…Singapore foreign minister to visit N. Korea ahead of summit***
Just a month after beginning his new term in office, Russian President Vladimir Putin is heading to China for a state visit, underscoring how mounting U.S. pressure is drawing the two countries increasingly close.
Russia and China have responded to the U.S. national security strategy describing them as America’s top adversaries by vowing to further expand their economic, political and military cooperation. They have also sought to strengthen the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional grouping they created.
Beijing and Moscow’s rapprochement is driven by a strong personal relationship between Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, seen as the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong. The two have met 25 times — five times last year alone, according to Putin’s foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov. Putin’s visit begins on Friday.
Underlining his close personal relationship with Xi, Putin told a Chinese state broadcaster in an interview aired Wednesday the Chinese president is the only world leader whom he once invited to celebrate his birthday.
“I’ll be frank with you, I hope he won’t be angry at me: we had a shot of vodka and had some sausages at the end of a workday,” Putin said. He praised Xi as a “comfortable partner, a good and reliable friend.”
The two leaders rely on tight security controls to block challenges to their rule, and both tightened their grip on power this year; Xi by engineering a move to stay in power indefinitely and Putin, Russia’s longest-serving leader since Josef Stalin, by winning another six-year term.
“They appear to have an excellent rapport,” Fyodor Lukyanov, a top Moscow-based foreign policy expert. “They have similar horizons and share a common vision.”
Putin has been driven closer to China by a sharp decline in relations with the West after Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and support for a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine. Moscow is increasingly looking to Beijing for trade and investment following waves of Western sanctions targeting its vital energy sector and military industries and limiting the country’s access to global financial markets.
“Over the past decades, we have developed relations that have no parallel in the world today,” Putin said in the interview, referring to China and Russia. “These relations are built on consideration of mutual interests.”
Russia’s hopes for better ties with the U.S. under President Donald Trump have withered, while frictions between China and Washington have sharpened over a potential trade war and American criticism of Beijing’s claims to territory in the strategically vital South China Sea.
In an unusually blunt statement, the newly named Chinese defense minister, Gen. Wei Fenghe, said in April that he chose Russia for his first trip abroad to send a signal to Washington about the increasingly close military ties between Moscow and Beijing.
In the meantime, the foreign minister of Singapore is making a two-day visit to North Korea ahead of next week’s U.S.-North Korea summit in the Southeast Asian city-state.
Singapore’s Foreign Ministry said in a brief statement that Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan will be in Pyongyang on Thursday and Friday at the invitation of North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho.
Balakrishnan will also meet Kim Yong Nam, the president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly. Kim Yong Nam is a senior official who went to South Korea as part of his country’s delegation to the Winter Olympics in February.
The statement did not indicate what would be discussed.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is to meet President Donald Trump on June 12 at a resort hotel in Singapore.
Fox with additional report from ABC