- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping met in far-eastern Russia on Tuesday, the same day the Kremlin began its biggest military exercise since the Cold War.

A sign of strengthening ties between the two Asian giants, the leaders gathered for two days of talks at the Russian-hosted Eastern Economic Forum in the port city of Vladivostok. It is their third meeting in 2018.

“We have a trusting relationship in the sphere of politics, security and defense,” Mr. Putin was quoted by Russian press of saying about Mr. Xi, whom he called his “best, most intimate friend” earlier this year.

Observers note that economic, political and military ties between the two countries are blossoming as they attempt to counter efforts by the Trump administration to reassert U.S. power throughout Asia. They are also partnering up in the wake of the U.S. trade war.

According to the state news agency Xinhua, Chinese direct investment in Russia jumped by 72 percent last year with Russia now ranking as China’s ninth largest trading partner.

A central project cited by both sides — the 1,864-mile gas pipeline now being built by Russian energy giant Gazprom — will link eastern Siberia to the Chinese border.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin were expected to discuss Moscow’s desire for Beijing to invest more in Russia’s thinly populated far east.

Meanwhile, China wants reassurances that despite any turbulence created by the trade war, Russia will continue to be its largest supplier of oil.

Also on Tuesday, a consortium of Russian and Chinese businesses announced plans for $100 billion worth of future joint investment projects. The Russian-Chinese Business Advisory Committee unveiled the news at the Vladivostok forum.

The cozy relations mark a dramatic departure from the strained Cold War era when China and the USSR vied to dominate the world’s communist countries, in addition to clashing at times along their border.

Highlighting their growing relationship, military analysts say, is the presence of 3,200 Chinese troops taking part in the military games, known as “Vostok-2018,” which also include roughly 300,000 Russian personnel. The last Russian exercise of similar scale occurred in 1981, during the Cold War.

The Vostok exercises come during heightened NATO-Russia tensions resulting from when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

Tuesday and Wednesday involve planning and preparation with actual operations scheduled to start on Thursday and run five days, Chief of the General Staff of the Russian military, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, has been quoted as saying.

NATO has said it is monitoring the exercises.

• Dan Boylan can be reached at dboylan@washingtontimes.com.

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