Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) walks to his car upon his arrival at the Beijing International Airport on June 5, 2012.  Putin arrived in China on June 5 for a three-day visit aimed at bolstering a crucial alliance. AFP PHOTO / LIU JIN
Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) walks to his car upon his arrival at the Beijing International Airport on June 5, 2012. Putin arrived in China on June 5 for a three-day visit aimed at bolstering a crucial alliance.  — Photo by AFP

BEIJING: Russian President Vladimir Putin was in Beijing on Tuesday for a regional security summit and talks with Chinese leaders expected to focus on Syria, Iran and energy cooperation.

On his first visit to his country’s vast neighbor since resuming the Russian presidency earlier this month, Putin was scheduled to hold discussions with Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao later Tuesday and then take part in a signing ceremony for a range of government and business agreements.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the Putin and Hu will be among leaders attending the annual summit of the six-member Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a grouping of Russia, China and four Central Asian states seeking to boost regional integration and curb Western influence.

Russia and China have repeatedly defied calls by the international community to confront Syria’s regime over spiraling violence, saying they will not back steps that could lead to foreign intervention.

Russia has long been a close ally of President Bashar Assad’s regime, while Beijing opposes setting precedents that could potentially be applied to its troubled western regions of Tibet and Xinjiang.

Both countries also oppose further sanctions against Iran over its suspected drive to develop nuclear weapons.

Ties between the former Cold War rivals have grown steadily warmer over the course of Putin’s decade-long dominance of Russian political life. Along with close coordination in international affairs, they’ve sought to boost economic ties, particularly in the energy sector, setting a target of raising bilateral trade to $100 billion by 2015 from $83.5 billion last year.

Despite that, disputes and mistrust linger. Moscow is unhappy with China’s copying of Russian fighter jets and other military hardware and the sides have wrangled for years about the price of gas to be delivered by two Siberian pipelines.

Russia prefers to link gas prices to oil prices, as it does in Europe, while China wants a lower price. If Russia’s OAO Gazprom and China National Petroleum Corp. can reach a deal, deliveries are to start by 2015.

Putin has frequently tried to use Russia’s burgeoning ties with Beijing as a counterbalance to US global predominance and the sides have found common cause in rejecting Western calls for more open politics and respect for civil liberties.

Putin’s visit follows his attendance Monday at an EU summit in St. Petersburg at which he defended his country’s human rights record, claiming that Russia has no political prisoners and dismissing criticism of a draconian bill that hikes fines for unsanctioned street rallies.

His visit to China is the first since his return to the presidency in May after stepping down in 2008 due to term limits.

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