On Wednesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to back Moscow's "sovereignty and security" in his most explicit statement of support for his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin since the invasion of Ukraine.
The words marked a notable divergence from Xi's earlier appeal for Putin to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of "all countries" — a more general statement that might be loosely understood as including Ukraine — which he made a day after the start of the war.
Now, more than a hundred days into the war, Xi's most recent phone discussion with Putin was solely on his support for Russia.
"China is committed to promoting bilateral pragmatic cooperation's steady and lasting growth. CCTV paraphrased Xi as adding that China is willing to mutually assist Russia on fundamental interests and areas of paramount concern, such as sovereignty and security, and achieve closer strategic cooperation.
Just weeks before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Xi and Putin formed a "no limits" partnership. Since the war, Beijing's stance has frequently been characterized as inconsistent "pro-Russia neutrality," meaning it neither denounced nor supplied Moscow with armaments or means to violate sanctions.
In light of worries regarding China's role as an economic lifeline for Russia's sanctions-ravaged economy, Xi reaffirmed China's vision with Russia.
Xi stated that despite global turmoil and upheavals, Sino-Russian ties had maintained a positive development momentum since this year. The economic and commercial collaboration between the two nations is proceeding without difficulty.
Notably, neither "war" nor "ceasefire" are mentioned. Xi also suggested to Putin that the "Ukraine crisis" be "reasonably resolved." Xi merely stated that China wished to "facilitate world peace" without advocating for a ceasefire.
In contrast to Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe's recent off-the-cuff remark in Singapore, in which he referred to the conflict as a "war," the Chinese leader avoided the term on the call with Putin, who stressed that it was a "special military operation."
The Chinese summary also highlighted Putin's support for China in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Xinjiang, home to the country's Uyghur Muslim population.
The call comes shortly before Europe is scheduled to demonstrate its support for Ukraine. The leaders of France, Germany, and Italy, the three largest economies in the European Union, are likely to visit Kyiv as early as Thursday. At the same time, the EU may soon endorse candidate status for the war-torn country, pending approval from the more hesitant conservative member states.
The Kremlin announced that Xi would deliver a Friday video presentation at the highly boycotted St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Xi's announcement of new initiatives or repetition of the same rhetorical backing will indicate whether Beijing is prepared to escalate the strategic competition with the West.
Putin will preside over the forum, which only two other world leaders will attend: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and his Kazakh colleague Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.