Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing on a first official visit, with China and Russia aiming to cement a strategic partnership. Yet the countries have their differences, too.
Russian PresidentVladimir Putin is making US President Barack Obama wait - preferring instead to cultivate relations with other countries after returning to the Russian presidency. For instance, he did not attend the G8 summit at Camp David in May. Last week, he made only fleeting visits to Belarus, Germany and France. Now, Putin is on a three-day visit to Beijing. Both the sequence of the visits as well as their length demonstrate China's growing significance for Russian foreign policy.
During their meetings this week in Beijing, Russian President Putin and his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, aim to strengthen their strategic partnership. "This relationship is based on many commonalities, particularly in economics and trade, but also in shared views of world order: such as no interventions for humanitarian reasons," explained Margarete Klein, an expert on Russia at the Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP).
Opposed to American dominance
Putin helped to launch a gas pipeline to China back in 2010
Russia and China want to stand up to the West - and the United States in particular. Both countries reject US dominance in world affairs. They endorse a multi-polar international system, in which they themselves are major powers. Russia fears an eastern expansion of NATO and is up in arms about the planned European missile shield.
A strategic partnership with China, then, is attractive for Russia. China likewise views the relationship as opportune, said Hong Kong-based journalist, Willy Lam.
"China is under a great deal of pressure and has to weather a lot of criticism from Western nations," he noted. "That's why Beijing is very interested in Russian support to oppose the West." Beijing is keen for Moscow to cover its back on human rights issues as well as on its claims to the South China Sea, Lam said. China has claimed "indisputable sovereignty" over the sea and dismissed claims by neighboring Southeast Asian nations to sections of the waters and islands.
Arguments over the claims have raged for years, but have escalated particularly with the Philippines in recent months - including threats of military action. The US has shown its support for the Philippines.
United in the UN Security Council
In the UN Security Council, both Russia and China reject tough sanctions against Iran and Syria, as demanded by Western nations.
Following the massacre in the Syrian town of Houla last month, for which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has denied responsibility, pressure on Russia and China not to stand in the way of a UN resolution against the Assad regime has increased. Journalist Lam said he expected Putin to closely deliberate with the Chinese government over further action in the Security Council. He said he assumed both countries would continue to prevent tough sanctions against the Assad regime.
Strengthening the Shanghai Cooperation Organization
On Thursday, Vladimir Putin will take part in a Beijing summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Russia's and China's foreign ministers already expressed their countries' wish to strengthen the organization at the start of May.
SCO was founded eleven years ago by China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, with the aim of boosting cooperation between the nations on issues of security and economics. But it is precisely in these areas where problems between China and Russia lie, said Lam. "Both countries have been discussing cooperation over energy matters for many years - centering on oil and gas exports from Russia to China," he said, adding that the two nations have never managed to agree on the pricing. At the same time, military equipment trade has also slowed between Beijing and Moscow, Lam noted. "The Chinese army is purchasing fewer and fewer weapons from Russia," he pointed out.
There is also contention over a possible expansion of the SCO. India, traditionally one of China's rivals, currently holds "observer" status. Russia would like to see India become a full-fledged member, a move China opposes.
Author: Christoph Ricking / als
Editor: Michael Lawton