European delegates made a dramatic exit from a China-hosted international cooperation forum just as Vladimir Putin was about to take the stage. The occasion was Beijing’s third installment of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a massive infrastructure project aimed at bolstering China’s global influence by connecting it to the rest of the world through road, rail, and port investments.
China’s President, Xi Jinping, commenced the proceedings at the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square, with Mr. Putin, making a rare international appearance, in attendance. Nevertheless, some European delegates, including former French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, opted to boycott Putin’s speech, underscoring the widening rift between Europe and the Western world.
Videos from the event depicted Mr. Raffarin and others exiting the venue as Putin prepared to address the audience.
Accompanied by his aides carrying a briefcase referred to as Cheget, capable of transmitting nuclear strike orders, Putin arrived with a noticeable security presence. The scene underscored the solemnity of his presence.
During their speeches, both Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi expressed concerns about the West. They emphasized their strong alliance as Russia faced international isolation due to its involvement in the Ukraine conflict.
Mr. Xi articulated, “Ideological confrontation, geopolitical rivalry, and bloc politics are not the choices for us. We stand against economic sanctions, economic coercion, and disruptions to supply chains.”
He also rebuffed Western efforts to reduce dependence on the Chinese economy, stating that “our lives will not improve, and our development will not accelerate if we view others’ development as a threat and economic interdependence as a risk.”
Mr. Putin, who joined the event alongside foreign leaders and key Chinese officials, praised the success of BRI projects. He referred to Mr. Xi as his “dear friend” and highlighted Russia’s potential role in China’s modern revival of the ancient Silk Road. Putin also extended an invitation for other countries to participate in the Northern Sea Route, an ambitious Arctic maritime transport artery.
In the face of challenging conditions, the two leaders discussed close foreign policy coordination to uphold international justice. Mr. Putin held bilateral talks with various leaders on the summit’s sidelines.
A noteworthy interaction took place between Mr. Putin and Hungary’s leader, Viktor Orban, who became the first Western leader to share a stage with Putin since the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against him for alleged war crimes in Ukraine. Hungary, heavily reliant on Russia for 80% of its gas trade, has faced criticism from EU members for its alignment with Putin’s interests.
In their meeting, Orban emphasized their cooperation, especially at an economic level, and his country’s desire to maintain communication with Russia.
This development highlights the complex and evolving geopolitical dynamics that continue to shape international relations.