This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Chinese President Xi Jinping hailed ties with Russia as he held talks with President Vladimir Putin in Beijing ahead of this weekend’s summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), with the Chinese leader calling Putin his “most intimate friend.”
Putin was given a military honor guard and a welcome ceremony before talks with Xi on June 8.
Following their talks, Xi presented Putin with a newly created Friendship Medal, with the Chinese leader saying, “President Putin is the leader of a great country who is influential around the world. He is my best, most intimate friend.”
“No matter what fluctuations there are in the international situation, China and Russia have always firmly taken the development of relations as a priority,” Xi had told Putin before their talks.
Xi added that the two countries have also “resolutely supported each other’s core interests.”
Putin said later that he held “fruitful” talks with the Chinese leader.
“This [the Friendship Medal] is an indication of the special attention and respect on which our mutual national interests are based, the interests of our peoples and, of course, our personal friendship.”
The two countries also announced a series of cultural and economic agreements.
Russian Railways and the China Railway Corp. said they signed a preliminary agreement to organize high-speed freight between Russia, China, and Europe.
Russia’s state-run TASS news agency also said the Russia-China Investment Fund (RCIF) and a consortium of Middle Eastern funds signed an agreement to invest in Sovcombank to allocate funds to expand business in Russia.
“The relationship between Russia and China is a friendly, neighborly one, developing in states in the spirit of overarching strategic partnership,” Putin said.
Xi and Putin have forged closer ties amid the two countries’ differences with the United States.
China is mired in negotiations with the United States to avoid a trade war, while Moscow has deep differences with the United States on several diplomatic issues, including Syria and Ukraine.
The presidents of other SCO member-states, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, arrived in China on June 6.
Chinese authorities said Iranian President Hassan Rohani will visit Beijing on June 8 before taking part in the SCO summit in the northern Chinese port of Qingdao from June 9-10.
China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan established the SCO — a Eurasian political, economic, and security grouping — in the early 2000s. India and Pakistan joined in 2017, and Iran has expressed interest in joining.
The presence of Xi, Putin, and Rohani at the SCO summit may facilitate talks about the recent U.S. decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal signed in 2015.
Xi will meet Rohani on the sidelines of the summit, but the nuclear deal is not on the formal agenda.
China is Iran’s top trade partner and one of the biggest importers of its oil, and Chinese leaders have pledged to forge ahead with plans to expand trade ties with Tehran despite the threat posed by a revival of U.S. sanctions later this year.
Chinese officials said the SCO summit will promote Beijing’s massive Belt and Road infrastructure project in Central and South Asia.