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Chinese leader Xi Jinping to visit Russia next week

HONG KONG — Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit Russia early next week to hold talks with President Vladimir Putin, a trip that will showcase the growing closeness between the two countries as tensions escalate with the United States.

Xi will pay a state visit to Moscow from Monday to Wednesday at Putin’s invitation, China’s Foreign Ministry said Friday. It is his first trip to Russia since the invasion of Ukraine last year, and comes as China is trying to position itself as a mediator in the conflict despite skepticism from the U.S. and its allies.

“During this visit President Xi will have an in-depth exchange of views with President Putin on bilateral relations and major international regional issues of mutual interest,” spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a regular briefing. “The strategic coordination and practical cooperation between the two countries will contribute to the growth of bilateral ties.” 

The visit was also confirmed by the Kremlin.

“The two leaders will discuss key topics concerning the further development of comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation between Russia and China,” it said in a statement.

It said a number of “important bilateral documents” would also be signed.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not confirm reports that Xi’s Russia trip would be followed by a virtual meeting with Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy, whom the Chinese leader hasn’t spoken to since before the war began last February.

“We are in communication with all parties,” Wang said in response to a question about the reports. 

China, which declared a “no limits” partnership with Russia weeks before the invasion of Ukraine, has tried to portray itself as neutral in the conflict. It has refrained from condemning Russia’s aggression or even calling it an invasion, while calling for negotiations and being careful to avoid violating international sanctions.

A 12-point peace proposal Beijing released last month received a tepid response in both Ukraine and Russia, while it was quickly dismissed by the West as too favorable to Moscow.

Wang said Xi’s visit to Russia was “for peace.”

“We have always believed that political dialogue is the only way out of the conflict,” he said.

The United States has been warning that China may be considering sending artillery and ammunition to Russia for use in the conflict, which would represent a significant shift in its approach. Beijing denies the allegations, with Wang saying on Friday that China had always taken a “prudent and responsible attitude” toward military exports.

“China’s position and approach have been consistent, in sharp contrast to the double standards of some countries on arms sales and the practice of adding fuel to the fire in the Ukraine crisis,” he said, referring to the provision of weapons to Ukraine by the U.S. and others.

In a rare call on Thursday with his Ukrainian counterpart, China’s new foreign minister, Qin Gang, said Beijing was concerned that the conflict could escalate out of control and that it hoped for a political solution.

“China has always adhered to an objective and fair position on the Ukraine issue, is committed to encouraging peace talks, and calls on the international community to create conditions for peace talks,” he told Dmytro Kuleba, according to a readout by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Kuleba, who also spoke with Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier Thursday, said on Twitter that he and Qin had “discussed the significance of the principle of territorial integrity.” He said he also underscored the importance of Zelenskyy’s own peace plan.

Xi and Putin previously met in Uzbekistan last September on the sidelines of a regional summit. Putin invited Xi to make a state visit during a videoconference in December, and China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, laid further groundwork for the trip when he was in Moscow last month.

Eric Baculinao, Jace Zhang and John Joe Regan contributed.

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