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As the world witnessed escalating sanctions on Russia following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, it was evident that Chinese President Xi Jinping remained a staunch supporter of Putin. Despite global condemnation and efforts to isolate Russia, Xi declared an unwavering partnership with Putin and strengthened ties with Russia. The leaders’ economic relationship has grown closer, with record levels of trade and increased imports of commodities and fuel between the two countries.

The United States has accused China of enabling Russia’s defense capabilities in Ukraine by exporting products that bolster Russia’s war efforts. However, China has defended its trade with Russia as normal bilateral relations and maintains a neutral stance in the conflict. The trade between China and Russia has significantly increased since the war began, with $240 billion in bilateral trade recorded in 2023, making China Russia’s top trade partner and surpassing the EU in that regard.

The sanctions imposed by the EU and the US to isolate Russia have shifted Russia’s trade partnerships, with China emerging as a significant economic lifeline. Both countries exceeded their target of $200 billion in bilateral trade by 2024 ahead of schedule. China has become Russia’s main trade partner, increasing exports of industrial and commercial goods to Russia, while Russia has become China’s primary oil supplier. This surge in trade has raised concerns in the West that China is indirectly funding Russia’s war efforts.

Western governments have criticized China for aiding Russia’s defense industrial base through exports with potential military applications. US officials have confronted China on the issue, warning of consequences if China does not cut back on such exports. Despite initial denials, there are signs that China may be reducing its exports to Russia, with a decline in monthly exports to Russia in March and April. French and EU leaders have also raised concerns with Xi about curbing the supply of dual-use goods to Russia.

Xi and Putin’s relationship has remained strong amidst the war and economic ties between China and Russia have continued to grow. The two leaders have consolidated power and extended their respective rules beyond previous term limits. Putin’s visit to China, his first international trip since his reelection, signifies the enduring friendship and partnership between the two leaders. This visit marks the fourth in-person meeting between Xi and Putin since the invasion of Ukraine, highlighting the close ties between the two countries.

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