Sat, Jun 08, 2019 - Page 1 News List

Xi Jinping attends economic forum as Russia and China display united front

AFP, MOSCOW

Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin attend a bilateral meeting at the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum in Russia yesterday.

Photo: Bloomberg

Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) was yesterday the guest of honor at Russia’s showcase economic forum, as the two neighbors present a united front in the face of shared troubles with the US.

Xi on Wednesday arrived in Moscow for a three-day visit with Russian President Vladimir Putin and described the Russian leader as his “best friend” during a cozy meeting at the Kremlin.

To end the trip, Xi and his host attended a plenary session of the annual Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum, which Moscow hopes will woo foreign investors, despite an uncertain business climate.

Xi was to present China’s ideas on sustainable development and multilateral cooperation, Beijing said ahead of his appearance.

This year’s forum “will illustrate very clearly just how bipolar the world has become,” consultancy Macro Advisory senior partner Chris Weafer said. “In the same week that [US] President [Donald] Trump will be having tea with the queen in London, President Putin will be hosting President Xi in Saint Petersburg.”

The trip comes five years after Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula led to a serious rift with the West and a move toward Russia’s neighbor to the east.

Meanwhile, China has been locked in a trade war with the US that has seen Washington impose sweeping duties and blacklist companies like tech giant Huawei Technologies Co (華為).

Moscow and Beijing’s economic ties have grown in the past few years, although they remain heavily weighted in favor of China, which dwarfs Russia in economic and demographic terms.

Xi’s visit has already seen the signing of dozens of commercial contracts in e-commerce, telecoms, gas and other areas.

Other deals have been signed at the forum, including one yesterday between Russian and Chinese shipping companies to work together to develop Arctic sea routes.

While this is the Chinese leader’s first appearance at the economic forum, where he heads a 1,000-strong delegation, he and Putin have met regularly in the past few years.

Ahead of Xi’s visit, Putin aide Yuri Ushakov described China as “Russia’s most important economic partner.”

The partnership is yielding increasing trade, which last year grew 25 percent to hit a record US$108 billion, he said.

At a panel yesterday on Russia-China business ties, Russian tycoon Viktor Vekselberg, a target of US sanctions, called for the two countries to carry out more trade in their national currencies, bypassing the US dollar.

However, despite the political tensions and repeated rounds of sanctions over Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, the EU remains by far the biggest foreign investor in Russia — well ahead of China and the US.

“China is taking time to ramp up investments in Russia,” Renaissance Capital chief economist Charles Robertson said. “It wants to feel secure about the long term, it doesn’t want to rush into it.”

China would make big investments over the next three to five years, possibly even sooner, as Russia plays an important role in projects along Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, he said.

The first day of the forum on Thursday saw Putin make a pitch for increased foreign investment as Russia looks to revive an economy hit by Western sanctions over Ukraine and a drop in oil prices.

After emerging from recession in 2017, the Russian economy ticked up only 0.5 percent in the first quarter of this year.

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