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Putin arrives in Beijing to celebrate 10th anniversary of infrastructure initiative

: [POST-BROADCAST CLARIFICATION: In this story, we said, “Even representatives from the Taliban, which China and no other country formally recognize as the government of Afghanistan.” In fact, neither China, nor any other country has formally recognized the Taliban government.]

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Beijing today. He's there to help China mark the 10th anniversary of its Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, but there's probably a lot more going on behind this visit than just that. NPR's John Ruwitch is on the line from Beijing now. So John, what's this trip really all about?

JOHN RUWITCH, BYLINE: Yeah, A, there's a lot of layers to it, but at the heart is geopolitics, right? You know, we've seen China and Russia draw closer in recent years and find common cause in pushing back against the U.S., against the West, with an alternative vision, really, for global order and governance that has room in it and has respect in it for countries that don't necessarily have Western-style liberal democratic values. I talked about this visit with Una Aleksandra Berzina-Cerenkova. She's a China and foreign policy expert at Riga Stradins University in Latvia.

UNA ALEKSANDRA BERZINA-CERENKOVA: Maybe the logic here on the Chinese side is that having Vladimir Putin stand shoulder to shoulder with Xi Jinping helps China to secure its position and its role in those regions that have grievances over the Western system.

RUWITCH: Yeah, and despite the war in Ukraine, despite the International Criminal Court issuing an arrest warrant in March for Putin that's linked to that war, you know, these guys are making it clear that they stand by one another.

MARTÍNEZ: I saw Putin get off the plane. He was all smiles when he disembarked. What should we expect when they all meet?

RUWITCH: Well, more of that, smiles and warmth. Also, there may be some economic deals that emerge out of this. You know, Russia has become more isolated because of the Ukraine war. China's been a big lifeline. Russia has become more dependent on China, and trade between the two has been taking off. And by the way, the heads of Russia's biggest oil and gas companies are in town also. For China, the economics are important, too. You know, the Chinese economy has been a bit sluggish. And foreign investors, particularly Western investors, are nervous about the economy, about the direction of policy. But officially, this is about the Belt and Road, and that's about symbolism.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, they're making a big deal about Belt and Road, but that's not something we've heard a lot about recently though.

RUWITCH: Yeah, that's right. You know, after it was created in 2013, there was this initial burst for a few years of investment and energy. That's really tailed off in recent years. In part, that's because China's economy slowed, there was the pandemic. But it's important, you know? China's ruling Communist Party wrote the Belt and Road Initiative into its constitution a few years ago. It's very much part of Xi Jinping's drive to grow influence, to make more allies in the developing world. And he needs them, as, you know, relations with the West sour. So not only will Putin be here, there's going to be dozens of leaders from elsewhere, too. Viktor Orban of Hungary is in town, and even representatives from the Taliban, which China and no other country formally recognized as the government of Afghanistan, are going to be here.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, so all this is happening right in the middle of what's happening between Israel and Hamas. Is that going to come up?

RUWITCH: I expect it will come up. China and Russia have both - you know, they have complicated relationships with both Israel and the Palestinians. But neither has condemned Hamas. Both have avoided the appearance of siding with Israel. They've expressed solidarity with the Palestinians. You know, their position stands in stark contrast to that of the United States, for instance, and much of the Western world. China said it wants to work with Russia also to reenergize this idea of the two-state solution. And so, again, you know, there may be the hope that this issue also can build credibility and clout with others around the world who may feel the same as China and Russia on this. The thing to watch is going to be whether or not, you know, participants at this Belt and Road forum, which are quite diverse, can get on board with it.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's John Ruwitch in Beijing. Thanks, John.

RUWITCH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
John Ruwitch is a correspondent with NPR's international desk. He covers Chinese affairs.