Just before Wednesday's Putin-Xi virtual summit, the Kremlin described that the meeting among allies is essential as at this moment "We see very, very aggressive rhetoric on the NATO and US side, and this requires discussion between us and the Chinese." China's Foreign Ministry had said the meeting would "further enhance the high-level mutual trust between the two sides."
As expected, both leaders emphasized the need to resist "interference" in their countries' internal affairs from the West and in particular the United States. "A new model of cooperation has been formed between our countries, based among other things on such principles as not interfering in internal affairs [of each other], respect for each other’s interests, determination to turn the shared border into a belt of eternal peace and good neighborliness," Putin told his Chinese counterpart.
In the discussion which lasted from 4:07 p.m. to 5:21 p.m. Beijing time, Xi responded by affirming that the Russian president "strongly supported China’s efforts to protect key national interests and firmly opposed attempts to drive a wedge between our countries." Bloomberg characterized the tone of the meeting as between two leaders that are 'closer than allies': "Chinese President Xi Jinping hailed relations with Russia as better than an alliance in a video call with President Vladimir Putin, according to the Kremlin, as the two leaders made a show of solidarity amid rising tensions with the West."
Calling Putin "an old friend," Xi described relations with Russia as going beyond that of traditional allies and partners, saying, "Such a figurative expression very accurately reflects the essence of what is happening now in relations between our two countries." He said the Russian president had "firmly supported China in defending its core interests and opposed attempts to divide China and Russia," according to state broadcaster CCTV.
The summit comes a week after the Biden-Putin virtual summit, wherein the Russian leader pressed for dialogue to put in place a plan for legal guarantees that NATO would not expand further eastward near Russia's border. On Wednesday China's Xi declared formal support for this central security concern of Russia's:
Putin won support from Xi for his push to obtain binding security guarantees for Russia from the West, a Kremlin official said, according to Reuters.
Russia wants the United States and NATO to guarantee the military alliance will not expand further eastward or deploy weapons systems in Ukraine and other countries on Russia’s border.
Just the day prior to what were previously unannounced talks, the Kremlin cited increasingly hostile and aggressive rhetoric coming from the West over the Ukraine issue. Washington has accused Russia of a threatening build-up of forces near Ukraine's eastern border and the restive Donbass region, while Moscow has charged Kiev with sending its army to the region with the tacit approval of Western allies.
Also on the agenda included growing US action and alliances in the Asia-Pacific region, for example the Taiwan issue, as well as "the formation of the AUKUS partnership with Australia and the UK" which Xi described as a threat which "undermines the foundations of nuclear non-proliferation in the region," as related by Bloomberg.
Vladimir Putin held online talks with Chinese President Xi.— Brijesh Singh (@Brijeshbsingh) December 15, 2021
- Putin looks forward to a personal meeting with the Chinese leader in Beijing next year.
- Relations between the Russian Federation & China are an example of interstate cooperation in the 21st century. pic.twitter.com/wv8GYTtXYm
Xi further hailed China-Russia relations as "a true model of interstate cooperation for the 21st century" - describing that "The close coordination between Russia and China on the international arena, the responsible joint approach to solving urgent global issues, have become a stabilizing factor in international affairs."
Once rivals and enemies in the 20th century, then 'frenemies', and now increasingly cooperative and strategic allies - Russia and China over time seem to have forged an unlikely alliance on the mere basis being target of Washington sanctions and human rights rhetoric. Presidents Xi and Putin have met well over 30 times since 2013.
The two leaders will next meet in person as they participate in the the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics. Amid the US diplomatic boycott of the games hosted in Beijing, TASS wrote that "Putin also stressed that Moscow and Beijing have consistently supported each other over international sports cooperation, including the non-acceptance of any attempts to politicize sports or the Olympic movement."