Moscow and Beijing gave alternative accounts of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) birthday call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as both sides seek to manage perceptions of their relationship in the wake of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The Kremlin readout on Wednesday said the two men, both 69, discussed increasing economic cooperation, trade and military-technical ties between China and Russia.
Moscow’s version also implied the Chinese leader endorsed Putin’s justification for invading Ukraine, saying Xi noted the “legitimacy of Russia’s actions in protecting its fundamental national interests in the face of security challenges created by external forces.”
By contrast, state broadcaster China Central Television said Xi “actively promoted world peace and the stability of the global economic order” during the call.
Xi pushed all parties to find “a proper settlement to the Ukraine crisis in a responsible manner,” the report added, making no mention of military ties or increasing trade links.
Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow and chair of Russia in the Asia-Pacific Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said the Kremlin’s readout of the call was geared toward a domestic audience.
Putin is trying to project strength at home, after being forced to narrow his war goals to the east by his failure to quickly take Kyiv and other key cities.
China’s version was clearly more mindful of the West, where its war response is under great scrutiny, Gabuev said.
US President Joe Biden in March warned China of the “implications and consequences” if Beijing backs Moscow over the invasion, either by providing military support or helping it avoid sweeping economic sanctions imposed by the US, the EU and others.
While there has been no sign of Beijing helping Moscow in either way, it has offered rhetorical support by repeating Russian conspiracy theories — such as the false claim that the US runs weapons biolabs in Ukraine — and diplomatically through Xi’s continued contact with Putin.
Asked about the apparent discrepancy in the readouts, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin (汪文彬) yesterday said that China and Russia support each other on “core interests and issues of major concern.”
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