BEIJING: Russian President Vladimir Putin met his Chinese counterpart on Tuesday on a visit aimed at bolstering a crucial alliance, with the two neighbours set on blocking international action against Syria.
Putin told Hu Jintao ties between the two nations had reached “new heights” as he kicked off the three-day China visit, his first to Asia since starting an historic third term last month. Putin will also meet the presidents of Iran and Afghanistan as part of a regional summit during the visit, which comes just weeks after he cancelled a trip to the United States.
But the growing international pressure for action on Syria — a Soviet-era ally that Moscow still supplies with arms — is expected to dominate. Beijing and Moscow have walked in lockstep on Syria to the anger of Arab and Western nations, with EU president Herman Van Rompuy telling Putin in Russia on Monday that world powers needed to “find common messages on which we agree”.
Known for confronting the West repeatedly during his 2000-2008 presidency, Putin pointedly skirted the issue of Syria during a briefing Monday with EU leaders, noting only that “our positions do not coincide on every issue”.
Putin has been keen to play up the importance of Russia’s at-times uneasy ties with China, which have grown stronger in the past year as both used their veto power on the UNSC to block action against Damascus.
“Through the sustained efforts of both sides, the Russia-China overall strategic cooperative partnership relationship has attained new heights,” he told Hu. “Russia-China strategic cooperation is now moving toward a new level,” added Putin, who is due to meet Hu’s likely successor Vice President Xi Jinping on Wednesday.
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters Tuesday that both Beijing and Moscow were united on Syria, opposing foreign intervention and forced regime change in the conflict-ridden country.