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China-Russia relations: What is Xi Jinping prepared to pay for Putin’s war?

Beijing is set to welcome Russian President Vladimir Putin, who hailed the “unprecedented” level of ties between the two countries ahead of his state visit.

More than two years into his invasion of Ukraine, China has emerged as a vital ally. It has refused to condemn the war and continues to trade with a heavily sanctioned Russia, much to the ire of the US and the European Union.

However, it appears Mr Putin wants more. But is China willing to pay the price?

A balancing act
It is perhaps not surprising the Russian leader has chosen China as his first foreign trip since he was sworn in for a fifth presidential term last week. The two-day state visit comes as their relationship reached its “highest level ever”, he told Chinese state media. He spoke of his interest in Chinese martial arts and philosophy, and said some of his family are learning Mandarin.

“In the face of a difficult international situation, our relations are still strengthening,” he said.

But while Mr Putin brags about their friendship, Mr Xi might have reason to worry.

The US has just announced a raft of new sanctions against Beijing and Hong Kong-based banks and companies that work with Moscow, allegedly helping to evade existing restrictions.

2:26
Watch: Antony Blinken says the US will act if China does not stop sending ‘critical components’ to Russia
Because, while China is not selling arms to Russia, Washington and Brussels believe it is exporting tech and components essential for war. During his recent trip to Beijing, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the BBC that China was “helping fuel the biggest threat” to European security since the Cold War.

For them, this has become a red line. But China insists its stance on Ukraine is neutral – and the exports, which have commercial uses outside of war, are not breaking the rules.

Nevertheless, the allegations followed Mr Xi on his trip to France last week, distracting from what was supposed to be a charm offensive.

The Sino-sceptics and China hawks are also getting louder, urging Mr Xi to exert more pressure on his Russian counterpart, as the EU mulls tariffs of its own.

And the fact is China’s sluggish economy can ill afford this pressure from trading partners. Weak demand at home means it needs those markets abroad.

All of this leaves Mr Xi in an awkward situation.

How is China helping out sanctioned Russia?

Finding the limits
Days before Russia invaded Ukraine, the two leaders announced a “no-limits” partnership to deepen co-operation. This made sense for the comrades in arms in their ideological struggle against the West.

Beijing still sees Moscow as key to reshaping a US-led world order. Trade between them is flourishing. Cheap Russian energy, including steady gas shipments via the Power of Siberia pipeline, have been a benefit for China.

bbc

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