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Chinese President Xi Jinping to meet Vladimir Putin during economic forum in Russia as US-China trade war intensifies

Talks will coincide with joint military exercise as Beijing, Moscow look to cement ties amid turbulent relations with Washington

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 September, 2018, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 September, 2018, 12:35am

Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin will push ahead with plans for greater economic cooperation next week when they meet at a forum in Vladivostok amid an escalating US-China trade war.

The meeting between the leaders – their third this year – coincides with the start of the biggest joint exercise between the two countries’ militaries for more than three decades, and suggests an increasingly close relationship as they deal with their respective tensions with Washington.

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Xi’s participation in the Eastern Economic Forum, on Tuesday and Wednesday, will be the first ever by a Chinese leader. During his trip, he and Putin will discuss and witness the signing of documents to boost trade and cooperation, including in Russia’s Far East region, according to Zhang Hanhui, an assistant minister at China’s foreign ministry.

They would also discuss ways to advance cooperation on energy, agriculture, hi-tech and infrastructure, Zhang told a press conference on Friday.

With its trade dispute with Washington showing no signs of letting up, Beijing is keen to diversify its trading partners and especially its crop suppliers.

China is the world’s largest importer of soybeans and in recent months has imported record amounts of it from Russia.

Valery Dubrovskiy, director of investment for the Far East Investment and Export Agency, said earlier that several Chinese companies had expressed interest in a deal to use 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres) of arable land in the Far East region.

Moscow, meanwhile, is facing the possibility of further sanctions from the West after European Union and US leaders endorsed the latest assessment by the British government of Moscow’s alleged role in a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in the English city of Salisbury.

Zhang said Xi’s visit to Russia showed the two leaders’ “deep personal friendship” and staunch support for each other’s strategic interests, regardless of the changing circumstances.

“The two countries have demonstrated mutual and resolute support for each other on issues concerning their core interests,” he said.

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Xi’s arrival in Vladivostok coincides with the Vostok war games, which will get under way in the Trans-Baikal region of Russia’s Far East.

The five-day exercise, which includes around 300,000 troops, including more than 3,000 from China, runs until September 15.

Zhang said the two leaders would strengthen their “strategic coordination” on regional and international issues, including the North Korean nuclear issue after talks between Washington and Pyongyang stalled.

He said they would also expand cooperation at the local level. Senior officials from nine Chinese provinces and cities will join 13 of their Russian counterparts for talks on the sidelines of the economic forum.

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Chinese companies have been increasingly looking for new opportunities in Russia. Bilateral trade between China and Russia in the first seven months of the year rose 25.8 per cent from the same period of 2017 to more than US$58 billion, Zhang said.

The forum in Vladivostok will also be attended by South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon, Mongolian President Khaltmaa Battulga and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Abe is also expected to hold one-on-one talks with Xi on the sidelines of the meeting.