Chinese President Xi Jinping, in a phone call on Wednesday, offered to deepen cooperation with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir V. Putin, indicating that Mr. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine underlines Mr. Xi’s fundamental commitment to their partnership was not affected.
The two leaders’ appeal appeared to be the first since late February, shortly after Russia launched its full-scale attack on Ukraine. In the months since, the Chinese government has tried to maintain ties with Moscow, while insisting it was trying to be an impartial mediator for peace in Ukraine.
But the summary of the conversation between Mr Xi and Mr Putin, released by China’s Foreign Ministry, left little doubt that – regardless of his misgivings about the invasion of Ukraine – Mr Xi remains committed to close ties to Russia, aiding the rising enmity with the United States and its allies.
“During this year, Sino-Russian relations have maintained healthy momentum in the face of global turbulence and change,” Mr Xi told Mr Putin, according to the Chinese summary.
“China is ready to promote the steady progress of practical bilateral cooperation,” Mr Xi said. “China stands ready to maintain mutual support on important issues of mutual interest related to sovereignty, security and other core interests, and to establish closer bilateral strategic cooperation.”
In keeping with China’s official practice since Russia launched its attack, Mr Xi did not refer to “war” or “invasion” in relation to Ukraine, instead referring only sideways to the “Ukraine issue”. He told Mr Putin that China would make its own judgment on that issue, and urged all parties to reach “an appropriate solution to the Ukrainian crisis”.
Chinese leaders have courted their Russian counterparts for decades, and Mr Xi redoubled those efforts. When he received Mr Putin in early February, the two leaders declared their commitment to a borderless friendship, even as Washington and European governments warned that Russia seemed ready to attack Ukraine.
Last week, China and Russia opened a bridge connecting Heihe, a border town in northeast China, to the Russian city of Blagoveshchensk.
Chinese officials and state media have blamed Washington and NATO for creating the conditions for war in Ukraine, arguing that Russia was spurred on by NATO’s post-Cold War expansion into Central and Eastern Europe. The official Chinese summary of Mr Xi’s conversation with Mr Putin made no mention of that matter.
A NATO summit at the end of this month is about to approve a new “strategic concept” that will improve vigilance against Russia and also identify potential challenges to the alliance from China for the first time.