Putin seeks 'more productive' China ties

ST PETERSBURG • Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that his country and China are diversifying trade and exploring new areas of cooperation in joint pursuit of a more productive partnership in a challenging global landscape, China's state media reported yesterday.

"We see each other as close allies, so of course we always listen to each other. By this I mean we keep in mind each other's interests," said Mr Putin in an hour-long interview with Xinhua news agency in St Petersburg last week.

He said mutual trust between the neighbours has reached an unprecedented level and laid a solid foundation for bilateral cooperation, according to Xinhua.

Now leaders of the two countries meet regularly, and more than 20 intergovernmental mechanisms are in place, noted the Russian President, who is scheduled to pay a state visit to China tomorrow, his fourth trip to the country since Chinese President Xi Jinping took office in 2013.

In a sign of the high frequency of bilateral top-level contact, Mr Putin will meet Mr Xi over the weekend for the second time in four days. Both are now in Uzbekistan for a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. They are also both poised to attend this year's Group of 20 summit in the Chinese city of Hangzhou in September.

"Russia is attempting to show the West that it is not isolated from the world. It hosted its economic forum in St Petersburg last week, drawing a string of powerful businessmen and politicians. Putin is now headed to China, and will likely visit Japan in September," Ms Lauren Goodrich, a Russia analyst for private security firm Stratfor, was quoted by CNBC as saying.

Mr Putin's trip to China comes as the European Union agreed this week to extend its economic sanctions on Moscow for its annexation of Crimea in 2014. The United States also maintained its current sanctions programme in May, according to CNBC. The sanctions have dealt a blow to Russia's economy amid sliding oil prices and a crumbling currency.

In the interview, Mr Putin noted the recent decline in bilateral trade with Beijing, but he said it was merely a temporary downtick resulting from the current market prices of certain commodities and differences in exchange rates against the backdrop of global economic woes, Xinhua said.

"The most important task in bilateral relations is bringing diversity and higher quality to trade relations, particularly boosting cooperation in high-tech areas," he said.

Speaking of the upcoming China visit, he told Xinhua: "I expect to have friendly meetings with President Xi on a broad range of topics, with mutual trust, as we have always had."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2016, with the headline 'Putin seeks 'more productive' China ties'. Print Edition | Subscribe