Vladimir Putin Visits China In First Trip Since Kremlin Comeback

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MOSCOW – Vladimir Putin will travel to China next week to cement long-standing ties with the world’s top energy consumer, the prime minister’s first trip abroad since he announced his planned Kremlin comeback.

Accompanied by a 160-member delegation including top tycoons, Putin will visit Beijing on October 11-12 for energy and political talks with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao.

Putin has paid frequent visits to China in his capacity as president and prime minister since he took power in 1999.

His latest visit to Beijing follows his last month’s announcement that he plans to reclaim the presidency in a bid that may keep him in power until 2024.

While the timing of the working trip appears to be a coincidence, observers say it is richly symbolic and could see Putin lay out his foreign policy priorities for years to come.

“It’s symbolic that Putin, who’s very well known in China, is going there at this particular time,” Sergei Sanakoyev, head of the Russian-Chinese Centre of Trade and Economic Cooperation, a Moscow-based lobby group, told AFP.

Russia, the world’s largest energy producer, and China, the world’s largest energy consumer, set much store by their bilateral ties.

China became Russia’s top trading partner for the first time last year and the two countries seek to nearly double trade to $100 billion by 2015 and then to $200 billion by 2020.

Moscow and Beijing are both veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council and this week infuriated the West by blocking a UN resolution against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s deadly crackdown on protests.

Putin’s expected return to the presidency will likely give a further boost to bilateral ties.