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Chinese Prez Xi to visit Russia for talks with Putin to boost ties, discuss ending Ukraine war

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BEIJING/MOSCOW, March 17 (PTI): Chinese President Xi Jinping will travel to Moscow on a state visit on Monday for crucial talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin during which he is expected to pitch for peace talks to end the raging Ukraine conflict.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, in a brief announcement, said on Friday that “at the invitation of President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation, President Xi Jinping will pay a state visit to Russia from March 20 to 22”.

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Later, answering a spate of questions about whether Xi will promote peace talks between Russia and Ukraine to end the war, another Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told the media: “We always believe political dialogue is the only way to resolve conflicts and disputes”.

Xi’s visit to Russia comes days after China clinched the Iran-Saudi Arabia peace deal, regarded as a diplomatic coup, aimed at expanding Beijing’s role in world hotspots to end conflicts.

Beijing has not condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine and continues to maintain close political, trade, and military ties with Moscow.

Referring to a 12-point position paper issued by China earlier to end the Ukraine conflict, Wang said the document “fully lays out China’s fair and objective position on the Ukraine issue”.

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“Fanning flames during the fight and imposing unilateral sanctions will make matters worse,” he said, in a veiled dig at the US and EU’s firm backing of Ukraine.

Asked whether Xi will speak to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy about the peace deal, Wang said: “China will uphold an objective and fair position on the Ukraine crisis and play a role in promoting talks for peace”.

“China’s position is consistent and clear. We maintain communication with all parties,” he said.

This will be Xi’s first visit abroad after getting endorsed for an unprecedented third five-year term as President and head of the military early this month by the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s Parliament.

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Wang also sought to play down US warnings to China not to supply weapons to Russia, saying “China-Russia cooperation is completely above board and shall be free from disruption or coercion from any third party”.

China always handles the export of military items in a prudent manner and dual-use articles in accordance with relevant laws and regulations, he said, but at the same time, expressed Beijing’s opposition to unilateral sanctions by the US.

China is consistently opposed to long-arm jurisdiction or sanctions that are not in accordance with the United Nations, Wang said.

On the US and the EU criticism of China-Russia relations as an alliance-building a new world order, Wang said: “the China-Russia relationship is based on no alliance, no confrontation and no targeting of any third party”.

China is committed to the UN-centred international system and an international order underpinned by international law, he said.

On ending the Ukraine conflict, Wang said China will continue to play a constructive role to work out a political settlement of the crisis.

“In recent years, President Xi and President Putin have maintained close exchanges, charting the course and providing guidance for the sustained and steady development of the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era,” he said.

The relations had “set a new model” for “major country relations”, he said, adding that Xi “will have in-depth exchanges with Putin on bilateral relations and major international and regional issues of mutual interest” as well as jointly develop “a blueprint” for relations.

The visit would “boost strategic cooperation and inject a new impetus” in bilateral ties, he said.

“The changes unseen in a century are moving at a fast pace and the world has entered a period of instability and turbulence,” he said.

“China and Russia are permanent members of the UN Security Council and major powers. The significance and influence of the relationship go far beyond the bilateral scope,” he said.

“This will be a trip for friendship…. It will boost bilateral cooperation across the board,” he said.

In the paper highlighting its stand on the Ukraine conflict issued last month, China has called for a ceasefire followed by peace talks to end the Ukraine war.

It, however, struck a nuanced stand of respecting Ukraine’s sovereignty and legitimate security concerns of Moscow and expressed its firm opposition to the use of nuclear weapons.

Significant points of China’s stand in its position paper were a call for “ceasing hostilities” and global support for the resumption of direct peace talks between Russia and Ukraine to end the war, respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty and Moscow’s legitimate security concerns and Beijing opposition for threat or use of nuclear and biological weapons.

A simultaneous announcement made in Moscow by the Russian government about Xi’s visit said the two leaders will discuss “pressing issues related to the future of relations of comprehensive partnership and strategic interaction between Russia and China.”

The two leaders are also expected to exchange views on ways to enhance Russian-Chinese cooperation on the international stage, Russia’s state-run news agency Tass reported.

In addition, the Kremlin press service specified that “a number of important bilateral documents will be signed” during the Chinese leader’s visit.

In his congratulatory message to Xi after his endorsement as President, Putin said Moscow and Beijing would continue coordination on key issues.

Speaking at the NPC session on Mar 13, Xi sought a bigger role for Beijing in global affairs, days after brokering a Saudi Arabia-Iran deal.

On Wednesday, Xi proposed a Global Civilization Initiative (GCI) calling for respect for the diversity of civilisations at a world political parties conference organised by the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC).

The GCI is in addition to the Global Development Initiative (GDI) and the Global Security Initiative (GSI)  proposed by him under which China aims to expand Beijing’s diplomatic role in the world.

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