On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed publicly for the first time that Chinese President Xi Jinping has “questions” and “concerns” about the conflict in Ukraine.
This admission of difficulties with Beijing over the conflict is a sharp contrast to Putin’s declaration of a “no-limits relationship” with Xi during his visit to the Winter Olympics in China in February, just before the invasion.
At the meeting on Thursday in Samarkand, the atmosphere felt much different. A grumpy Putin expressed his appreciation for “the balanced approach of our Chinese partners in connection with the Ukrainian problem.”
Following the first face-to-face meeting between Xi and Putin since the invasion, Beijing, in a telling move, likewise declined to issue any public statements about Ukraine on Thursday.
Putin, for his part, was eager to show off his support for China. Putin stated, “The friendship and mutual trust between Russia and China are the sole constant in a world that is now experiencing numerous changes.”
However, there is not a single reference to “Ukraine” in the readout in China’s version. Additionally, it made no mention of the “no-limits collaboration.”
Xi also promised to improve communication, agricultural cooperation, and trade with Russia.
Beijing did refer to Putin’s backing for Taiwan in its statement. It added that “Xi commended Russia for upholding the One China Principle and emphasizing that Taiwan is a part of China.”
Xi is being forced to walk a delicate line in his interactions with Moscow. Although he recognizes the importance of Russia as an ally in the face of the US and NATO, he does not want to offend the US or the EU to the point where he risks sanctions or other economic hardships for being perceived to support the Russian war effort.