China's Xi in Russia to boost cooperation amid US tensions

June 05, 2019

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at the Kremlin in Moscow. — AFP
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at the Kremlin in Moscow. — AFP

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russia's Vladimir Putin praised their countries' ties during a meeting in the Kremlin on Wednesday, as Beijing and Moscow seek to shore up cooperation amid tensions with the US.

Putin said the visit was a “key event” in relations between the two neighbours.

“Our relationship will be better and better,” said Xi, who was received with full honours when he arrived at Moscow's Vnukovo airport in the afternoon.

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The trip comes five years after Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula led to a serious rift with its Western partners and subsequent turn toward its neighbour to the east.

“In recent years, thanks to your direct participation, the relationship between Russia and China has reached an unprecedentedly high level,” the Russian president said.

Following the talks and a visit to the Bolshoi Theatre late Wednesday, Xi is set to travel to Russia's former imperial capital Saint Petersburg.

There he will attend an economic forum hosted by Putin on Thursday and Friday.

China and Russia “have strong political mutual trust, and support each other firmly on issues concerning each other's core interests and major concerns,” Xi said during an interview with Russian media ahead of the visit.

Putin's foreign policy aide, Yury Ushakov, earlier said Xi and Putin would sign a new declaration on their “global partnership and strategic cooperation, which are entering a new era”.

The Chinese delegation brought two pandas as gifts, bound for the Moscow Zoo. “The animal is a symbol of China and the gesture is very important to our partners,” Ushakov said.

The partnership is yielding increasing trade, which has increased by 25 percent in 2018 to hit a record $108 billion (96 billion euros), he added, calling China “Russia's most important economic partner”.

Russia's 'pivot' paying off

Russia may have had unrealistic expectations from its pivot to the east following Western sanctions over Ukraine, said Alexander Gabuev, who heads the Asia programme at the Carnegie Moscow Center.

Nevertheless, China's share in Russian foreign trade has nearly doubled since then, he added. “The pivot really is happening,” he said.

“Despite all the difficulties, China became a significant creditor and rather significant investor” in Russia at a time when many other investors preferred to pack their bags.

Cooperation with China is seen by Moscow as “the lesser of two evils” to stimulate economic growth, Gabuev said — the alternative being deep internal reforms and reconciliation with the West.

Politically, the two countries seem consistently aligned and often vote in unison as permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Presidential advisor Ushakov said “the positions of Russia and China are very close or coincide completely on most international issues,” including the North Korean nuclear programme, the Venezuelan crisis and the Iran nuclear deal.

All these issues would be discussed during the leaders' meeting, he added.

The countries would also discuss their relationship with the “great Western powers, including the United States”, he said.

Moscow's relations with Washington have been at a post-Cold War low for some time, and Beijing is locked in a trade war with the US.

After Washington criticised its rights record, Beijing issued a travel warning to Chinese nationals Tuesday about crime and police harassment in the United States.