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China VP Wang on 1st overseas trip to cement ties with Russia, Belarus

Brazilian Foreign Minister Aloysio Nunes, left, meets Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan at Zhongnanhai Leadership Compound in Beijing, China, Monday, May 14, 2018. (Thomas Peter/Pool Photo via AP)

BEIJING/MOSCOW -- China's Vice President Wang Qishan left Beijing on May 24 for Russia and Belarus, marking his first overseas trip in his current capacity. A close ally of President Xi Jinping who came to this high-ranking position in a rare personnel move in March of this year, Wang apparently intends to further cement China's ties with Russia -- a bilateral relationship Xi views as "the best in history."

According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Wang will attend a business forum in St. Petersburg, and may meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In Belarus, he will confirm cooperation with the country for the "One Belt, One Road" international economic initiative promoted by Xi.

In recent years, China and Russia have close positions on issues such as the Korean Peninsula, the Syria conflict and the Iran nuclear agreement, forming a group vis-a-vis the United States. Beijing and Moscow may strengthen their support for Pyongyang as the U.S. and North Korea intensify maneuvering over the North's denuclearization. Washington wants a quick dismantling of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program while the opposing side intends to gain security guarantees and economic support in return for its compromise.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told the May 23 regular press conference, "We hope that the DPRK (North Korea)-U.S. meeting will proceed smoothly and achieve positive outcomes," urging the two sides to maintain dialogue. In the May 17 press conference, Lu defended the North by saying that Pyongyang has made "important efforts" including its announcement to stop nuclear and missile tests and close the Punggye-ri nuclear test site. He went on to urge the U.S. to come halfway in its talks with North Korea, supporting Pyongyang's demand for rewards in return for denuclearization.

Russia is fully supporting China over the Korean Peninsula issue as Moscow is receiving Beijing's approval over the situation in Syria, where Russia backs the Assad regime while the U.S. and other Western powers accuse the government of using chemical weapons and killing its own people. Bilateral cooperation is becoming more important for the two countries and President Putin will visit China and meet with President Xi in June when he attends the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Qingdao.

Wang joined the seven-member standing committee of the politburo of China's Communist Party, reaching the highest political leadership in the country in 2012, when the Xi administration kicked off. Wang stepped down from the position in last year's Communist Party Congress as he reached the customary retirement age of 68, but came back to the front stage in March this year when he was picked as vice president.

Since then, Wang has strengthened his presence in the diplomatic field, meeting with foreign dignitaries and delegates almost every week. He is said to have his own diplomatic ties as he was in charge of negotiating with the United States when he was a vice prime minister in charge of financial affairs.

China's state-run Xinhua news agency reported on May 15 that Xi joined the Communist Party's Central Foreign Affairs Commission, mentioning Wang's name after Xi, who is at the helm of the party, and Prime Minister Li Keqiang, who holds the No. 2 position. In theory Wang is a rank-and-file party member who retired from party positions, but the report suggests that he is now considered to play an important foreign policy role in the communist party.

(Japanese original by Keisuke Kawazu, Beijing Bureau, and Hitoshi Omae, Moscow Bureau)

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