BEIJING: China's Premier Wen Jiabao said Wednesday closer ties with Russia were of “crucial importance” for global peace, as the two nations seek to resist international action on Syria and Iran.
Wen made the comments during a meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Beijing, on the sidelines of a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), set up in 2001 to allow Russia and China to rival US influence in Asia.
“The situation internationally remains very difficult,” Wen told Putin, who is on his first Asian trip since his historic election win.
“Strengthening the strategic partnership between our countries not only corresponds with the core interests of the two countries, but has crucial importance for ensuring peace and stability in the world.”Russia and China, both veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council, this week pledged to work together more closely at the United Nations as they try to resist further international intervention to halt the bloodshed in Syria.
On Wednesday Putin said the two countries had also agreed to build military ties, as the United States turns the focus of its huge firepower towards the Pacific -- China's backyard.
“Not long ago in the Yellow Sea, we successfully carried out the first Russian-Chinese joint naval exercise. Yesterday, with President Hu, we vowed to continue cooperation in this area,” said Putin during a meeting with China's likely next leader, Vice President Xi Jinping.
The giant neighbours have also joined together in resisting Western sanctions imposed on Tehran over its nuclear programme, with China one of the biggest buyers of Iranian oil.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who arrived in Beijing late Tuesday, is expected to seek support for his country as he meets with other leaders on the sidelines of the summit.
He will meet Putin on Thursday, as Moscow prepares to host more talks later this month aimed at finding a diplomatic solution to the standoff over Iran's nuclear ambitions.
China's President Hu Jintao, speaking in an interview released by the official Xinhua news agency Wednesday, said countries should refrain from escalating the issue of Iran's nuclear programme.
“SCO member states call on all parties to refrain from remarks and actions that could lead to the escalation of confrontations,” he said. “SCO member states support Russia, the United States, Germany, Britain, France and China in opening a sustainable dialogue with Iran and resolving the Iran nuclear crisis through political and diplomatic means.”Those six world powers last month confronted Iran over its intention to enrich uranium amid fears it is building a nuclear bomb, at a meeting which achieved little.
Analysts said the SCO, which includes the central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, was growing in importance as China and Russia expanded their political and military relations.
Iran, Mongolia and political rivals India and Pakistan are observers, while Afghanistan is attending the two-day summit as a guest.
“As China's relations with its neighbours to the south and east face increasing strains, China wants to expand relations with Russia and Central Asian countries,” said Joshua Eisenman, senior fellow in China studies at the Washington-based American Foreign Policy Council. “The Chinese are looking for friends.”Members have cited the stability of Afghanistan as an issue of “common concern” while China has said it expected the meeting to approve a plan for cracking down on terrorism.
“The SCO supports Afghanistan in establishing itself as an independent, peaceful, prosperous, good-neighbourly country that is free of terrorism and drugs,” Hu said in the Xinhua interview.
China has blamed the banned East Turkestan Islamic Movement for terrorist attacks in its western Xinjiang region and says the group also operates in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai will meet China's leader on the sidelines of the summit, which Afghanistan's foreign ministry says will elevate the relationship between the two countries.
US-led Nato forces are preparing to pull out of Afghanistan, which is fighting hardline Islamist Taliban insurgents, in 2014.