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China’s premier hails close ties in talks with Russian PM


China’s premier on Wednesday hailed the “strategic cooperative partnership” between Beijing and Moscow as he hosted the Russian prime minister, with the two sides expected to sign a number of economic and infrastructure deals.

The two nations have in recent years ramped up economic and diplomatic cooperation, and have grown closer since Russia invaded Ukraine despite China’s insistence that it is neutral in that conflict.

Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin arrived in China on Monday, attending a business forum in Shanghai on Tuesday before travelling to Beijing to meet Premier Li Qiang and President Xi Jinping.

“Under the strategic leadership of our two heads of state, the comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership between China and Russia in the new era has always been maintained at a high level,” Li told Mishustin after a grand welcoming ceremony outside Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on Wednesday.

“I believe your trip to China this time will definitely leave a deep impression.”

China is Russia’s largest trading partner, with trade between the nations reaching a record $190 billion last year, according to Chinese customs data.

And Li noted Wednesday that bilateral trade had already reached $70 billion so far this year.

“This is a year-on-year increase of more than 40 percent,” he said.

“The scale of investment between the two countries is also continuously upgrading,” Li added. “Strategic large-scale projects are steadily advancing.”

China’s upper hand

Mishutin is accompanied by a number of top officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak, who handles energy policy.

China last year became Russia’s top energy customer as Moscow’s gas exports otherwise plummeted due to a flurry of Western sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.

And according to Russian state media, Novak told Tuesday’s forum in Shanghai that Russian energy supplies to China would increase by 40 percent year-on-year in 2023.

Analysts say China holds the upper hand in the relationship with Russia, and that its sway is growing as Moscow’s international isolation deepens.

The leaders of both countries are “brought together more by shared grievances and insecurities than by shared goals,” Ryan Hass, a senior fellow at Washington’s Brookings Institution and a former White House official, told AFP.

“They both resent and feel threatened by Western leadership in the international system and believe their countries should be given greater deference on issues implicating their own interests.”

In February, Beijing released a paper calling for a “political settlement” to the Ukraine conflict, but Western countries said it could enable Russia to hold much of the territory it has seized.

During their March summit in Moscow, Xi invited Putin to visit Beijing.

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