BEIJING — Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu is visiting Russia and Belarus in a show of support for those nations which the West has sought to isolate over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Li departed Monday on the six-day trip, during which he will deliver an address at the Moscow Conference on International Security and meet with defense leaders from Russia and other nations, the Defense Ministry said on its social media account, citing spokesperson Col. Wu Qian.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is due to speak at the conference on the topic of the “Majority World countries' search for ways to development outside Western mechanisms, including strengthening multilateral associations of a new type,” Russia's official TASS news agency reported.
It said representatives from about 100 countries and eight international organizations had been invited to attend.
The would "discuss various aspects of security in the conditions of the establishment of a multipolar world order, ways to restore constructive international cooperation in the context of aggressive claims by Euro-Atlantic elites for world domination,” it said, quoting the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson as saying.
Asked about the visit, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin referred to the Defense Ministry statement, but added that Chinese and Russian leaders “have maintained strategic communication in different ways on various issues.”
“The two sides had orderly high-level exchanges of views on extensive topics including bilateral cooperation and issues of joint concern,” Wang told reporters at a daily briefing.
“The two countries will continue to advance the China-Russia comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership in the new era,” he said. That was an apparent reference to a joint statement issued between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Beijing last year just prior to Russia's February invasion in which they declared a "no-limits friendship."
Xi, meanwhile, visited Moscow in March, sending a message to Western leaders that their efforts to isolate Moscow over the fighting in Ukraine had fallen short.
Li's attendance at the conference further underscores the drive by China and Russia to align their foreign policies in a bid to undermine the Western-led liberal-democratic world order, despite their economic and reputational costs.
That will be followed by a visit to close Russian ally Belarus, whose territory was partly used to stage last year’s invasion. While there, he will hold meetings and talks with Belarussian state and military leaders and visit military facilities, the ministry said.
China claims to be neutral in the conflict, but has accused the U.S. and its allies of provoking Russia and has maintained robust economic, diplomatic and trade ties with Moscow.
China has reliably backed Russia in opposing U.S. condemnation of the Ukraine invasion in international forums, but says it won’t provide arms to either side in the war.