDOLF: But in the end, they also share, like, an ideological line against, like, United States and, like, Western expansion East.

RUWITCH: And that's been a subtext for the backdrop of their meeting - a forum in Beijing to mark the 10th anniversary of China's Belt and Road Infrastructure Initiative. Representatives of more than 130 countries were in town along with Putin. The initiative started as an attempt to revive old Silk Road links between China and the rest of the world. But lately, it's become part of Beijing's expanding efforts to deepen its influence and friendships in the developing world, says Rudolf, who is participating.

RUDOLF: And you don't have that many Europeans or, like, Westerners at this whole thing. Like, I'm walking through the convention center there. Like, you can count them by the hand.

RUWITCH: The Belt and Road Initiative, he says, centers now around authoritarian states, plus the Global South. And in this calculus, he says, it would have been more surprising if Putin had chosen not to visit the Chinese capital.

John Ruwitch, NPR News, Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

John Ruwitch
John Ruwitch is a correspondent with NPR's international desk. He covers Chinese affairs.