A Chinese provincial business delegation has travelled to Russia to take part in a trade expo, in a further sign of deepening post-pandemic ties between the two countries. Representatives from 18 companies and commercial officials from the inland Chinese province of Guizhou landed in Moscow on Saturday morning, local media reported, describing it as the “largest overseas exhibition delegation from Guizhou since the pandemic [began]”. The trip also marked the “official relaunch of a new journey for foreign trade enterprises in Guizhou to ‘go overseas to grab orders’”, the state-backed Guizhou Daily reported on Monday, using a catchphrase describing a recent government-led push to encourage both state-owned and private Chinese companies to seek business opportunities abroad following a pandemic-induced lull. Xi Jinping expected to visit Russia, defying impression of split over war The Guizhou delegation is participating in a five-day exhibition of food, beverages and food raw materials in the Russian capital. The event, which runs until Friday, offered an opportunity to “negotiate face to face and collect information from clients, significantly increasing the likelihood of striking [export] deals,” Lei Shaoxiang, deputy manager at tea exporters Guizhou Super Biotechnology, was quoted as saying by the daily. Mountainous, landlocked Guizhou – home to some 38 million people – is one of China’s poorest provinces. Its business delegation to Moscow was China’s latest official outreach effort as it ramps up its campaign to help public enterprises seek overseas orders, which had dried up over the past three years due to its own strict Covid-19 border controls and weakening foreign demand. While the US, Europe and Southeast Asia are the primary markets for export-oriented companies in China’s coastal economic powerhouse provinces of Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Guangdong, many firms are also turning towards Russia. The huge Russian market of 144 million people remains a viable destination for Chinese-made food products, medicine, and consumer goods, as Moscow grapples with economic sanctions imposed by the West following its invasion of Ukraine. China and Russia, both now under political and economic pressure from the United States, have moved to strengthen their “no limits” partnership since Beijing lifted all border restrictions in early January. China’s strategic partnership with Russia has a strong momentum and will continue to grow, deputy foreign minister Ma Zhaoxu told Russian officials – including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov – during a visit to Moscow last week. China to aim for stronger ties with Russia this year, top official says In a move highlighting the strengthening of bilateral ties, Moscow has officially opened its consulate general in Harbin, which is now Russia’s fifth diplomatic mission in mainland China. Harbin is the capital of China’s northernmost province of Heilongjiang, which shares a more than 1,800km border with Russia’s resource-rich Far East region. The Harbin consulate general had started informal operations in 2019, following the opening of a Chinese consulate in Russia’s major Pacific port city of Vladivostok in 2017. The mission will “further enrich the strategic dimensions of Sino-Russian bilateral relations … while injecting new vitality into regional [bilateral] cooperation”, Wu Xi, head of Chinese foreign ministry’s consular department, said at the opening ceremony on Thursday. Russia’s newly appointed ambassador to China, Igor Morgulov, said the Harbin consulate – as the fifth Russian mission in mainland China – would help “drive bilateral relations forward”, according to a readout from the Chinese foreign ministry. Trade with Russia has registered an uptick since China dropped its so-called zero-Covid policy that had been in place since early in the pandemic, and reopened international borders on January 8. The rail link between the Russian city of Zabaykalsk and Chinese border town of Manzhouli in Inner Mongolia moved 1.5 million tonnes of freight in January, a nearly 83 per cent jump year-on-year, the Russian mission in Harbin said – citing official Chinese data.