'Most trusted' aide of China's Xi in Russia for security talks as Putin says ties between two countries at 'best level in history'

A series of high-level meetings will be held in Moscow this week, with a senior envoy from Beijing flying in to discuss security and strategic cooperation, days after Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed the strength of ties.

Yang Jiechi, the director of China’s Central Foreign Affairs Commission and a specialist in American affairs, will be in the country for talks over the course of several days, Beijing officials revealed on Sunday. From there, he will go on to visit Croatia and Slovenia before heading home. The South China Morning Post describes Yang as “President Xi Jinping’s most trusted foreign policy aide.”

The visit has been interpreted by many Western analysts as a sign of deepening partnership between the world’s most populous nation, and the planet’s largest.

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In a call with Xi last week, Putin praised the ongoing collaboration between the two countries over nuclear power, with Russian experts having designed reactors for two atomic energy plants being built in China. Putin said the initiative was “setting in motion a truly signature, flagship joint project.”

“We can say that Russian-Chinese relations have reached the highest level in history,” he added.

In March, Beijing’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, said the two nations “have always been the pillars of peace and stability in the world.” History shows, he claimed, that “the more unstable and turbulent the world is, the more decisive cooperation between China and Russia will become.”

Earlier this month, official data showed that cross-border trade between the two had jumped sharply, rising 19.8% compared to the same three-month period the year prior, when the Covid-19 crisis was beginning. It reached a total of $40.207 billion for the quarter.

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More than half of Chinese people surveyed in a poll at the end of last year said they felt Moscow is Beijing’s most important ally. By contrast, the number of respondents indicating that ties with the US had the most significant impact on their country nosedived, dropping to only 47.5%, compared to 82.1% when the question was asked the year prior.

At a meeting of the G7 countries held in London at the start of May, representatives of Western nations, including the US, UK, Germany, and France, as well as Japan, slammed Russia’s purported “malign activities,” while turning fire on China for its “coercive economic policies.” Last week, Moscow’s ambassador in London said that the exclusive grouping is playing a “dangerous game” by pushing the two countries together with unsubstantiated allegations.

However, while some Western commentators have played up the prospect of an “unholy alliance” between Russia and China, other analysts have cautioned that, despite the warm words, cooperation and collaboration is more limited than is the case with Western blocs, such as NATO, particularly in the sphere of defense. It remains to be seen whether Yang’s visit to Moscow this week is an effort to turn that around.

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