China, Russia call for halt to Nato expansion after Xi-Putin meeting

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BEIJING -  Beijing and Moscow have called for Nato to halt its expansion, saying in a joint statement that the United States-led military alliance should “abandon its ideologised Cold War approaches”.

The statement, issued after a meeting on Friday (Feb 4) in Beijing between Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, criticised the US for its “negative impact” on regional peace and security.

It also said the two countries were seriously concerned with the Aukus defence alliance that includes Australia, Britain and the US, especially their cooperation on nuclear submarines.

The statement and the meeting between the two leaders are a strong show of solidarity, as both their countries grapple with increasing tensions with the West over the Ukraine crisis and other issues.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said that the talks were “in-depth and substantive”, and the atmosphere was “warm and friendly”.

In televised opening remarks to his host, Mr Putin hailed Moscow’s close relationship with Beijing, calling it a “strategic partnership of unprecedented character”.

Mr Xi said both sides should “strongly support each other in safeguarding sovereignty, security and development interests, in order to effectively respond to external interference and regional security threats, and maintain international strategic stability”, according to a statement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Mr Putin also unveiled a new deal to deliver an additional 10 billion cubic m of natural gas annually via a new pipeline from its Far East region.

He wants to increase trade volume between the two countries to US$200 billion (S$269 billion) annually, up from the US$140 billion in 2021.

This is Mr Xi’s first face-to-face meeting with a world leader in more than two years, as he has not left the country since January 2020.

Mr Putin arrived in the Chinese capital on Friday to attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics. The Games, held under tough Covid-19 restrictions, have been clouded by a US-led diplomatic boycott over China’s human rights violations. Canada, Britain and Australia are also staging a diplomatic boycott.

Ahead of his visit to China, Mr Putin had criticised US officials and other leaders for politicising the Games.

Analysts say that Moscow is seeking closer ties with Beijing in a bid to counter pressure from Washington.

In their joint statement on Friday, Moscow expressed its support for Beijing on the issue of Taiwan.

“The Russian side reaffirms its support for the 'one China' principle, confirms that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, and opposes any forms of independence of Taiwan,” the statement said. 

China, meanwhile, has become more outspoken in its support for Russia in the Ukraine crisis.

Russia has massed more than 100,000 troops and military hardware on its border with Ukraine, raising fears of an invasion. Moscow denies it is planning an invasion, but has sought to obtain security guarantees from the West, including that Ukraine be barred from  joining Nato.

US President Joe Biden has threatened to impose sanctions on Russia to deter a possible attack on Ukraine.

But Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi pointed to what he called Russia’s “legitimate security concerns” in a call with his US counterpart Antony Blinken last week.

On Thursday, Mr Wang held talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Beijing, during which both sides “coordinated their positions” on the Ukraine issue.

In the joint statement on Friday, China said it supported Russia’s proposals to “create long-term legally binding security guarantees in Europe”.

That said, Beijing would not welcome a conflict in Ukraine, Brookings Institution senior fellow Ryan Hass pointed out. While this would reduce pressure on China by diverting American strategic focus, it would cause instability and turbulence ahead of a key Communist Party meeting later this year, he said.

“Chinese officials also recognise that Beijing will be found guilty by association if Russia invades Ukraine after Putin’s meeting with Xi. China will suffer significant reputational damage, especially in Europe and the US, for being seen as Russia’s enabler,” Mr Hass wrote on Twitter.

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