Vladimir Putin feted at Xi Jinping’s global Belt and Road summit

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This pool photograph distributed by Russian state owned agency Sputnik shows Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping heading to a group photo session during the third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 18, 2023.IMAGE SOURCE,GETTY IMAGES
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Mr Xi and Mr Putin led the group of leaders into the Great Hall of the People in Beijing

Russian leader Vladimir Putin was given the red carpet treatment at a global summit in Beijing, as China and Russia deepen their solidarity.

Hosted by China’s President Xi Jinping, the meeting celebrated 10 years of his signature foreign and economic policy, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Mr Putin was the guest of honour among leaders and officials from more than 130 countries.

He has rarely left his country since invading Ukraine in February last year.

Not only is he facing increasing diplomatic isolation, he has also been issued an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court (ICC) over alleged war crimes in Ukraine.

Mr Putin is highly unlikely to be arrested in China as Beijing is not a state party to the statutes of the ICC. He and Mr Xi are known for their close relationship, with the Chinese leader famously declaring their countries had a “no limits friendship” just before the war began.

Wednesday’s proceedings kicked off with an opening ceremony held in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. Mr Xi made his entrance together with Mr Putin, with the two striding into the hall shoulder-to-shoulder in front of other countries’ leaders.

Mr Putin was also front and centre along with the Chinese president for the group photo, and was second to speak after Mr Xi. They later held a three-hour bilateral meeting.

While Mr Putin had pride of place in previous Belt and Road summits, those events took place before Russia began its war on Ukraine.

China since then has come under criticism from the West for standing by Russia, even as it has also tried to show support for Ukraine.

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, China's President Xi Jinping, Kazakhstan's President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev with other leaders wave during a group photo at the third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 18, 2023.IMAGE SOURCE,GETTY IMAGES
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Mr Putin and Mr Xi were front and centre of the group photo

On Wednesday Mr Putin was keen to return the favour. In his speech, he pledged support for Mr Xi’s vast BRI project saying it was “in tune with Russian ideas” and praised “our Chinese friends” for their achievements.

The BRI has seen China pouring an estimated trillion dollars into investment and infrastructure projects around the world.

Addressing a roomful of delegates mostly from the so-called Global South group of developing countries, he also said that “Russia and China and the majority of states in the world share aspirations” for co-operation and economic progress.

Mr Putin’s visit comes amid fears that China and Russia are building their own bloc to rival the West.

Both countries have publicly denounced the US-led “global hegemony” and have called for a “multipolar” world with more centres of power.

In the lead-up to the BRI’s anniversary, China released two white papers positioning the BRI as the bedrock of a new world order, one that it casts as more just and inclusive.

In his speech littered with Silk Road references and colourful proverbs, Mr Xi continued to stress this point. He said the BRI “represents the advancing of our times and the right path forward”, and was “on the right side of history”.

He denounced “ideological confrontation, geopolitical rivalry and bloc politics”, unilateral sanctions and “decoupling” supply chains. Beijing has often criticised Washington for leading what it sees as an unfair form of globalisation.

In contrast, the BRI has encouraged “win-win co-operation” where “the flame runs higher when everyone adds wood”.

Mr Xi also laid out an eight-point plan on taking the BRI forward, including promoting smaller projects, “green development” and “integrity building”.

The BRI has been widely lauded for spurring development in many countries, but has also been criticised for saddling borrowers with mountains of debt, damaging the environment, and fuelling corruption and wasteful projects.

The summit in Beijing has attracted countries mostly from Africa, South East Asia, and South America. Other attendees include Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and representatives from Afghanistan’s Taliban government.

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