Syria on agenda as Putin goes to China

Russian President Vladimir Putin has arrived in China for a three-day visit aimed at bolstering crucial ties between the powerful Eurasian neighbours who have aligned to block tougher international action against Syria.

Both energy and foreign policy co-operation were high on the agenda for the visit beginning on Tuesday, with Putin also participating in a regional security summit on Wednesday and Thursday where he will separately meet the presidents of Iran and Afghanistan.

Putin’s China trip, his first since returning to the Russian presidency earlier this month, comes after failed attempts by EU leaders to sway him on Syria – a Soviet-era ally Moscow still supplies with arms.

Beijing and Moscow have used their veto powers on the United Nations Security Council to obstruct condemnation of Damascus’ deadly crackdown, saying they will not back measures that could lead to foreign intervention.

That has prompted growing anger from Arab and Western nations, with Herman Van Rompuy, the European Union’s top official, telling Putin in Russia on Monday that world powers needed to “find common messages on which we agree”.

Putin’s visit comes as Li Baodong, China’s UN ambassador, said his government was not trying to protect Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and would respect the will of the Syrian people on the country’s future.

Li told reporters on Monday that China was urging all parties to immediately implement international envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan, halt the killings, and launch an inclusive political process to restore peace in Syria.

Known for confronting the West repeatedly during his 2000-2008 presidency, Putin pointedly skirted the issue of Syria during Monday’s briefing with EU leaders in St Petersburg, noting only that “our positions do not coincide on every issue”.

Ideological differences

Putin has been keen to play up the importance of Russia’s ties with its giant Asian neighbour, despite a long history of distrust and antagonism fuelled by territorial disputes and ideological differences between the Soviet Union and Mao Zedong’s China.

Although the two nations had periodic border conflicts, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, declared this weekend that Moscow had an exemplary partnership with Beijing on foreign policy.

“All in all, we consider the co-operation on foreign policy on all levels between Russia and China a successful model of co-ordination between partners,” Lavrov said in comments posted on the Russian foreign ministry’s website.

Beijing’s state-run China Daily newspaper also played up the relationship between the two countries in an editorial on Tuesday, saying it was in “good shape” and “bodes well for the future”.

Along with close co-ordination in international affairs, the two countries have sought to boost economic ties, particularly in the energy sector, setting a target of raising bilateral trade to $100bn by 2015 from $83.5bn last year.

Putin was scheduled to hold discussions with Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao later on Tuesday and then take part in a signing ceremony for a range of government and business agreements.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Putin and Hu will be among leaders attending the annual summit of the six-member Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, a grouping of Russia, China and four Central Asian states seeking to boost regional integration and curb Western influence.

Source: Al-Jazeera News

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