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Xi and Putin meet in Uzbekistan for security talks

September 15, 2022

Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed Ukraine during talks on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization's summit with Indian and Central Asian leaders.

Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping pictured in front of Russian and Chinese flags in February 2022
The two leaders spearhead the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which acts as a counterbalance to Western influence Image: Alexei Druzhinin/AP/picture alliance

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin held in-person talks on Thursday on the sidelines of a security summit.

The two leaders discussed Beijing's tensions with Taiwan and the war in Ukraine, according to media reports. 

Putin praised China's "balanced" approach to Ukraine during his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Putin had said he was ready to address Chinese "concerns" over Ukraine before the meeting.

Previously, Chinese President Xi Jinping had said Chinese support for Russia knew "no limits."

"We understand your questions and your concerns in this regard, and we certainly will offer a detailed explanation of our stand on this issue during today's meeting, even though we already talked about it earlier," Putin said in acknowledging Beijing's stance.

The Russian president went on to state that the "Moscow-Beijing tandem" played "a key role" in ensuring global and regional stability, Russian state-owned news agency TASS reported.

It was Xi and Putin's first bilateral talks since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Indirectly criticizing the United States, Putin said, "Attempts to create a unipolar world have recently acquired an absolutely ugly form and are completely unacceptable."

As for the heightened tensions around Taiwan, Putin added, "we adhere to the principle of one China. We condemn the provocation of the US and their satellites in the Taiwan Strait."

Xi, on the other hand, told Putin, "China is willing to make efforts with Russia to assume the role of great powers, and play a guiding role to inject stability and positive energy into a world rocked by social turmoil." 

Meanwhile, the US government has criticized a meeting between Xi and Putin. "This is not the time for any kind of business as usual with Mr. Putin given what he's done inside Ukraine," said John Kirby, the coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council.

The summit in Uzbekistan's Samarkand also includes meetings with leaders from India and Central Asian countries. 

Samarkand is part of China's multibillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative that aims to expand trade by building infrastructure across countries from the South Pacific through Asia to the Middle East, Europe and Africa. 

Xi, Putin hold first meeting since Ukraine war

Bilateral talks on the sidelines 

The main sessions of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit are scheduled for Friday, but most of its focus will be on bilateral talks. 

Putin spoke with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi after Iran's foreign minister announced that Tehran had signed a memorandum to join the group. 

Tehran had acted as an observer of the SCO band until now.

"The relationship between countries that are sanctioned by the US, such as Iran, Russia or other countries, can overcome many problems and issues and make them stronger," Raisi said in the meeting with Putin. 

"The Americans think whichever country they impose sanctions on, it will be stopped, their perception is a wrong one," he added. 

Putin said that the cooperation was developing "positively." 

The Russian leader was also expected to meet with Pakistani, Indian and Turkish leaders.

Turkey has played an influential role in navigating grain shipments from Ukraine during the Russian invasion.

It is unclear who Xi will meet bilaterally. Talks with India's Narendra Modi last occurred in 2019, as the relations between China and India became sensitive after deadly fighting in 2020 on the Himalayan border. 

Prior to traveling to Uzbekistan, Xi had made a short one-day visit to Kazakhstan on Wednesday

Seeking to counter the West

Set up in 2001, the SCO refers to an eight-nation group made up of China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. They cooperate on matters that are political, economic and security related. 

China and Russia set up the group and spearhead it in a bid to counterbalance US influence.

"The SCO offers a real alternative to Western-centric organizations," Kremlin foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov told reporters in Moscow this week.

"All members of the SCO stand for a just world order," he said, describing the summit as taking place "against the background of large-scale geopolitical changes."

In total, the SCO represents an audience of half of the world's population. 

Andrew Small, a senior transatlantic fellow with the Asia program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told DW that the gathering had a highly symbolic value.

"It means [Xi] can put on this strong show of a non-Western gathering counterpoint to G7, to NATO as an organization, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, that is of China's own creation," Small said. 

Russia and China - a 'friendship without limits'?

js,los/fb (AP, AFP, Reuters)