Russia: Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Xi Jinping
President Xi Jinping of China is spending three days as Vladimir Putin’s guest from Monday, as the pair discuss Chinese peace proposals to end the war in Ukraine. The move comes as a strong signal of their renewed “friendship” after a year of uncertainty over Beijing’s stance on Moscow’s actions. As the country welcomes an economic boom after years of coronavirus restrictions, Express.co.uk examines the opportunities China has seized throughout the war.
Putin and Xi
Just over a year ago – less than a month before Putin’s ground forces violated Ukraine’s territorial integrity – it was declared that the friendship between Russia and China was “without limits” at a Beijing summit.
Despite this, as the conflict raged on little was known about the true nature of the relationship. China abstained from both UN votes condemning the invasion, yet has remained mostly quiet on the issue over the past 13 months.
President Xi’s landing in Moscow today heralds a return to warmer ties – his three-day trip being billed as a “journey of friendship, cooperation and peace”.
The jig, it seems, is up. Here, Express.co.uk looks at all the ways China may have helped and benefited from Putin’s war.
In retaliation for the Kremlin’s aggression, NATO allies quickly sought to ween themselves off Russian hydrocarbons to cut off the country’s number one revenue stream. In February, the EU issued a blanket ban on its oil products.
China, however – the world’s top energy consumer and one only just re-opening from restrictive coronavirus pandemic lockdowns – undercut the effectiveness of this policy by swallowing up the lost share of the export market.
Chinese customs figures show crude imports from Russia increased by eight percent in 2022 to 86.25 million tonnes, giving Moscow a 17 percent share of the Chinese oil market, up from 15 percent the previous year.
Other countries ambiguous in their stance on Ukraine have also swooped in to profit from the discounted Urals crude. China, India and Turkey now welcome 70 percent of all Russian oil shipments.
In its first report of 2023, the International Energy Agency (IEA) claimed just under half the entire rise in oil consumption this year will come from China alone. Russia has secured a valuable customer.
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The conflict in Ukraine has caused economic ripples the world over. Rising energy costs, central banks hiking interest rates to curb inflation and general uncertainty in the markets about the war have all taken a toll.
In January, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecast real global GDP growth of just 3.4 percent, falling to 2.9 percent in 2023. The organisation expects the US economy to expand by just 1.4 percent, that of the Euro area by just 0.7 percent, and the UK economy to contract by 0.6 percent.
China, on the other hand, bolstered by its flexibility towards Russia, has been upwardly revising its real growth estimates for the year from 4.4 percent to five or even six percent.
With inflation coming in at just 2.1 percent in January – half that of the lowest rate in the G7 for the month – the consumer class in China has also been spared the budget-tightening discomfort of rampant price rises.
Beyond indirectly funding Putin’s war effort, the US also believes Beijing to be eyeing-up weapons sales to Moscow.
In February, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Chinese firms were already providing “non-lethal support” and that the US had intelligence to suggest they were also on the verge of supplying “lethal support” to the Russian military.
The allegations are, however, unconfirmed and vigorously denied by the Chinese state, a foreign ministry spokesperson saying: “We do not accept the United States’ finger-pointing on China-Russia relations, let alone coercion and pressure.”
On the one-year anniversary of the war, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he had “not seen any actual delivery of lethal aid,” but added: “What we have seen are signs and indications that China may be planning and considering to supply military aid to Russia.”
On the one hand, going against the Western trend of funnelling ever more weapons into Ukraine to ensure Russian forces are annihilated has provided China with a unique opportunity to frame itself as the main proponent for a resolution of the conflict.
Beijing countered claims of weapons transfers by publishing a 12-point plan for a military drawdown. Just under a month later – and just days after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant for Putin’s arrest under charges of war crimes – Mr Xi is in Moscow as a supposed peace broker.
Yet China itself has been anything but peaceful throughout the past year, ratcheting-up tensions with Taiwan while NATO’s focus is trained on Ukraine. The situation reached a flashpoint in late summer last year, when a visit to Taipei by the US’s then-Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi sparked condemnation from Beijing.
China has since violated Taiwanese airspace multiple times with military aircraft and conducted drills in the 100-mile straight separating the country from the continental landmass.
Early in the New Year, a spokesperson for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said Beijing remained committed to “smashing plots for Taiwan independence,” renewing fears of an upcoming attack emboldened by Putin’s actions in Ukraine.
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