China, Russia sign 2 deals, no mention of Ukraine

Published March 21st, 2023 - 05:14 GMT
China, Russia sign 2 deals, no mention of Ukraine
Russian President Vladimir Putin and China's President Xi Jinping make a toast during a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21, 2023. (Photo by Pavel Byrkin / SPUTNIK / AFP) RELATED CONTEN
Russia and China signed two accords Tuesday, setting the stage for closer economic cooperation, but no plans were announced on a possible peace deal with Ukraine.

ALBAWABA - The leaders of Russia and China signed two agreements Tuesday, setting the stage for closer economic cooperation, but no plans were announced on any possible peace deal with Ukraine.

Visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping met with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, for a welcome ceremony followed by three hours of talks at the Kremlin on the second day of his three-day trip to Moscow _  Xi’s first since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. A state dinner was held later.

Tuesday's events began with a meeting of Xi, Putin and other Russian officials, followed by a larger meeting that included more senior Russian officials.

Xi exchanged pleasantries and compliments with Putin, underlining the cordial and warm ties between the two leaders. Xi called Putin a "dear friend" on the first day of the state visit, while on the second day, both warmly shook hands in front of cameras following their closed-door meeting.

The talks

A Kremlin statement said that following an official ceremony held at St George’s Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace, Putin and Xi discussed "current issues of the further development of the comprehensive partnership and strategic interaction between Russia and China, and deepening cooperation on the international stage."

It said Putin and Xi agreed to expand natural gas trade and other economic ties, the Russian leader told a news conference Tuesday following discussions with his Chinese counterpart.

Putin said trade between Russia and China "reached a record" level in 2022, despite the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and pressures by Western sanctions imposed on Russia to force it to end its war in Ukraine, according to media reports. Putin predicted that trade in 2023 will exceed $200 billion.

He also said Moscow, which has become increasingly dependent on Beijing economically as its exports are curbed under the embargo, is "ready to support" Chinese firms interested to replace those that left Russia since the war in Ukraine began.

The Washington Post reported that the two leaders "in particular focused their discussion on energy cooperation and the lucrative trade in Russian natural gas to feed China’s growing consumption."

"Russian business is in a position to meet the growing demand from the Chinese economy for energy carriers both within the framework of current projects and those that are now in the process of negotiation,” Putin said.

"Central to that trade is the proposed Power of Siberia 2 gas pipeline, which would supply China with about 50 billion cubic meters of Russian gas annually," according to the Post. It said the pipeline, which would "pass through Mongolia, has been under discussion for years. But the project took on greater urgency for Russia after its natural gas trade with Europe stopped last year because of its invasion of Ukraine."

By 2030, Putin said, Russia will supply China with at least 98 billion cubic meters, in addition to 100 million tons of liquefied natural gas, through the new pipeline. "Almost all parameters of this agreement have been agreed upon," Putin said after Tuesday’s meetings.

Xi, a peacemaker?

So far, no comment was made publicly on China's proposal for ending the war in Ukraine, which failed to include demands for Moscow to pullout its invading forces from Ukraine.

Beijing labelled Xi's trip as a peace mission, but did not say if its president intends to hold similar talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The Ukrainian president said he was ready for talks with the Chinese leader following his Moscow visit.

The Washington Post said Putin and Xi "appear to be positioning themselves as the leaders of a new global order opposed to U.S. power." It said the White House has "accused Xi of providing 'diplomatic cover' for Putin after the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for his arrest."

However, China appears to be taking a higher profile in global politics. Earlier this month, Beijing hosted Iranian and Saudi officials, who agreed to resume diplomatic ties, reaching a historic deal that ended a seven-year estrangement between both rivals in the Mideast, which is traditionally an area under U.S. domain.

U.S. scolds Xi

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized Xi’s visit to Russia. He said Beijing “feels no responsibility” to hold Putin accountable following an arrest warrant for the Russian leader issued by the Netherlands-based International Criminal Court. Blinken said China “would rather provide diplomatic cover” for Putin to continue committing war crimes.

U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby encouraged Xi to “play a constructive role” by speaking to Zelenskyy, which he has not done since the war began.

Japan's prime minister in Ukraine

Xi's visit coincided with the arrival of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Kyiv Tuesday in a show of support. He held talks with Zelenskyy, becoming the first post-war Japanese official to visit an active war zone.

Kishida visited Bucha, the Ukrainian town where Russian troops reportedly killed and buried civilians in mass graves, according to News18.

Putin invited to China, despite ICC arrest warrant

Xi issued a formal invitation to Putin and other Kremlin officials to visit China later this year, despite the ICC arrest warrant for Putin for alleged child abductions in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The arrest warrant was the first against a head of state of a United Nations Security Council Permanent Member.

Russia withdrew its signature from the Rome Statute in 2016, and "thus not a participant in the ICC, which therefore has no authority there," according to Wikipedia. But it added, "Should Putin travel to a state party, he can be arrested by local authorities."

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