Russia's Putin Goes To Shanghai For Talks With Jinping

Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin have been all smiles as they emphasize improved relations between the two countries. Drawing them closer is their shared, tense relationship with the U.S..

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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And I'm Renee Montagne. The leaders of China and Russia have been meeting in Shanghai this week in what looks a little like a throw-back to the early days of the Cold War. Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin have been all smiles as they emphasize improved relations between the two countries.

One thing drawing them closer right now is their shared, tense relationship with the United States. For more on what's going on - and how the U.S. fits in - we turn to NPR's Shanghai correspondent, Frank Langfitt. Good morning, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And why are Russia and China meeting in Shanghai just now?

LANGFITT: Well, officially the meeting is going on on edges of an Asian security summit here. There are other presidents here from Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan. But at least in today's paper, a lot of the media coverage has been focusing on the Xi-Putin meetings. There's a - I'm just looking at the headline in Shanghai Daily today. Big letters: "China, Russia Vow to Work Together."

Now, analysts say for the two countries this is really just a chance to talk business, geo-politics and show a united front at time when both are tangling are with the U.S.

MONTAGNE: Well, give us a little thumbnail, Frank, on why China and Russia both are at odds with America these days?

LANGFITT: Well, for Russia it's about the Ukraine and annexing Crimea. I mean all of that has infuriated the West. And with regards to China, it's been getting a lot more aggressive with its neighbors in the South China Sea. You know, earlier this month, China put an oil drilling rig in what Vietnam considers its economic zone.

And that caused huge riots in Vietnam. China has also tangling with Philippines and Japan over islands. And President Obama was in Asia recently, and he was emphasizing U.S. defense treaties with Philippines and Japan. And kind of the subtext there was to tell China to kind of lay off.

MONTAGNE: And so at today's summit there in Shanghai, did the U.S. come up? I mean did they talk about it?

LANGFITT: Not directly. And it was interesting because Xi gave a speech this morning and he said, you know, let's not look at Asian security through a Cold War lens. But then he goes on to say he warned Asian countries not to enter into any military alliances targeting other countries and said Asians should maintain peace in this region and solve their own problems.

And those lines were pretty clearly aimed at the U.S., which is still dominant out here because of the U.S. Navy.

MONTAGNE: Still, it wasn't all political theater, right? Russia and China did strike a deal.

LANGFITT: They did, just kind of at the last moment today, it seemed. It was a long awaited deal on natural gas, sending natural gas from Russia to China. It's a 30 year deal. We don't know all the details but could worth over $400 billion. Now, this is a big help to Russia. The economy there is really slowing. They need the money.

EU is moving away from Russian natural gas in part because of distrust and uncertainty after Crimea and Ukraine. This is helpful to China, but China already has other sources for natural gas like Myanmar in Central Asia. And there was one analyst I was talking to today, said if this deal went through, in some ways it was just kind of to help Russia out and it was financial support sort of dressed up as an energy deal.

MONTAGNE: Well, OK. So these two big powers are being friendly now. But Frank, should America actually be concerned about more cooperation between China and Russia?

LANGFITT: You know, people who look at these three relationships say, analysts say you shouldn't be that concerned. And a lot of what we're seeing right now is convenience. They're both tussling with the United States. And this is a good way - it is good theater. I've been watching it. I think it's pretty effective.

But keep in mind, these are two countries, Russia and China, with a bitter history. There's a lot of distrust. And the economic relationship which is one of the most important things, is really pretty small. I mean, trade between the two countries just last year was $90 billion. If you look at Chinese trade with the U.S., it's much, much larger than that.

So for China, relations with the U.S. are often fraught but it's a much more important relationship than it is with Russia.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Shanghai correspondent Frank Langfitt. Thanks very much.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Renee.

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