Fri, Jun 08, 2018 - Page 1 News List

Putin heads to China to bolster ties

AP, MOSCOW

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a live nationwide broadcast call-in in Moscow yesterday.

Photo: Reuters / Kremlin

Just a month after beginning his new term in office, Russian President Vladimir Putin is heading to China for a state visit, underscoring how mounting US pressure is drawing the two countries increasingly close.

Russia and China have responded to the US national security strategy describing them as the US’ top adversaries by vowing to further expand their economic, political and military cooperation. They have also sought to strengthen the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional grouping they created.

Beijing and Moscow’s rapprochement is driven by a strong personal relationship between Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平).

Putin’s visit begins today.

Underlining his close personal relationship with Xi, Putin told a Chinese state broadcaster in an interview aired on Wednesday that the Chinese president is the only world leader whom he once invited to celebrate his birthday.

“I’ll be frank with you, I hope he won’t be angry at me: We had a shot of vodka and had some sausages at the end of a workday,” Putin said.

He praised Xi as a “comfortable partner, a good and reliable friend.”

The two leaders rely on tight security controls to block challenges to their rule, and both tightened their grip on power this year; Xi by engineering a move to stay in power indefinitely and Putin, Russia’s longest-serving leader since Josef Stalin, by winning another six-year term.

“They appear to have an excellent rapport,” Moscow-based foreign policy expert Fyodor Lukyanov said. “They have similar horizons and share a common vision.”

Putin has been driven closer to China by a sharp decline in relations with the West after Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and support for a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

Moscow is increasingly looking to Beijing for trade and investment following waves of Western sanctions targeting its vital energy sector and military industries and limiting the country’s access to global financial markets.

“Over the past decades, we have developed relations that have no parallel in the world today,” Putin said in the interview, referring to China and Russia. “These relations are built on consideration of mutual interests.”

Moscow’s hopes for better ties with Washington under US President Donald Trump have withered, while frictions between China and Washington have sharpened over a potential trade war and US criticism of Beijing’s claims to territory in the strategically vital South China Sea.

In an unusually blunt statement, newly named Chinese Minister of National Defense General Wei Fenghe (魏鳳和) in April said that he chose Russia for his first trip abroad to send a signal to Washington about the increasingly close military ties between Moscow and Beijing.

“Put simply, everything the US has done in an attempt to sanction Russia and curb China will make China and Russia step up cooperation in all fields,” said Li Xin (李新), director of the Shanghai Institute for Foreign Studies’ Center for Russian and Central Asian Studies.

Russia and China have conducted joint military maneuvers, including exercises in the South China Sea and last summer’s joint navy drills in the Baltics.

In December last year, the two militaries held missile defense drills intended to practice a joint response to missile threats from other countries, reflecting their shared concern about the US’ missile defense program.

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