Wu Yi talks up trade in Russia
Joyce Man in St Petersburg, Russia
A visit to Russia's former imperial capital by Vice-Premier Wu Yi at the weekend brought Shanghai investments, 168 mainland businessmen and 19 contracts worth US$2 billion to St Petersburg, but more than anything, it signalled that Moscow and Beijing want trade, not politics, to fuel their relationship.
Ms Wu's four-day tour of Russia, which continues today in Moscow, follows a promise by presidents Hu Jintao and Vladimir Putin at the Group of Eight meeting in Heiligendamm, Germany, on Saturday to strengthen strategic co-operation.
She joined Mr Putin, world leaders and businessmen at the 11th St Petersburg International Economic Forum - a key event on Russia's economic calendar. She attended a plenary session on Eurasia and spoke on Sino-Russian co-operation. But Ms Wu's agenda to promote the mainland went beyond the forum.
She met Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, her co-head of the Year of China and Russia festivities, and 'exchanged views about bilateral relations and spoke highly about the national-year activities', according to Chinese embassy spokesman Wang Zhen .
She also celebrated telecoms firm Huawei's 10th anniversary in Russia and attended the opening of the Baltic Pearl real estate development.
The sprawling US$1.3 billion residential and commercial complex is the mainland's largest Russian investment after oil and gas. Shanghai mayor Han Zheng was on hand to add his support to the project, being built by a consortium of five Shanghai companies.
Saturday was also the start of Shanghai Week, a 10-day series of events designed to promote the city's trade relations with St Petersburg.
The mainland has grown more interested in investing beyond Moscow into other Russian regions.
China Import-Export Bank unveiled its branch in St Petersburg at the weekend. Representative Chen Guilin said: 'St Petersburg has growing potential and importance in Russia, and we want to be here for that.'
Ms Wu's visit highlighted Beijing and Moscow's focus on mutually beneficial trade ties.
'The relationship has improved largely because the focus is on economic co-operation, and not ... on political relations,' said Xiao Geng, director of the Brookings-Tsinghua Centre in Beijing.
Russia, Dr Xiao said, allowed the mainland to diversify its unbalanced, export-heavy economy and also satisfy its energy needs by buying oil.
Meanwhile, problems that, according to Vilya Gelbras, a China expert at Moscow State University, include illegal logging, trading and fishing by the mainland are saved for private discussion.
'Each party certainly has its own list of complaints,' Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Centre in Moscow, said from Washington. 'But they're willing to talk behind closed doors, and in that respect, this is a healthy relationship.'