China's President Begins A 2-Day Trip To Russia
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
So here's one big question if you are president of the United States. It was a question for Richard Nixon. It was a question for Barack Obama. It remains a question for Donald Trump. It involves China and Russia, the closest economic rival of the United States and the only other nation with thousands of nuclear weapons.
The question is how do you make sure they never team up against the United States? They have proven to be rivals over the years, but now China's president, Xi Jinping, is in Moscow for a two-day visit, which includes a meeting with Russia's Vladimir Putin. NPR's Lucian Kim is covering this story from Moscow. Hi, Lucian.
LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: So how close are these two countries right now?
KIM: Well, just in the last year - or last year, Presidents Putin and Xi met five times. As you mentioned, it's already the third visit this year. And President Xi has said in the past that relations between the two countries haven't ever been better. He describes it as a - the relationship as a strategic partnership. And I think that's really important because during the Cold War, when both countries were communist, they almost went into a shooting war in...
KIM: ...The 1960s. Now, I mean, it's a difference between night and day. There are a lot of oil and gas projects bringing Russian resources to China. But there's even criticism inside Russia. Some people say that Russia risks becoming a resource appendage to China, just delivering resources and buying expensive Chinese technology.
INSKEEP: Oh, because China is a much, much, much bigger country with a much bigger economy at this point. Is there a sense, a conscious sense, among the two nations that they want to team up against the United States?
KIM: Well, I think, you know, both countries are interested in breaking U.S. dominance in international affairs. And both leaders, Xi and Putin, because of who they are, are interested in increasing their personal prestige within their own respective countries. Again, as far as describing what they want from each other, you know, for Xi, Russia means raw resources. It also means an ally on the U.N. Security Council and, you know, joint pressuring, maybe military exercises that make both sides look stronger.
And for Putin, I mean, the relationship with China's similar - selling resources to the Chinese market and having a big friend on the international stage. But I think, in some ways, it's lopsided because Putin needs China more than the other way around. Since the Ukraine conflict started in 2014...
INSKEEP: Oh, yeah.
KIM: ...Russia became quite isolated diplomatically and did the so-called pivot to China.
INSKEEP: Oh, which is a country that's been a little bit more friendly still. So they have this meeting - Xi and Putin. And then later this week, there's a leading of the - a meeting of the leaders of the G20, the 20 largest economies. And Xi and Putin are both there. They're both going to meet President Trump, which does raise a question. Briefly, does President Trump need to worry about how close these two countries are becoming?
KIM: I'm not sure he has to be too concerned. As we mentioned, I mean, there's been a long-standing rivalry between these two countries. And China, in recent years, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, has really been pushing into Central Asia, which historically has been Russia's zone of influence, at least for the last 100 years.
Also, you know, the U.S. and China are the world's biggest economies, very interdependent. And the Russian share of that is much smaller, and it's based on resources.
INSKEEP: Oh, and if Russia wants to recapture the old Soviet Union, the old Russian empire, there's China sitting there taking parts of that, in effect.
KIM: Well, they've built pipelines, railroads and are offering loans to a lot of these countries that used to be in the Russian zone of influence.
INSKEEP: Lucian, thanks very much.
KIM: Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Lucian Kim in Moscow.
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