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What is — and isn’t — in the joint statement from Putin and Xi

In a show of solidarity, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping met Feb. 4 on the sidelines of the Beijing Winter Olympics. (Video: Jason Aldag/The Washington Post)

Russian President Vladimir Putin met face-to-face with Chinese President Xi Jinping for the first time in nearly two years Friday. The leaders convened in Beijing at the start of the Winter Olympics — and issued a lengthy statement detailing the two nations’ shared positions on a range of global issues.

Here are some highlights of what Putin and Xi did — and didn’t — say.

Not in the statement: Ukraine

The English version of the joint statement runs a whopping 5,364 words — but none of those words is “Ukraine.” Analysts say the omission probably reflects China’s unwillingness to support a Russian invasion of its neighbor to the west.

“China doesn’t want to throw its weight to say it supports Russia’s actions on Ukraine, because it doesn’t,” said Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow with the Carnegie Moscow Center.

In the statement: NATO

Perhaps the most notable part of the statement is when China explicitly backs Russia to “oppose further enlargement of NATO,” a reference to Ukraine’s efforts to join the alliance. China also echoed Putin’s earlier demands for “long-term legally binding security guarantees in Europe.”

Resisting Western influence is something Moscow and Beijing can get behind. The statement also criticizes U.S. military expansion in the Indo-Pacific and through AUKUS, a trilateral security agreement comprising Australia, Britain and the United States. That pact includes what the three nations said is a “shared ambition” to support Australia in acquiring nuclear-powered submarines.

Xi and Putin said Friday that such initiatives will “increase the danger of an arms race in the region.”

Not in the statement: ‘Alliance’

China and Russia do not have a formal alliance. The informality of their pact means that they’re only fair-weather friends: One won’t necessarily go to war just because the other does. But the two are increasingly finding common cause in battling the West.

Their statement suggests that this bond is only deepening, with the two leaders calling the partnership “superior to political and military alliances of the Cold War era.” There are “no limits” or “forbidden” areas of cooperation, it says — meaning joint military action is not off the table.

In the statement: Democracy

The two leaders sketched out a shared vision of universal values that diverges from the Western worldview.

“It is only up to the people of the country to decide whether their State is a democratic one,” they said in the statement, in a reference to repeated Western criticism of the lack of political freedoms in Russia and China. (The United States and a handful of other nations are staging a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics to protest China’s human rights abuses.)

But while the criticism of Western democracy isn’t new, its inclusion in a joint statement at the opening of a high-profile event such as the Olympics is a reflection of Russia and China’s growing resolve to build a coalition of ideologically like-minded nations.

Not in the statement: Sanctions evasion

The statement included a brief criticism of “unilateral sanctions” — a jab at Washington — but it didn’t address whether or how China might support Russia if the latter faces sanctions over Ukraine. The State Department warned Chinese companies Thursday against trying to evade any export controls on Moscow, saying that they would face consequences. If the Trump era was any indication, then further sanctions against Russia or China will probably deepen their economic partnership. The statement said the two sides would strengthen cooperation on artificial intelligence, a high-tech sector in China that has come under U.S. sanctions.

In the statement: You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours

Xi backed Putin on Friday in his immediate crisis facing off against NATO over Ukraine. But the statement includes many more mentions of the ways in which Russia has also stood up for China. Russia said it supports China’s position as it relates to the search for the origins of the coronavirus, a sensitive topic for Beijing. It also echoed China’s opposition to “any forms of independence” for Taiwan, the self-ruled, democratic island claimed by China.

In the statement, the Russian side said it was against “politicization of the issues of combating terrorism,” a term that Beijing often uses to refer to the controversy over its harsh crackdown in northwestern Xinjiang. Moscow also said that it was ready to continue working on the China-proposed Global Development Initiative, a relief program for developing nations.

Robyn Dixon and Lily Kuo contributed to this report.

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