BEIJING, March 20, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin applauded on Monday the solidity of their alliance as the Chinese leader headed to Moscow for a summit with the internationally isolated Russian president.
Xi described his trip as a "journey of friendship, cooperation and peace", though China has been criticised by Western nations for what they consider tacit backing and diplomatic cover for Russia's war in Ukraine.
"I look forward to working with President Putin to jointly adopt a new vision" for relations, Xi wrote in a signed article in Russian newspaper Russian Gazette, that was also carried by Chinese state news agency Xinhua.
China has sought to portray itself as a neutral party in the Ukraine war, and its foreign ministry said last week that Beijing would "play a constructive role in promoting peace talks" between Kyiv and Moscow.
Putin welcomed Beijing's moves on Ukraine as indicative of a willingness to play a "constructive role" in ending the conflict, while saying Chinese-Russian relations were "at the highest point".
Xi's trip serves to bolster an isolated Putin, who in a defiant move on Sunday went to the Ukrainian city of Mariupol -- his first visit to territory captured from Kyiv since Moscow's invasion in February 2022.
Xi's visit also comes just days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin on the war crime accusation of unlawfully deporting Ukrainian children.
- 'No limits' friendship -
Xi, who broke longstanding precedent to begin a third term as president this month, has referred to Putin as an "old friend".
Beijing and Moscow have drawn closer in recent years under a "no limits" partnership that has served as a diplomatic bulwark against the West.
China has lambasted what it sees as a US-led campaign of pressure against Russia as Moscow's war in Ukraine drags on, instead calling for what it calls "impartial" mediation of the conflict.
Beijing in February issued a 12-point position paper calling for dialogue and respect for all countries' territorial sovereignty.
"No single country should dictate the international order," Xi wrote in his Russian media article Monday.
"China has all along upheld an objective and impartial position based on the merits of the issue, and actively promoted peace talks," he added.
Beijing's stance has drawn criticism from Western nations, which say China is providing diplomatic cover for Moscow's war.
They argue that China's proposals are heavy on grand principles but light on practical solutions.
The United States last week said China's proposals would simply consolidate "Russian conquest" and allow the Kremlin to prepare a fresh offensive.
"We don't support calls for a ceasefire right now," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Friday.
"We certainly don't support calls for a ceasefire that would be called for by the PRC in a meeting in Moscow that would simply benefit Russia," he said, using China's official acronym -- the People's Republic of China.
Washington has also accused Beijing of mulling arms exports to Moscow -- claims China has vociferously denied.
- 'A new vision' -
Analysts say Xi's moves are unlikely to yield a rapprochement in the Ukraine war.
Nevertheless, his trip will be closely watched in Western capitals.
The Wall Street Journal has reported Xi could also be planning his first call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky since the war began.
Zelensky has said he would welcome talks with his Chinese counterpart.
Xi and Putin are set to have an "informal" one-on-one meeting and dinner on Monday before negotiations on Tuesday, Putin's top foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov told Russian news agencies.
They will also sign an accord "on strengthening (the two countries') comprehensive partnership and strategic relations entering a new era", the Kremlin has said, as well as a joint declaration on Russian-Chinese economic cooperation until 2030.