Russia, China to co-operate on modernization

People pass by Chinese and Russian flags flying at Tiananmen Gate in honour of the visit of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (AFP Photo / /Peter PARKS)
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is in Beijing to talk Russian-Chinese bilateral ties and to sign an intergovernmental memorandum on co-operation in the modernization of the two economies.

This is Putin’s first trip abroad since he announced his plan to run for the presidency in March 2012 and, considering his rather high approval rating among the population, it is likely that he will return to the Kremlin for at least six years.

In Beijing, the premier is accompanied by an army of top Russian businessmen and officials. During the two-day visit, Putin will participate in the 16th regular meeting of the heads of the two governments and meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao. The sides are expected to discuss a bunch of topics ranging from economy and science to technical and humanitarian co-operation.

"Special attention will be paid to the improvement of the mutual trade infrastructure, expansion of investment interaction and co-operation in highly technological fields, and implementation of long-term projects in the field of energy,” the Russian government’s press-service said earlier, as cited by Itar-Tass.

Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao are also expected to sign an intergovernmental memorandum of co-operation in modernization – an analog of the Russia-EU Modernization Partnership plan.

This new complex document is aimed at encouraging Russian-Chinese co-operation “on a large number of innovative projects in different areas of industry, and, also in such fields as energy efficiency, IT and space," Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov said in an interview with Kommersant daily, published on the eve of Putin’s visit.

The newspaper, citing a source at the Russian Foreign Ministry, writes that the Chinese side has long been proposing launching a program similar to that which Moscow agreed with the European Union. “We believe this idea is quite reasonable,” the source said. Russia expects the project to be “bidirectional”, which means that it may help China in developing atomic energy, space and aviation construction. The Asian republic, for its part, could help Russia to progress in the development of high-speed rail network, shipbuilding and alternative energy sources.

Up until now, Russia has mainly been mainly looking westwards when it comes to innovative technology that could help the country modernize its economy. As for Asia, the only memorandum on modernization was signed between Russia and South Korea in November last year, during President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Seoul, reminds the paper. Only two years ago the Kremlin was skeptical about China’s technological development, explaining it mainly by the use of cheap labor force.

Last week, speaking at the VTB Capital “Russia Calling!” investment forum, Putin noted that technology is concentrated in Europe, but for investment opportunities and markets one should look to Asia – specifically China, Japan, South Korea and India.

“We share a huge border with China. We’ve lived side by side for thousands of years. Today, our interstate relations are at perhaps their highest level ever (comparable only to a brief period during the Soviet era, after WWII). We enjoy good, friendly, mature relations with China today. And China is highly interested in developing its relations with Russia further,” he said, as cited on the head of the government’s official website.

Putin observed that Russian technology “is in demand in China in sectors such as the nuclear energy industry”.

“We are building the Tianwang power plant there, employing the most advanced technology, and our Chinese partners are pleased about that, as it benefits their economy both in terms of energy production and a technological upgrade,” the PM said.

According to Deputy PM Zhukov, during the visit the sides plan to sign deals on 20 projects, worth US$7 billion, cited RIA Novosti.

The talks will not be all about economy and trade, though and regional problems as well as burning international issues are also expected to be discussed. Russia and China have recently used their veto right at the UN Security Council over a draft resolution against Syria, which shows that the two powers share now similar approaches to the situation in the Middle East.

Some experts and the media are now speculating whether Putin’s trip to Beijing – shortly after the announcement of his presidential ambitions – may be a symbolic gesture hinting at Russia’s future geopolitical strategies.