Moscow | Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Russia on Wednesday for talks he said would boost strategic cooperation, as Beijing and Moscow continue to spar with the US.
The leader was received with full honours at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport in the early afternoon ahead of a planned meeting with Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin.
Xi said the visit would “serve as an incentive for the development of Chinese-Russian relations, comprehensive partnership and strategic interaction in a new era,” according to Russian news agencies.
“I am certain this visit will yield fruitful results,” he said.
The trip comes five years after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea led to a serious rift with its Western partners and subsequent turn toward its neighbour to the east.
After watching a performance at the Bolshoi Theatre on Wednesday evening, 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 said the visit was “a crucial event for our bilateral relations”. The Soviet Union was the first country to recognise Communist-ruled China in 1949, he noted.
Ushakov said Xi and Putin would sign a new declaration on “global partnership and strategic cooperation, which are entering a new era”.
The Chinese delegation is bringing two pandas as gifts, which are 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, he added, calling China “Russia’s most important economic partner”.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Hanhui praised the upcoming visit as having a “milestone significance in the development of bilateral relations”.
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 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.
And after Washington criticised its rights record, Beijing issued a travel warning to Chinese nationals Tuesday about crime and police harassment in the United States.