President Xi Jinping hailed China’s ties with Russia as he treated Vladimir Putin to a state visit on Friday to bring the neighbouring giants closer in the face of US diplomatic and economic challenges.
The Russian leader joined Xi to review a military honour guard and greet flag-waving children at a welcome ceremony before talks in Beijing’s grandiose Great Hall of the People.
“No matter what fluctuations there are in the international situation, China and Russia have always firmly taken the development of relations as a priority,” Xi told Putin.
The two nations have also “resolutely supported each other’s core interests”, developed trade ties and proactively participated in global governance to promote a “community of common destiny”, Xi said.
The most powerful Russian and Chinese leaders in decades, Xi and Putin have forged closer ties as US President Donald Trump has labelled both countries as economic rivals that challenge US interests and values.
Putin later said the two heads of state had enjoyed “fruitful” talks.
He said: “The relationship between Russia and China is a friendly, neighbourly one, developing in states in the spirit of over-arching strategic partnership.”
Analysts remarked on the similar leadership styles of the men.
Xi and Putin are “soulmates who want to make their countries great again”, Alexander Gabuev, senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, told AFP.
“Both share scepticism towards American hegemony and distrust US intentions, both are authoritarian personalistic rulers,” he said.
Putin was re-elected to a fourth Kremlin term in March. That same month, Xi was given a path to indefinite rule when the the Communist-led rubber-stamp parliament lifted presidential term limits.
China is mired in tough negotiations with the United States to avoid a trade war, while Moscow has deep differences with Washington on multiple diplomatic fronts, including Syria and Ukraine.
Putin played up his bond with his “good friend” Xi in an interview with China’s state broadcaster CGTN this week.
He said the Chinese president was the only state leader to celebrate his birthday with him, with the two sharing vodka and sausage.
Xi “is approachable and sincere”, Putin told CGTN. “But he’s also a very dependable man to work with.”
Maria Repnikova, director of the Center for Global Information Studies at Georgia State University in the US, said China makes Russia look “stronger and more relevant” on the global stage.
For its part, Russia allows China to show the US that it has “other options” in international negotiations, she said.
“Trump’s policies justified (the) growing closeness, especially for Russia but also for China given the volatile relationship with the United States,” Repnikova told AFP.
But, she said “it’s an asymmetrical relationship with Russia more dependent on China than vice versa, especially in the economic sphere”.
After the Beijing visit, Putin will join Xi at a weekend summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in the eastern Chinese city of Qingdao.
China and Russia lead the regional security group, which includes former Soviet states and new members India and Pakistan.
Putin told CGTN that the SCO had “small” objectives when it was founded two decades ago but that it was now evolving into a larger global force.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, whose country is an observer member of the SCO, will also attend the summit at a time when China and Russia are seeking to save the Iran nuclear deal following Trump’s withdrawal from the pact.