Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping in Beijing, May 2024
MERICS Europe China 360°
15 min read

Takeaways from the Xi-Putin meeting + Manufacturing overcapacity + Agrifood trade

In this issue of MERICS Europe China 360°, we cover the following topics:

  • Xi meets Putin: Takeaways for Europe
  • Don’t target agrifood trade with China, says EU Commissioner 
  • Chinese manufacturing overcapacity

Xi meets Putin: Takeaways for Europe

By Eva Seiwert

The meeting of Chinese and Russian presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin on May 16 – 17 in Beijing was an important indicator not only of China-Russia relations but also of the EU’s relationship with China. Less than one week after Xi’s first trip to Europe in five years, the visit from Russia offered an opening for Xi to signal that China might adjust its position toward Russia’s war on Ukraine. 

Instead, Xi used the 43rd meeting since 2013 with his “best friend” Putin to reassure the Russian President that Beijing would continue to stand by his side. The EU has repeatedly said that EU-China relations hinge on China’s approach to the war in Ukraine. But Europe needs to give teeth to that stance by taking more robust steps to show China it means business. 

What did Xi tell European leaders and what does Europe want on China-Russia?

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen used a trilateral meeting with Xi and French President Emmanuel Macron to remind China that Russia’s war on Ukraine is an “existential threat” to Europe, urging Beijing to “use all its influence” on Putin to end the war. She reiterated the EU’s demand that China curbs its delivery of goods with dual civilian and military use to Russia. This was already clearly and directly voiced at the EU-China summit in December 2023. 

Xi, on the other hand, stressed that China was neither responsible nor party to the war in Ukraine. He signaled that he was ready to work with France and the EU to find a solution to the conflict. But what this means – beyond agreeing to Macron’s Olympic truce proposal and reiterating China’s commitment not to sell weapons to Russia – remains to be seen. Regarding dual-use exports, French sources reported that Xi agreed to “look into the issue of dual-use materials.” Even this vague statement was missing in official Chinese readouts, and there is arguably little hope that China will change course.

Putin’s visit to China: Any signs Xi will heed EU demands?

During their meeting last week, Xi and Putin agreed to deepen cooperation on multiple levels, including military, automobile manufacturing, civilian nuclear energy, media content cooperation, and in global institutions. Furthermore, Putin’s visit to the Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT) – one of the “Seven Sons of National Defense” (国防七子) research institutions and an institution sanctioned by the US for its military ties – signals that Russia’s access to Chinese defense technology is likely to expand. It will remain challenging for the EU and US to convince China to limit its support of Russia’s war. 

The two also continue to stand side by side in promoting a new international order. In the 7000-word “China-Russia Joint Statement on Deepening the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Coordination for the New Era in the Context of the 75th Anniversary of China-Russia Diplomatic Relations” (中华人民共和国和俄罗斯联邦在两国建交75周年之际关于深化新时代全面战略协作伙伴关系的联合声明), Xi and Putin reiterated their view of the US as an unfair global hegemon whose actions “pose a direct security threat to China and Russia.” On Ukraine, the joint statement repeats Russia’s narrative that a fair security structure must take the “legitimate security interests and concerns of all countries into account.” Regarding China-Russia relations, it states clearly that the two countries will “strengthen coordination and cooperation to deal with the so-called ‘dual containment’ policy of the United States.” None of this indicates Xi took the EU’s demands seriously.