Putin has a powerful friend in Xi Jinping - but the Chinese president holds the upper hand

China's leader Xi Jinping has welcomed Russia's President Vladimir Putin as he carries out a two-day state visit, ITV News' Debi Edward reports

President Xi and President Putin appear to be members of their own mutual appreciation society.

At every opportunity the two leaders heaped praise on one another and on each others country during a full day of engagements in Beijing that ended with a gala concert to celebrate 75 years of China-Russia relations.

President Xi described relations between the two countries as having an "irreplaceable significance".

Vladimir Putin is very familiar with all the pageantry of a State visit to the Chinese capital. He has had the red carpet rolled out for him more times than any other world leader.

There was almost a discernible spring in his step as he walked together with Xi Jinping. And as a group of school children bounced up and down chanting "a warm welcome" the Russian leader blew them a kiss.

Putin is riding high after his recent inauguration, and with Russia making some gains on the battlefield, he was able arrive in Beijing to tell his good friend President Xi that things are going well.

Xi and Putin attended an official welcome ceremony in Beijing on Thursday. Credit: AP

China is the country keeping Moscow’s war economy afloat. And after signing agreements to deepen their cooperation, President Putin expressed his gratitude to the Chinese President and in his first mention of Ukraine, thanked Xi for his efforts to resolve what he described as a crisis.

For anyone that still had doubts, the so-called no limits friendship between Putin and Xi is still going strong.

Although President Xi spoke of wanting an early return to peace and stability in Europe, those words ring rather hollow when they are delivered from a platform shared with President Putin.

Accompanying Putin on this two-day visit are his new and old defence ministers, perhaps to show that there is no disharmony in his ranks.

There is also a large business and energy delegation, as Moscow aims to shore up the trade which has provided it with an economic lifeline and fed into the country’s war machine.

On a recent visit to Beijing the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned the Communist Party Chairman that Chinese exporters and banks would be sanctioned for supplying materials for military use.

In 2023, 60% of Russian imports of dual-use high tech goods as defined by European Union (EU) trade regulations came from China.

But there are signs that the warnings have had an effect, with exports from China to Russia down in both March and April of this year.

On Thursday the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a statement rejecting accusations that the country has sent any material for weapons manufacturing.

Trade between the two nations has been on the rise for the past decade, but since the 2022 invasion of Ukraine it has hit record levels, with China supplying everything from cars to smart phones - filling the gap left by departing Western suppliers.

Putin and Xi attended a concert on Thursday marking the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the countries. Credit: AP

Beijing has also signed new deals to increase its imports of Russian oil and gas - supplies which used to flow to Europe.

Last year Russia overtook Saudi Arabia to become China’s number one supplier of oil.

Following Thursday's largely symbolic visit, Chinese State media reported that cooperation “fervour” had reached its peak.

On Friday, Putin will visit Harbin in Northern China where the two countries have increased trade across their shared border area.

President Putin has developed a powerful friend in Xi Jinping. The Chinese leader has provided diplomatic cover and economic support since Moscow launched its illegal invasion; it is Xi who holds the upper hand in their relationship.

While Beijing might not have been aware of Russia’s war plans, it has been a beneficiary. It has allowed Xi Jinping to diversify his economy, aided the country’s post-pandemic recovery and allowed it to see how a country might survive under heavy sanctions from the west. A useful lesson for any potential move on Taiwan, military or otherwise.

Above all, it has helped the Communist Party’s wider goal of promoting an alternate global order and trying to dilute American supremacy.

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