On the first day of a trip to China, the Russian president receives the newly created Friendship Medal

Chinese President Xi Jinping congratulates Russian President Vladimir Putin after presenting him with the Friendship Medal in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
Chinese President Xi Jinping congratulates Russian President Vladimir Putin after presenting him with the Friendship Medal in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Russia and China have signed a raft of deals and pledged tighter coordination on security and foreign policy, underscoring how disputes with the U.S. are drawing the neighbors closer.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, on the first day of a three-day trip to China on Friday, and Chinese President Xi Jinping flaunted their relationship as Mr. Putin received the newly created Friendship Medal from his host in an extravagant ceremony.

“Cooperation with China is one of Russia’s top priorities and it has reached an unprecedented level,” Mr. Putin said.

Russia has increasingly looked to China for investment and as a political ally as the U.S. and its partners have piled sanctions on Moscow over its military adventures abroad and interference in Western countries.

Concerns in Beijing that President Donald Trump could forge closer ties with Mr. Putin and leave China as the odd one out among the world’s largest powers have dissipated as Washington and Moscow continue to feud. Now, Russia and China are coordinating in places of mutual interest like Iran and North Korea, presenting a united front in criticizing U.S. sanctions and tariffs, and deepening business ties.

On Friday, Russian and Chinese officials signed nuclear, space and transport deals, among others, as well as a statement condemning the Trump administration’s withdrawal from a nuclear deal with Iran and pledging further military and diplomatic cooperation.

The relationship has been buttressed by a close personal connection between the presidents. State broadcaster China Central Television aired an interview with the Russian leader on Wednesday in which he recalled celebrating a birthday with Mr. Xi over shots of vodka and sliced sausage.

“I haven’t established this kind of relationship or made similar arrangements with my foreign colleagues, but I have with Chairman Xi,” Mr. Putin said in the interview.

CCTV inserted the birthday comments in an online video entitled “A Kind of Internet Star Called Putin,” that also featured shots of him playing piano, strutting past applauding crowds and meeting—repeatedly—with Mr. Xi.

The Chinese leader, who recently engineered a scrapping of presidential term limits in China’s constitution, has said he and Mr. Putin are “similar in character.” He was quick to call with congratulations after the Mr. Putin rode a landslide election victory to his fourth term in March.

“Together we’ve ensured that Sino-Russian relations have withstood the test of global uncertainty and arrived at their best point in history,” he told Mr. Putin.

China has plowed billions into Russian companies owned by the Kremlin or people close to Mr. Putin, providing Russia with some relief from Western sanctions. But the economic relationship is an unbalanced one; aside from hydrocarbons and weapons, China imports little from Russia.

Chinese leaders continue to see Russia as a vital counterbalance to the U.S. in Asia and elsewhere, analysts say, especially after the U.S. national security strategy labeled them as America’s top adversaries.

Russia and China have increased military cooperation in recent years, holding joint drills in the North Pacific and the Baltic Sea last year.

“Russia increasingly plays on team China as a junior partner,” said Alexander Gabuev, an expert on Russia-China relations at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “Russia is punching above its weight in geopolitics and doing things that the Chinese are not capable or daring enough to do.”

COURTESY: WSJ

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