Putin lauds China infrastructure initiative, warming ties

Chinese President Xi Jinping, center, talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, unseen, during the meeting in Beijing, Friday, April 26, 2019. (Kenzaburo Fukuhara/Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, unseen, during the meeting in Beijing Friday, April 26, 2019. (Kenzaburo Fukuhara/Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, attend the meeting at Friendship Palace in Beijing Friday, April 26, 2019. (Kenzaburo Fukuhara/Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, attend the meeting in Beijing Friday, April 26, 2019. (Kenzaburo Fukuhara/Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, attend the meeting in Beijing Friday, April 26, 2019. (Kenzaburo Fukuhara/Pool Photo via AP)

BEIJING — Russian President Vladimir Putin praised China's Belt and Road infrastructure initiative Friday, underscoring warming ties between the neighboring powers.

Putin's comments Friday to a forum in Beijing appeared to downplay the potential for tensions between China and Russia. They also reflect Beijing and Moscow's shared resistance to U.S. global influence.

The Belt and Road is rapidly expanding China's economic footprint in Central Asia, Moscow's traditional sphere of influence.

But in an interview published Thursday remarking on 70 years of diplomatic relations, Putin praised Russia-China ties.

"It would be no exaggeration to say that our countries have approached this anniversary with relations the best they have been in their entire history," Putin said. "This is the result of meticulous and successful work over the past thirty years."

In a further sign of growing trust, the navies of the two countries will start several days of joint drills next week.

Russian wariness over China's rising clout appears to have subsided somewhat, thanks partly to their shared rivalry with the West, especially Washington.

Putin told three-dozen leaders gathered for the conference that the Belt and Road is "intended to strengthen the creative cooperation of the states of Eurasia."

"And it fits perfectly into our plans," he added.

Putin was referring to the Eurasian Economic Union, which groups Russia with Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in a common market that seeks to remove barriers to the free movement of goods, services, capital and labor.

The five member states "unanimously supported the idea of linking the construction of the Eurasian Economic Community" and the Belt and Road, Putin said.

Putin met with Xi on the sidelines of the conference. He visited Beijing just after wrapping up a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Russia's Far Eastern port city of Vladivostok.

In his interview with the Chinese ruling Communist Party's flagship People's Daily published Thursday, he praised the "strategic partnership" with Beijing that replaced decades of Cold War mistrust when the two were communist rivals for leadership.

Putin reviewed progress in resolving lingering border disagreements, increasing tourism and trade, which hit a record $100 billion last year. He also asserted that some Western countries are claiming "sole global leadership."

The "Joint Sea 2019" drills taking place from Monday to Saturday will feature ships and submarines along with fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters and marine units.

The exercises follow participation last September of about 3,200 Chinese troops in Russia's largest-ever war games in Siberia, where nearly 300,000 Russian troops conducted drills amid rising tensions with NATO.

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