RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
World leaders representing the allied forces in World War II gathered in France this week to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day. But there was one noticeable absence. The Soviet Union was a key member of the allied forces, but Russian President Vladimir Putin was not there. Instead, Putin has spent this past week in Moscow, hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping on a three-day state visit.
NPR's Lucian Kim is on the line from Moscow. Hi, Lucian.
LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: What are - what have these meetings been like?
KIM: Well, by all appearances, Xi Jinping is just having a blast. He first arrived in Moscow on Wednesday, where he got this red-carpet reception from Putin. There was a dinner and long toasts in the Kremlin. Then they visited the two giant pandas that Xi had given the Moscow Zoo.
And now they're touring St. Petersburg, which is Putin's hometown. They've already gone on a cruise on the city's canals, which are stunning during these long summer nights. Xi and Putin have already met some 30 times. And Xi has called Putin his best friend among global leaders.
KIM: Yeah. This is exactly how Putin likes to do business - on a very personal level and, you know, at the end, with a handshake or a slap on the back.
MARTIN: I mean, pandas always signify a healthy relationship.
MARTIN: But can you speak more broadly about the current state of these two countries right now? - because both of them have their respective tensions with the United States. Does that end up drawing them together in some way, especially economically?
KIM: Well, a lot is being made out of Russia's pivot to the East. And Putin certainly wants to create that image of Moscow and Beijing forming this united front against the West. But what's interesting is that Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, gave a much more realistic view of things in an interview with the Russian state broadcaster RT earlier this week. Let's take a listen.
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DMITRY PESKOV: China is not partner No. 1 for us yet. Still, EU and EU countries are trade partners No. 1 with us. I cannot share those who say that it's a turn of Russia eastwards.
KIM: So this week, Xi Jinping will be the main guest at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum. Of course, there will be some deals. This week, the Chinese technology giant Huawei agreed to help a Russian mobile provider develop its 5G network. But for the large part, this is symbolic.
MARTIN: Interesting. And Huawei, of course - the Trump administration has banned Huawei from importing parts that American firms would use. Are Americans going to the St. Petersburg Economic Forum?
KIM: They're definitely going, but it's a much-diminished presence. The American Ambassador Jon Huntsman is boycotting it. He's protesting the fact that a longtime U.S. investor here in Moscow - his name is Michael Calvey - is under house arrest in what appears to be a business dispute.
The St. Petersburg Forum, in many ways, is kind of a litmus test of what's going on in the Kremlin's mind. Two years ago, Russian officials were hoping that President Trump would attend. Of course, he didn't. Last year, French President Emmanuel Macron was the guest of honor. You know, and here we are in 2019, and Xi Jinping is getting all the love and attention.
MARTIN: All right. NPR's Lucian Kim from Moscow. Thanks, Lucian. We appreciate it.
KIM: Thank you.
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