US attempts to block China’s Huawei and stop the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Europe are “economic raiding” and will lead to trade wars that could end in global conflict, Vladimir Putin warned on Friday as the Russian president shared a stage with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.
“Essentially, global trade has stopped being the unquestioned driver of the global economy,” Mr Putin said at a showcase economic conference in St Petersburg alongside Mr Xi.
“Take the situation with Huawei, which they are trying not just to squeeze but presumptuously push out. Some circles have even called it the first technological war of the emerging digital era,” Mr Putin added.
Mr Xi and Mr Putin used their appearance to show off closer ties at a time when both countries have been embroiled in rising tension with the US administration of President Donald Trump.
Sanctions and an inquiry by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election mean US-Russia relations are at their lowest point since the Cold War, despite Mr Trump’s vows to improve them.
Meanwhile China and the US have been exchanging blows in a trade war. In thinly veiled remarks on Friday, Mr Xi condemned “reverse globalisation and hegemonism” and said global disputes should be solved by “mutual respect”.
China was “committed to resolving unbalanced global economic development,” he added.
The Chinese leader was accompanied by Huawei rotating chief executive Guo Ping, who signed a deal on Thursday to build 5G networks in Russia with MTS, Russia’s largest mobile operator.
The deal was a contrast with Huawei’s treatment in the US, which in effect banned the Chinese company from selling technology to the US market last month and has moved to stop it buying crucial semiconductors from US suppliers.
“States that previously promoted the principles of free trade and fair and transparent competition have started speaking the language of trade wars [and] using arm-twisting and scare tactics, non-market means, to eliminate competition,” Mr Putin said.
“This is a road to endless conflicts, trade wars and maybe not even only in trade,” he added. “Figuratively speaking, an all-out brawl with no rules.”
For Mr Putin, the event was central to attempts to reorient Russia’s economy towards Asia and the Middle East.
During his trip Mr Xi toured the Bolshoi theatre, brought two pandas for the Moscow zoo and received an honorary doctorate from Mr Putin’s alma mater. He said China’s ties with Russia were at “their highest level in history.”
Trade between Russia and China rose 24.5 per cent last year to hit a record $108bn, while the countries used the forum to announce further trade, energy, and investment deals. The countries’ militaries trained alongside each other for the first time last September, while a gas pipeline link is set to come online in December.
“We don’t have a relationship as deep and broad as we do with China with any other country in the world today,” Mr Putin said, adding that he had stayed up until midnight talking to Mr Xi. “Russia and China’s co-operation on the global arena is doubtlessly an important factor for stability in global affairs.”
Russian officials touted a record thousand-strong Chinese delegation at the St Petersburg forum, double the size of the US contingent.
Initially conceived to show off Russia’s openness to investment, the forum has since become an odd hybrid, highlighting its attempt to modernise its struggling economy while maintaining its defiant foreign policy. Attendance from western business has dwindled, increasingly so since the arrest of US private equity executive Michael Calvey this year.
In his first public comments on Mr Calvey — whose arrest in February on fraud charges shocked Moscow’s business community — Mr Putin backed the case against him, which he said he hoped would be “public and transparent.”
“He’s accused of stealing Rbs2.5bn. Lots of his partners, including those here, claim it’s not true. Maybe. But law enforcement and the court system should work it out,” he said.
Those international executives who were in St Petersburg mingled with high-heeled models, minor African trade officials, actor Steven Seagal, Russian Orthodox priests and a robot that sang Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.”
Many of the guests, speakers, and featured companies were under US sanctions. Financier Konstantin Malofeev, a prominent social conservative whom the US punished for his role backing eastern Ukrainian rebels, attended a party thrown by sanctioned Kremlin lender Gazprombank.
Mr Putin said he was ready to meet Ukraine’s new president Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian who said this week that Kiev’s drive to join the EU and Nato would mark “the death of Russia’s imperial project”.
But he offered little indication that he would ease Russia’s stance on peace negotiations.
“He’s a good actor, but it’s one thing to be an actor, and another to be someone,” he said of Mr Zelensky. “He’s still [calling] us enemies and aggressors. He needs to work out what he wants to achieve.”
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