From holiday wishes to geopolitical statement: Xi Jinping and Putin phone call highlights deepening China-Russia ties

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a phone call ahead of the Lunar New Year, pledging closer strategic collaboration and highlighting their strong ties.

As the festive spirit of Lunar New Year approached, Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, exchanged greetings in a phone call that underscored their deepening ties. Stepping beyond seasonal pleasantries, the conversation painted a picture of two nations standing shoulder-to-shoulder amidst a backdrop of escalating global tensions.

Their exchange wasn’t their first of the year. Just weeks prior, they ushered in the Gregorian calendar year with similar well wishes. But this Lunar New Year call carried a particular weight, solidifying a relationship that has become increasingly central to both leaders’ strategic visions. As Xi put it, exchanging greetings and reviewing past achievements has become “a good tradition between us,” highlighting the regularity and significance of their dialogue.

Looking back, both leaders acknowledged a year marked by “booming trade, active exchanges, frequent visits, and robust cooperation.” These positive descriptors masked the complex geopolitical landscape within which this cooperation unfolded. Both China and Russia have faced mounting pressure from the West, particularly after Russia invaded Ukraine and the subsequent declarations of a “no-limits” partnership between Beijing and Moscow.

Against this backdrop, Xi’s call for “ever-closer strategic collaboration” resonated loudly. He emphasized the need to defend both countries’ “sovereignty, security, and development interests,” suggesting a united front against perceived external threats. The specific nature of these threats was left implicit, but the timing and context left little room for ambiguity. The West’s response to the Ukraine conflict and its broader strategic competition with China were likely unspoken references.

Furthermore, Xi’s condemnation of “interference in their internal affairs by external forces” echoed similar sentiments expressed by Putin. This veiled reference could allude to various issues, including Western criticism of China’s human rights record or its stance on Taiwan, and potential pressure on Russia regarding its actions in Ukraine.

This emphasis on mutual support and resistance to external influence extended to the economic sphere. Xi stressed the importance of maintaining “robust supply chains,” potentially reflecting concerns about potential disruptions stemming from ongoing geopolitical tensions. The call also highlighted a shared commitment to “multilateralism,” a term often used by both leaders to advocate for an alternative to the U.S.-led international order.

Putin, in turn, reaffirmed Russia’s adherence to the “one-China principle.” This pledge, crucial for China’s stance on Taiwan, further underscored the alignment between the two leaders. He went even further, expressing opposition to “any dangerous provocation against China on the issue of Taiwan” and declaring his belief that attempts to impede China’s “peaceful reunification” would fail.

Both leaders expressed their desire for continued close contact and progress in cooperation across various fields. This commitment suggests that the China-Russia relationship is likely to remain a focal point in the months ahead, particularly as global tensions continue to simmer.

However, it’s important to remember that this relationship isn’t without its complexities. While both leaders share certain grievances towards the West, their interests don’t always perfectly align. Additionally, the long-term impact of their “no-limits” partnership remains to be seen, with potential consequences for the wider international order.

So, as the world rings in the new year, the phone call between Xi and Putin serves as a stark reminder of the shifting geopolitical landscape. Their alliance, forged in the heat of shared challenges, presents both opportunities and complexities, and its potential impact will undoubtedly reverberate on the global stage in the months to come.