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President heads to Moscow in first overseas state visit

China Daily

President Xi Jinping's plan to visit Russia during his first overseas trip underscores the growing importance of China-Russia relations to Beijing, particularly in the diplomatic sphere, a senior official said.

Both countries are determined to deepen their strategic partnership amid the increasingly complicated international situation, said Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Cheng Guoping.

The visit will promote both countries' pragmatic cooperation in energy, trade and people-to-people exchanges, which have shown great potential since Russia joined the World Trade Organization last year and began investing heavily in its Far East region.

On Monday, four days after Xi was elected the nation's new president during China's once-a-decade leadership transition, Beijing and Moscow announced that Xi will visit Russia from Friday to Sunday.

The trip will re-trace the footsteps of Xi's predecessor, Hu Jintao, who made Moscow his first overseas destination as president a decade ago. Xi's trip is taking place at a time of increased tension on the Korean Peninsula and in Syria, and against the backdrop of Washington's "pivot to Asia" strategy.

Cheng denied that closer ties between the two countries will lead to an alliance, saying that China and Russia maintain "very normal" relations and will not target any third party.

"As responsible big countries, both China and Russia pledge to uphold world justice based on the Charter of the United Nations, but each of them independently develops its foreign relations in accordance with its own interests and respects the other's choices," he told China Daily. "This is in the fundamental interest of the two peoples as well as the world's peace and stability," he said.

China-Russia trade grew 11.2 percent in 2012 from the previous year to $88.16 billion. The number is expected to hit $100 billion in 2015 and $200 billion in 2020, a target set by the two countries' leaders last year.

Cheng said the development of Russia's sparsely populated but resource-rich Far East region is the key for the revival of the world's largest country by area, while cooperation with Asia, especially China, is an important part of it.

Complementary cooperation between the Russian Far East and China's northeastern and western regions has a long history and solid foundation. "What is needed now is favorable policies from Beijing and Moscow to encourage local governments and enterprises in both countries to get involved," he said. China issued the plan of rejuvenating northeast China's rust-belt industrial bases years ago. The region, part of which borders Russia's Far East, was the national center of heavy industry and served as the engine for national reconstruction in the 1950s.

"Attracting Chinese labor and investment has been an inevitable trend for Moscow, but such outflow should be legal and regulated," he added.

"China-Russia cooperation has been entering into a more healthy and regulated track", though the internationalization and restructuring of the Russian economy after its entry into the WTO will bring short-term pain to the country and challenge to Chinese investors, Cheng said.

Meanwhile, energy cooperation is expected to see another breakthrough during Xi's visit, said Cheng, referring to natural gas talks that have been hobbled for years by disagreements over price and potential routes.

Cheng said the two neighbors are seeking an early date for the deal as the highly complementary cooperation could benefit the national security and development of Russia, "a stable energy supplier", and China, "a reliable market".

Then Vice-Premier Wang Qishan and his Russian counterpart, Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, said in Beijing last month that the two countries reached consensus on boosting oil trade and endorsing their respective enterprises' negotiations on gas supplies to be delivered via an east pipeline. But the natural gas deal has not been finalized because of differences over price.

zhaoshengnan@chinadaily.com.cn