Russia and China happy to bury differences | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 05.06.2012
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Asia

Russia and China happy to bury differences

Russian President Vladimir Putin has arrived in China for his first visit since resuming the role of head of state. While both vast nations have had their differences in the past, shared interests now take precedence.

The trip to China is not Putin's first overseas visit since taking over the presidency for a historic third term, but it could be the most significant.

Although Putin - who met Chinese President Hu Jintao on Tuesday - did make visits to Belarus, France and Germany last week, these were somewhat fleeting.

Crucially, the Russia leader will be heading to Beijing rather than Washington for his first non-European foreign visit and will stay in China for three days.

Relations between the two countries have not always been so good. For many years, they contested dominance over the global communist movement. It was an ideological battle repeated in miniature in communist parties across Asia and Africa.

In 1969 Russia and China even fought a brief war in Russia's Pacific region over the disputed Damansky island, now known as Zhenbao.

Chinese People's Liberation Army missile carrier trucks drive past the Tiananmen Square during a military parade

Russia is not overly worried about any military threat from China - at least for now

However, those frosty relations have thawed in the past decade. Both countries are keen to temper US influence on world affairs and they have aligned their foreign policy to a considerable degree - as appears to be the case with Syria.

"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," Margarete Klein, a Russia expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, told DW.

Little to fear for Moscow

And although much will depend on the change of leadership set to take place in Beijing, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace predicts that Russia will be keen to maintain good relations.

"Moscow is not worried about China's continued rise, since the Russians see the Chinese leadership as overwhelmingly preoccupied with China's domestic agenda," said a Carnegie policy outlook.

The Carnegie experts say that Russia has noted a recent territorial assertiveness on the part of Beijing, but has also been reassured that it is mainly directed eastward and southward, as in the South China Sea.

Far from fearing Beijing's influence over Russia's distant eastern provinces, Putin himself said in a manifesto document that she would be seeking "Chinese potential in developing Siberia and the Far East."

The Carnegie document notes this lack of anxiety on the part of Moscow. However, it adds "if Beijing's foreign policy takes a more nationalistic turn, China's growing military could be a cause for concern in the future. As things are, China's focus is not on Russia, at least in the near to medium term."

China looks for support

For China, Russia is a valuable ally when it comes to fending off Western criticism on issues such as human rights.

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping

The agenda included a meeting with possible Chinese leader of the future Xi Jinping

"China is under a great deal of pressure and has to weather a lot of criticism from Western nations," said Hong Kong journalist Willy Lam. "That's why Beijing is very interested in Russian support to oppose the West."

While geopolitical posturing was on the agenda on Tuesday, business was very much the priority.

China and Russia signed agreements in trade, investment, nuclear power and banking after talks between the presidents.

As well as attending a regional security summit in Beijing on Wednesday, Putin was also due to meet with President Hu's likely successor, Vice President Xi Jinping.

Author: Richard Connor (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Shamil Shams

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