In Thursday's much anticipated bilateral meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Uzbekistan, the two leaders agreed that the end of a unipolar world where the US dominates is at hand. Putin called it "ugly" and pointed to the rejection of American hegemony by the "vast majority" of countries in his introductory remarks.
The geopolitical flashpoints of Ukraine and Taiwan were high on the discussion list, with the Russian leader telling Xi the West's "attempts to create a unipolar world have recently taken on an absolutely ugly shape and are absolutely unacceptable to the vast majority of nations on the planet," according to a state media translation. However, many Western pundits are now seizing upon a cryptic reference to China's Xi raising "concerns" over the Ukraine situation.
Putin held up the eight-nation regional security grouping that includes India and Pakistan among others as a counterbalance of "constructive and creative cooperation" - despite its relatively recent establishment (founded in 2001). Continuing on the theme of much of the planet's populations seeking to resist US unipolar order, he said of the SCO, "It is now the biggest regional organization in the world, uniting a vast geographic space and about half of our planet’s population."
Putin reiterated to his Chinese counterpart that he "highly appreciates" the "balanced position" by "our Chinese friends in connection with the Ukrainian crisis" - given that Beijing has consistently focused its attention on highlighting Russia's 'legitimate' national security concerns amid NATO expansion whenever pressed on the invasion. In Russian state media readouts, it was only noted that "concerns" over the conflict were raised by the Chinese leader. In his introductory remarks, Putin told his "dear and longtime friend" Xi:
We highly value the balanced position of our Chinese friends regarding the Ukrainian crisis, we understand your questions and concerns on this matter, and during today’s meeting we will of course clarify all of these in detail.
Putin tells Xi Jinping that Russia “understands your questions and concerns” about Ukraine. Does that mean… China has some? pic.twitter.com/Zd5XNW7cMD— max seddon (@maxseddon) September 15, 2022
These as yet unnamed "concerns" could relate to any number of pressing questions: from Russia's increased isolation from the West due to punitive sanctions, to the widespread reports that Kremlin forces have been rapidly pushed back amid Ukraine's eastern and southern offensives, particularly in the Kharkiv region.
Interesting. Putin tells Xi "we understand you [China] have questions and concerns" over what's happening in Ukraine. So, the Kremlin leader has gone and revealed that China is uneasy about the situation there.— Steve Rosenberg (@BBCSteveR) September 15, 2022
Just hours leading into the meeting held in the city of Samarkand, Russian and Chinese navies conducted joint patrols and military exercises in the Pacific Ocean as a show of strength and unity.
Addressing China's most sensitive geopolitical issue, which involves Washington muscle-flexing in its own backyard, Putin also addressed the Taiwan matter, telling Xi:
"We firmly adhere to the One China principle in practice. We condemn the provocations of the United States and its satellites in the Taiwan Strait."
As was expected, the two presidents pledged to deepen economic ties between the two countries after already trade has hit a new record high in 2022, as Putin stressed, at an increase of 25% within the first seven months of this year.
Crucially, amid a Western declared "war" on Russian energy, China and India have served to quietly undercut Russia's oil sanction pain, as FT recently observed, "But customers in China and India, the world’s most populous countries, kept buying Russian oil and other commodities such as coal and fertilizer." The report noted that China, "already an important buyer of Russian crude before the war, bought 2mn barrels a day in May, an increase of 0.2-0.4mn per day compared with January and February."
Putin told Xi in Thursday's bilateral summit:
"I am convinced that by the end of the year we will reach new record levels of trade, and that in the near future, as agreed, annual trade turnover will increase to $200 billion or more," Putin said.
Firmly agreeing with Putin's longtime theme of the unipolar world order unraveling, President Xi for his part explained that, "In the face of the colossal changes taking place on a global scale in our time which are unprecedented in history, we are ready together with our Russian colleagues to show an example of a responsible world power and to play a leading role in bringing such a rapidly changing world onto a trajectory of sustainable and positive development," Xi said.
NOW - China's Xi and Russia's Putin meet on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.pic.twitter.com/IiicfSS3rO— Disclose.tv (@disclosetv) September 15, 2022
Meanwhile, Chinese state media - like Russian media - is framing the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit as a major show of unity and defiance among huge economies against the US-led West...
The trip marks Xi's first outside of China in almost three years, since the pandemic began. Yun Sun, director of the China program at the Stimson Center, summarized the significance of the Xi-Putin meeting in The Washington Post, saying, "It’s of course a demonstration of mutual support and solidarity, a message primarily for the U.S. and the West."