Putin to visit Beijing this week

BEIJING   -   Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit China this week on the invitation of leader Xi Jinping, Beijing’s foreign ministry said Tuesday.

Putin will be in Beijing from Thursday to Friday, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, in the Russian leader’s second visit to China in just over six months.

It will be the Russian leader’s first trip abroad since his March re-election and his second in just over six months to China. Analysts say Russia is increasingly dependent on China as a crucial economic lifeline since the West hit it with unprecedented sanctions over its military offensive.

Beijing has rebuffed criticism over its ties with Moscow, hailing its “no limits” partnership as it enjoys cheap Russian energy imports and access to vast natural resources, including steady gas shipments via the Power of Siberia pipeline.     But as that economic partnership comes under close scrutiny in the West, Chinese banks fearing US sanctions that might cut them off from the global financial system have begun turning the screws on Russian businesses.  “The Russians want China to do more to support it, which China is reluctant to do because it doesn’t want to jeopardise its relationship with the West,” Alexander Gabuev, director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, told AFP.

Trade between China and Russia has boomed since the Ukraine invasion -- which Beijing has never condemned -- and hit $240 billion in 2023, according to Chinese customs figures. But as Washington vowed to go after financial institutions that facilitate Moscow, Chinese exports to Russia dipped during March and April, down from a surge early in the year. That comes as Beijing finds itself facing growing calls to decouple from Russia -- or face consequences its struggling economy is ill-equipped to handle.

“Chinese banks are concerned about reputational costs as they seek to forestall major sanctions,” Elizabeth Wishnick, a Senior Research Scientist at CNA, told AFP. “Certainly major Chinese banks would want to avoid that scenario given current economic difficulties domestically.”

Putin’s post-election trip to Beijing echoes Xi’s own to Russia after his anointing as leader last year.

Experts expect this week’s highly symbolic meeting to result in toasts to the “no limits” partnership, as well as some deals signed and pledges to increase trade.

The Russian leader knows full well that Beijing remains determined to back Moscow -- seen by Chinese policy makers as a crucial bulwark against the West and a critical ally in its fight against a US-led world order, analysts said.

“The Russians are not overly emotional and naive,” Carnegie’s Gabuev said. “They understand how important ties with the West are for China.  “They know for sure that China will not drop them, throw them under the bus.”

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