Russian President Dmitry Medvedev arrived in Beijing yesterday on his first trip abroad since taking office, hoping to boost energy and political ties with China amid tension between Moscow and Washington.
China is the first stop outside the former Soviet Union for Medvedev, who arrived in Beijing after visiting energy-rich Kazakhstan. He was to meet later yesterday with Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤).
Ahead of his China trip, Medvedev, 42, who on May 7 succeeded president Vladimir Putin, emphasized the importance of Russia’s growing neighbor.
“Our foreign policy should be reasonable, pragmatic and at the same time friendly and open. And we absolutely include China among our most important foreign policy partners,” Medvedev said in an interview with Chinese journalists before his arrival.
Moscow and Beijing have pursued increasingly close ties, aligning their positions in international diplomacy and cooperating on defense within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a security group that includes four Central Asian states.
However, tensions remain between the two.
China and Russia are competing for Central Asia’s oil and gas, which was exclusively Moscow’s preserve in Soviet times.
There is also rivalry in the defense sphere, with some officials in Moscow reportedly worried about Beijing gaining too much access to Russian military secrets through increased defense sales to China.
Nevertheless, Medvedev said on Thursday while in Kazakhstan that the two countries were close to reaching agreement on building a pipeline from Siberia’s oil fields to energy-hungry China.
“We currently have a basic agreement on this and today are at the concluding stage in talks between Rosneft and CNPC [Russia’s and China’s state oil companies],” Medvedev said in an interview posted on the Kremlin Web site.
Nonetheless, as it battles what it views as Western expansionism on its western borders, Russia has sought to make friends with China.
China has supported Russia’s steadfast opposition to US plans to build a missile defense shield in central and eastern Europe.
The two countries are veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council, where they have been coordinating their positions on controversial issues such as Kosovan independence, which they both oppose.
Russia has also refused to join international criticism of China’s human-rights record in the run-up to this summer’s Beijing Olympics.
Analysts saw symbolism in Medvedev’s choice of heading first to China.
Since taking office, Medvedev has refrained from openly assailing the West in the style of his mentor and predecessor Putin, who remains highly influential in the prime minister’s post.
“This is a signal that Russia has other friends, not only the West,” said analyst Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs.
As China’s production sector booms, the country’s exports to Russia have jumped 15-fold between 2002 and last year. Russian exports to China have also risen, mostly because of exports of oil.