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China backs Russia in challenge to NATO

The leaders of Russia and China called on NATO to rule out Eastern European expansion and criticized other security blocs around the Asia Pacific region.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin and China's President Xi Jinping in Beijing
Russia's President Vladimir Putin and China's President Xi Jinping in Beijing (AN/TASS)

Russia's President Vladimir Putin and China's President Xi Jinping urged NATO to rule out expansion in Eastern Europe and criticized other security blocs in the Asia Pacific including a new U.S. pact with Australia and the United Kingdom.

At their first face-t0-face meeting in almost two years, Putin won Xi's support on Friday for taking an increasingly aggressive stance towards pro-Western Ukraine and any help it might get from the U.S.-led military alliance.

Russia and China aligned in their opposition to NATO admitting any new members at a time when Western governments are raising alarms over Russia amassing some 100,000 troops along the border with Ukraine in what appears to be preparation for a large-scale invasion.

The two leaders used the opening of the Winter Olympics in Beijing to issue a lengthy joint statement proclaiming "a new era" for international relations that suggests a deepening strategic bond between the two nations based on shared authoritarian policies and mutual anti-Western interests.

Xi was preparing to meet more than 20 leaders in Beijing on the sidelines of the Olympic Games, which last until February 20.

"The sides oppose further enlargement of NATO and call on the North Atlantic Alliance to abandon its ideologized Cold War approaches, to respect the sovereignty, security and interests of other countries, the diversity of their civilizational, cultural and historical backgrounds, and to exercise a fair and objective attitude towards the peaceful development of other states," Putin and Xi said in the statement.

A 'friendship' with 'no limits'

Western diplomats fear a Russian invasion of Ukraine could encourage China to do the same in Taiwan. Though Russia and China do not have a formal alliance, their agreement on similar strategies is mutually reinforcing.

"The Russian side reaffirms its support for the One-China principle, confirms that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, and opposes any forms of independence of Taiwan," the statement said.

They also opposed "the formation of closed bloc structures and opposing camps in the Asia-Pacific region," including the trilateral security partnership known as AUKUS announced last year between Australia, the United States and the U.K. It allows for the exchange of sensitive technology like naval nuclear propulsion information, helping Australia get nuclear-powered submarines.

And in remarks aimed at the West that could carry further significance economically or militarily, the leaders said "relations between Russia and China are superior to political and military alliances of the Cold War era" and that the "friendship between the two states has no limits, there are no 'forbidden' areas of cooperation."

But the leaders — whose nations each have one of the five permanent, veto-wielding seats on the 15-nation U.N. Security Council, along with Britain, France, and the U.S. — said they "share the understanding that democracy is a universal human value, rather than a privilege of a limited number of states."

They also voiced support for "the United Nations-driven international architecture and the international law-based world order," including the "Security Council playing a central and coordinating role."

And they expressed broad support for other aspects of global governance such as the World Trade Organization, Group of 20 major economies, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, Association of Southeast Asian Nations, U.N. Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, Chemical Weapons Convention, Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and Paris Agreement on climate change, including the world's pledge to spend US$100 billion a year on climate finance for developing countries.

Putin and Xi signed new energy and trade deals, including a 30-year contract for Russia's Gazprom to deliver substantially more oil and gas to China, the world's largest energy consumer. Russia already is China's third-biggest gas supplier.

They also said they will "continue consistently intensifying practical cooperation for the sustainable development of the Arctic," which could have far-reaching impacts on international security and global climate action.

"The sides intend to strongly uphold the outcomes of the Second World War and the existing post-war world order, defend the authority of the United Nations and justice in international relations, resist attempts to deny, distort, and falsify the history of the Second World War," they said.