Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged to deepen their strategic partnership in Beijing on Thursday, in a stark show of their growing alignment as Moscow’s troops advance in Ukraine.

Putin — whose delegation includes top defence and security officials — was welcomed by Xi to Beijing’s Great Hall of the People earlier with full military pageantry, heralding the start of the Russian president’s two-day state visit.

A sweeping joint statement released by the two leaders laid out their countries’ alignment on a host of issues including energy, trade, security, and geopolitics with specific references to Ukraine, Taiwan and conflict in the Middle East.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet during the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing last October. ( Sergei Guneyev/AP via CNN Newsource)

The visit — Putin’s symbolic first overseas foray since starting a new term as Russia’s president last week — is the latest sign of tightening relations as the two bind their countries closer in the face of heavy friction with the West.

The statement proclaimed that China-Russian relations have stood “the test of rapid changes in the world, demonstrating strength and stability, and are experiencing the best period in their history,” the two leaders calling each other “priority partners.”

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Putin, whose country’s economy has become increasingly reliant on China since his February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, hailed the countries’ “practical cooperation” in meetings with Xi, noting their record bilateral trade last year, while stressing the importance of bolstering energy, industrial, and agriculture cooperation, according to Russian state media Tass.

Their meeting is Putin and Xi’s fourth time speaking face-to-face since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine — weeks after the two declared a “no limits” partnership on the sidelines of the Winter Olympics in Beijing.

This week’s state visit comes amid mounting international concern about the direction of the war in Ukraine amid delays to aid for Kyiv and as Russia’s economy and defence complex appears unbowed by Western sanctions — a situation that United States officials have alleged is linked to Chinese support, which Beijing denies.

Putin says he and Xi will discuss the war in Ukraine in informal talks later Thursday evening, which are expected to include Russia’s newly appointed Defence Minister Andrey Belousov and his predecessor Sergei Shoigu, now secretary of Russia’s Security Council.

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting on development of Russia’s military industrial complex in Moscow on May 15, a day before his arrival in Beijing. (Gavriil Grigorov/Pool/Sputnik/Reuters/File via CNN)

Mounting international pressure over Ukraine

Putin’s red-carpet welcome to Beijing comes a day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced via his office that he would halt all upcoming international visits, as his troops defend against a surprise Russian offensive in his country’s northeastern Kharkiv region.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Kyiv earlier this week to reaffirm the Biden administration’s support for Ukraine after months of Congressional delay in approving American military aid to the embattled country.

Blinken pledged $2.5b ($US2 billion) in foreign military financing and said much-needed ammunition and weapons are being rushed to the front lines.

krainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced via his office that he would halt all upcoming international visits (Getty)

Pressure has also been mounting on Xi from both the US and Europe to ensure soaring exports from China to Russia since the start of the war aren’t propping up the Kremlin’s war effort.

White House officials in recent weeks have confronted Beijing on what they believe is substantial support for Russia’s defense industrial base — in the form of goods like machine tools, drone and turbojet engines and microelectronics exported from China.

Beijing has slammed the US as making “groundless accusations” over “normal trade and economic exchanges” between China and Russia.

Beijing has never condemned Russia’s invasion, rather it claims neutrality in the conflict and has released a vaguely articulated 12-point position on its resolution.

Ahead of an expected peace conference in Switzerland next month, Xi has called for peace talks that take both sides’ positions into account.

On Ukraine, Russia said in Thursday’s joint statement that it welcomed the readiness of China “to play a constructive role” in the political and diplomatic settlement of the conflict and that “it is necessary to eliminate its root causes and adhere to the principle of the indivisibility of security,” in an apparent allusion to their shared view that NATO is responsible for the conflict in Ukraine.

“China hopes for peace and stability in Europe soon, and continues to play a constructive role,” Xi said

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