Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin meet for talks to seal ‘no-limits’ partnership

Sidelines of the Belt and Road Forum on Wednesday to see top leadership meetings

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Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Beijing on Tuesday to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on a widely watched trip aimed at showcasing the trust and "no-limits" partnership between the countries even as the war in Ukraine raged on.

The two leaders met on Tuesday evening at an event kicking off the Belt and Road Forum, video posted by Russia's foreign ministry showed. They shook hands and exchanged pleasantries.

They also took part in a group photo with other leaders attending the summit.

At an official banquet, Mr Xi delivered a toast in which he alluded to recent geopolitical conflicts, but added that "the historical [trend] of peace" was "unstoppable".

"Although the world today is not peaceful, downward pressure on the global economy is increasing, and global development faces a great deal of challenges, we firmly believe that the historical trends of peace, development, cooperation, and mutual wins are unstoppable," said Mr Xi, according to state news agency Xinhua.

Mr Putin is due to hold in-depth talks with Mr Xi on the sidelines of the forum on Wednesday, the Kremlin said, with the war raging between Israel and Hamas looming large over the summit.

"During the talks, special attention will be paid to international and regional issues," the Kremlin said, without elaborating.

On Wednesday at the forum, Mr Putin will also speak after Mr Xi gives his opening speech.

Beijing has rejected the West's criticism of its partnership with Moscow, even as the war in Ukraine shows no sign of ceasing, saying its ties do not violate international norms and China has the right to collaborate with whichever country it chooses.

Mr Putin last visited China for the Beijing Winter Olympics in February 2022 when Russia and China declared a "no-limits" partnership days before the Russian president sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine.

It would be Mr Putin's third attendance of the Belt and Road Forum, which runs through Wednesday.

He attended the two previous forums in 2017 and 2019.

In Beijing, Mr Putin is on a mission to strengthen the already strong bond with his communist neighbour, although experts say Moscow is increasingly the junior partner in the relationship.

China is Russia's largest trading partner, with exchange between the nations reaching a record $190 billion last year, Beijing customs data shows.

Beijing has said it is neutral on the Ukraine war even as it refuses to criticise Moscow's invasion.

When Mr Xi made a state visit to Moscow in March, Mr Putin hailed the "truly unlimited possibilities" their countries' partnership offered.

But while the Belt and Road Initiative forum provides a fresh opportunity for Mr Putin and Mr Xi to showcase their alliance, experts do not expect any new major agreements to be announced.

"Russia is aware that China doesn't want to sign any high publicity deals," Alexander Gabuev, director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Centre, told AFP.

"China holds all of the cards," he said.

Updated: November 13, 2023, 10:44 AM