Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping enter a hall for the talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on June 5, 2019. Picture: ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO / POOL / AFP
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping enter a hall for the talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on June 5, 2019. Picture: ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO / POOL / AFP

Moscow — 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 co-operation amid tensions with the US.

Putin said the visit is 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 International Airport.

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 on Wednesday, Xi is set to travel to Russia’s former imperial capital St Petersburg. There he will attend an economic forum hosted by Putin on Thursday and Friday.

‘Global partnership’

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 told Russian media ahead of the visit.

Putin’s foreign policy aide, Yury Ushakov, earlier said Xi and Putin will sign a new declaration on their “global partnership and strategic co-operation, 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 25% in 2018 to hit a record $108bn, he added, calling China “Russia’s most important economic partner”.

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 Centre.

‘Pivot is happening’ 

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 while many other investors preferred to pack their bags.

Co-operation 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 adviser 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 will be discussed at the leaders’ meeting, he added.

The countries will also discuss their relationship with the “great Western powers, including the US”, 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 on Tuesday about crime and police harassment in the US.

AFP