Putin, Xi praise Russia-China relations

Putin, Xi praise Russia-China relations

Chinese President Xi Jinping began a three-day visit to Russia on Wednesday (local time) with a touch of panda diplomacy and a raft of new Russian-Chinese business contracts.

Mr Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin praised their countries’ ties during talks at the Kremlin, as Russia and China seek to shore up cooperation amid shared tensions with the United States.

“President Putin is for me a best friend,” Mr Xi told journalists during a joint statement following the meeting.

“We decided that we would raise our bilateral relations to a new, higher level — increasing our mutual support and assistance, and promote our relations in a new era,” he said.

Russian President Putin thanked his Chinese counterpart for the loan of two pandas that are being housed at the Moscow Zoo.

“This is a sign of a special respect, of a special trust in Russia,” he said.

“When we speak about pandas, a smile always appears on our face.”

The two men signed a joint statement on the development of comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation.

Major Russian and Chinese companies, meanwhile, signed cooperation agreements.

China’s Alibaba, Russian mobile phone operator Megafon, internet group Mail.ru and the Russian sovereign investment fund RDIF closed a deal on a joint e-commerce venture.

Mail.ru head Boris Dobrodeyev said in a statement that the new company AliExpress Russia would become the “undisputed leader in Russian e-commerce”.

Russian telecoms company MTS and Chinese Huawei also signed a memorandum of understanding, while Russia’s Novatek and Gazprombank signed an agreement with Sinopec to market gas in China.

“Most important economic partner”

The trip comes five years after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea led to a serious rift with its Western partners and subsequent turn towards 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,” Mr Putin told Mr Xi.

The Chinese President, who was received with full honours when he arrived at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport in the afternoon, was set to attend a performance at the Bolshoi Theatre in the evening.

He will later travel to the former imperial capital of Saint Petersburg for an economic forum hosted by President 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,” Mr Xi said during an interview with Russian media before the visit.

The partnership is yielding increasing trade, which grew by 25% in 2018 to hit a record $108bn, according to the Kremlin.

Mr Putin’s foreign policy aide, Yuri Ushakov, earlier called China “Russia’s most important economic partner”.

Al Jazeera contributed to this report.

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