Chinese President Xi Jinping meets President Vladimir Putin of Russia in Xiamen on September 3, 2017. (Photograph: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the People’s Republic of China)

Putin, Xi Hail Partnership as Trump's North Korea Summit Looms

(Bloomberg) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping pledged to support each other on key international issues at talks that were dominated by the looming U.S.-North Korea summit and the Iranian nuclear deal.

“President Putin and I both think that the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership is mature, firm and stable,” Xi told reporters after the meeting in Beijing on Friday. “It is the highest-level, most profound and strategically most significant relationship between major countries in the world.”

Russia and China agree on the need for peace on the Korean Peninsula, while recent contacts between Moscow and North Korea “confirm the willingness of Pyongyang to engage in constructive work,” Putin said. Xi and Putin also pledged in a joint declaration to make “all possible efforts” to preserve the international accord on Iran’s nuclear program that U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned last month.

Putin and Xi held their first meeting this year before both leaders attend the June 9-10 summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization -- the eight-member group led by Russia and China -- in the Chinese port city of Qingdao. The meeting between two permanent members of the United Nations Security Council were being closely watched ahead of Trump’s planned denuclearization talks on Tuesday with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Both China and Russia want to ensure hostilities don’t break out on their borders with North Korea, disrupting the region’s economy, creating humanitarian disasters and possibly bringing U.S. troops closer. Kim has met Xi twice since Trump first agreed in March to attend the summit. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Pyongyang last week and delivered Kim a message from Putin.

“China and Russia have common interests in regards to the resolution of the Korean crisis,” said Alexey Muraviev, a Russia strategic and defense affairs specialist at Curtin University in Perth, Australia. “Their pragmatism is driven by the belief that it is better to have the regime that is in place rather than hope for another one.”

Discussion on “solving the Korean Peninsula’s nuclear problem” must involve the lifting of sanctions on North Korea, Lavrov told his North Korean counterpart Ri Yong Ho before meeting Kim, Russia’s state-run Tass news service reported. “It is impossible in one move to ensure denuclearization; that’s why certainly there should be some stages,” Lavrov said.

China and Russia, who wield veto power over any move to lift or impose UN sanctions, don’t want accelerated reunification or U.S. military deployment north of the 38th parallel dividing the Korean Peninsula. They’ve also proposed that North Korea halt nuclear and missile tests in return for the U.S. and its allies suspending military exercises. When Kim announced the suspension of tests, they congratulated him while Russia urged the U.S. and South Korea to curtail their drills.

Security Guarantees

While denuclearization of the peninsula is “our common final goal,” it’s understandable that North Korea first requires security guarantees after what happened to the former leaders of Libya and Iraq, Putin said in an interview with China Media Group published Wednesday. “Today it is difficult to say what these guarantees may look like or when they will come into effect,” he said.

Putin has no plans to meet with Kim and Russia has no information on whether the North Korean leader will be in China at the time of the SCO summit, Kremlin foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters.

Xi and Putin called the U.S. decision to leave the Iranian nuclear deal “disappointing” in their joint statement, and said it was of “fundamental importance” to protect trade relations with the Islamic Republic against “unilateral extraterritorial sanctions.” China is Iran’s biggest trading partner and stands to benefit if international sanctions aren’t reimposed.

Xi said he and Putin held deep conversations during their meeting and both countries agreed on the need to resolve “hot issues” through political means.

“We both think that trade protection is rising now and the global economic recovery faces unsteady, uncertain factors,” Xi said.

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