Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to meet with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in October on the sidelines of China’s Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation.

The trip will be Putin’s first known travel abroad since the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for his arrest in March over alleged war crimes, but the second time the two have met in person this year.

Analysts say the meeting will be an opportunity for the two leaders to bolster their countries’ relationship and to voice their shared grievances about U.S. leadership in global affairs.

“They’ll complain [about the U.S.], and they’ll stick to their talking points,” Sergey Radchenko, a China-Russia scholar at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, told VOA.

In remarks on Tuesday, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi criticized governments that view foreign policy in terms of “democracy versus authoritarianism,” and urged the U.S. to host a more inclusive Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, summit in November.

When asked at a recent press conference about the upcoming meeting between Xi and Putin, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said, “The leaders of China and Russia maintain close strategic communication.” Ning did not provide specifics about what will be discussed.

The press offices of China and Russia did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the meeting.

If the two leaders build on the themes of a September 20 meeting between China’s top diplomat and Putin, it is likely to be an opportunity for “deepening practical cooperation,” as described in a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs readout of the event in St. Petersburg.

Ukraine war challenges ‘no limits’ relationship

Experts said while the Sino-Russian partnership has its strengths and will last for the foreseeable future, the two sides have not always seen eye to eye on key issues, including the war in Ukraine.

Unlike NATO members, Russia and China have no formal obligation to defend each other, though China announced early last year that its relationship with Russia would have “no limits.”

That statement came shortly before Putin waged war on Ukraine. Beijing has since “walked back that language,” Radchenko said. “We no longer hear about a ‘no limits’ partnership.”

As the top buyer of Moscow’s fossil fuels, Beijing has played an outsize role in helping Putin’s government survive Western embargoes and continue its invasion of Ukraine, said Joseph Nye Jr., professor emeritus of Harvard Kennedy School.

Even so, Nye told VOA that China has not officially provided Russia with weapons for its war amid fears of European sanctions, which, in his words, proves “there actually are limits [to China-Russia relations].”

Early last year, Beijing released a 12-point peace proposal but has not pressured Russia for an immediate resolution to the conflict.

“The Chinese peace plan for Ukraine is not really an impartial peace plan,” Nye said. “It’s a way to appear to be a peacemaker in the eyes of the Europeans, which is a significant Chinese market.”

However close Xi and Putin are, their relationship is not strong enough for China to risk losing its soft power in Europe by publicly supporting Russia’s war, said Ali Wyne, a senior analyst with Eurasia Group.

“Even as China strengthens its relationship with Russia, I don’t think that China wants to abandon its relationship with the West. Xi’s going to have to strike a balancing act,” Wyne said.

China’s European partners are important bargaining chips, experts said, especially ahead of the APEC summit, where there could be a sideline meeting between Xi and President Joe Biden.

When asked at a recent briefing what the U.S. hopes Xi will communicate to Putin when the two meet in October, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said, “I would like to see every leader who goes and speaks to President Putin reinforce that [every nation’s territorial sovereignty] is inviolable.”

Wyne said Xi could ask for assurances from Putin that the war will end sooner rather than later.

“China,” Wyne said, “recognizes that the longer the war between Russia and Ukraine drags on, the more the Sino-Russian relationship undercuts China’s ability to advance its diplomacy in the West.”

Xi and Putin’s differences beyond Ukraine

For more than a decade, Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI, has enhanced the Chinese Communist Party’s ties across Eurasia, the Middle East, Africa, Oceania and Latin America. Nye described BRI as “a mixed bag” of economic aid, export subsidies and public works projects in developing nations with the goal of buying influence.

Experts said Russia’s foreign policy is simpler: offering mercenaries to autocrats abroad in exchange for natural resources, such as diamonds.

“The Chinese have money to spend, and the Russians don’t. The Russians can support mercenaries because that’s fairly cheap, but they’re not going to build roads and dams and airports [in other countries],” Nye said.

China has invested an estimated $1 trillion in BRI and can compete against American interests on nearly every continent. Analysts said Moscow can only access that level of power by cozying up to Beijing.

But the Sino-Russian partnership still has its fair share of contradictions and infighting, according to Nye and Radchenko.

For one, China considers former Soviet countries in Central Asia to be under its purview.

“[Moscow is] happy to see [BRI] projects that weaken the Americans,” Nye said. “On the other hand, the Russians are not all that keen on BRI projects in Central Asia, which they regard as their sphere of influence.”

But Radchenko does not anticipate “any serious rifts between Russia and China over Central Asia in the coming years.” Putin and Xi, he said, would rather smooth over their disagreements than jeopardize their larger aim of combating U.S. foreign policy.

Ahead of October’s Belt and Road forum, Putin has denied that BRI is at all in conflict with Moscow’s interests. “[BRI] harmonizes [Russia and China’s] ideas to create a vast Eurasian space. … We are quite in sync,” TASS, a Russian state-run news outlet, quoted Putin as saying last week.

“Russia needs China far more than the other way around,” Wyne said, explaining Putin’s willingness to compromise with Xi.

Even with the underlying differences described by analysts, “dialogues like this [the Xi-Putin meeting] are how China and Russia have been able to navigate … frictions,” Radchenko said.