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Putin's visit to China highlights military ties that worry the West

Putin's visit to China highlights military ties that worry the West
Putin's visit to China highlights military ties that worry the West


President Vladimir V. Putin attended a trade fair in a northeastern Chinese city on Friday and toured a state-funded university famous for its cutting-edge defense research, highlighting how Economic and military ties between countries have grown despite, or perhaps because of, the West. pressure.

Mr. Putin's visit to Harbin, a Chinese city with a Russian past, is part of a trip to demonstrate that he has powerful friends even as his war against Ukraine, a campaign he is escalating, l isolated from the West. The visit followed a day of talks between him and Chinese President Xi Jinping, which appeared orchestrated to convey not only the two powerful autocratic leaders' strategic alignment against the West, but also a personal connection.

State media on Thursday showed Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi, bare ties after formal talks, strolling under willows and sipping tea in a traditional pavilion on the sprawling grounds of Zhongnanhai, the walled compound of the leaders of Beijing, with only their interpreters. As Mr. Xi accompanied Mr. Putin into the evening, he even initiated a hug, a rare expression of affection for the Chinese leader.

Xi's very deliberate embrace of Putin in front of the cameras was not just intended to highlight the close political relationship between the two countries and their leaders, said Richard McGregor, senior fellow for East Asia at the Lowy Institute from Sydney. There has also been a hint of disdain towards Washington, which has pressured Beijing to withdraw support for Moscow. This is clearly not going to happen in any substantial way.

The show of camaraderie was the finishing touch to talks that culminated in a joint statement targeting the United States, which Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi have accused of seeking to repress their countries. The statement promised that Russia and China will work more closely in critical sectors like energy, space and the military.

Growing security ties between the two nuclear powers are the focus of Mr Putin's visit to Harbin.

Although China and Russia are not formal allies committed to defending each other with military support, their militaries have worked together more closely in recent years. Their air and naval forces have held joint military exercises, notably near Alaska and Taiwan, the de facto independent island claimed by Beijing. On Thursday, both leaders expressed support for their separate demands regarding Taiwan and Ukraine.

And even though China has pledged not to supply Russia with lethal weapons, it remains the main supplier of components such as semiconductors and machine tools for civilian and military uses.

While this is useful, Mr. Putin is still seeking access to more sophisticated tools. The Harbin Institute of Technology is best known for its research into rockets, missiles and space technology expertise from which Russia would greatly benefit, as the war in Ukraine has reignited its need for a more robust military-industrial complex. The institute also trained North Korean scientists who worked on Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program, according to the Wall Street Journal and South Korean media.

Mr. Putin's school visit is steeped in symbolism. The 103-year-old institution recently opened a joint campus with St. Petersburg State University, Mr. Putin's alma mater. And, in a sort of snub to Washington, the school is on the so-called U.S. Entity List, which bars it from accessing U.S. technology and participating in educational exchanges because of its ties with the People's Liberation Army.

We should be less concerned about particular technologies that China might share with Russia from Harbin or elsewhere than about the broader pattern and signal that this visit represents, said Markus Garlauskas, a security expert at the Atlantic Council.

China does not need to host Putin in Harbin to transfer its technologies to Russia, he added. The fact that this visit took place so openly is a visible and symbolic sign of Beijing's desire to provide directly applicable technology to the military to support Russia's war against Ukraine.

Song Zhongping, a Beijing commentator and former military officer, defended Mr. Putin's visit to the institute, emphasizing the school's cooperation with Russia in education.

University-level communication between China and Russia is in line with the academic exchanges and national interests of the two countries, Song said.

Mr. Garlauskas said the visit to the Harbin Institute of Technology echoed when Mr. Putin hosted Kim Jong-un, the North Korean dictator, at a Russian spaceport last year, before Pyongyang begins supplying Moscow with ballistic missiles and other munitions for use in Ukraine.

What China shares with Russia, Russia could easily turn around and share with North Korea, Garlauskas said.

Not so long ago, it was China that benefited most from access to Russian military technology. Since the 1990s, and until its peak in the early 2000s, Beijing was a major buyer of Russian weapons. Sales then began to slow after Moscow became concerned that China was reverse engineering Russian weapons, said Elizabeth Wishnick, a senior research scientist at the Center for Naval Analyzes in Virginia.

It was only about a decade ago that cooperation between the two sides resumed, leading to China's acquisition of more Russian technology in jet engines and ground-based missile systems. air. Yet in a sign that its cooperation with China has limits, Russia continues to share its silent submarine technology, a feature that makes the vessels particularly difficult to detect, Wishnick said.

Mr. Putin is also using his visit to Harbin, where he attended a trade fair, to promote the movement of goods between the countries.

China has given Russia an economic lifeline by purchasing huge quantities of Russian oil to circumvent the effects of its financial isolation from the Western world. Additionally, with many foreign consumer brands also leaving Russia, Chinese companies have stepped in to fill the void in automobiles, smartphones and televisions. This contributed to record bilateral trade of $240 billion between China and Russia in 2023, up from $190 billion in 2022, according to Chinese customs data.

Analysts say growing trade is a major priority in both countries, now that Western pressure on Chinese banks to cut deals with Russian companies has reportedly led to the first annual decline in trade in over of two years. years in March.

One solution would be to increase the amount of transactions settled in local currency rather than in dollars to avoid the risk of sanctions. Mr. Putin said on Thursday that more than 90 percent of trade transactions between Russia and China were now cleared in rubles or renminbi.

Protecting the financial assets of China's major banks is China's primary interest, said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Beijing's Renmin University. He said China was trying to reduce its exposure to the dollar beyond Russia, but there was limited room to do so.

Olivia Wang reports contributed.




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