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Russia turns to China amid Europe sanctions

China and Russia have moved to enhance political and economic cooperation, which analysts say is part of Moscow's strategy to counter European sanctions over the crisis in Ukraine.

SHANGHAI: China and Russia have moved to enhance political and economic cooperation on the sidelines of a high-level government summit in Shanghai.

The boost in bilateral ties comes while Russia is caught in the midst of a crisis with the West over Ukraine, and as China is embroiled in a maritime dispute in Asia.

Shanghai is playing host to the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA).

The high-level summit sees leaders from nearly 30 countries, mainly from the Middle East and Central Asia, convene to discuss economic and security issues behind closed doors.

On the sidelines, the two biggest countries in the group, China and Russia, are expected to sign deals worth US$20 billion, including a 30-year energy contract for Russia to supply China with 38 billion cubic metres of natural gas each year.

Analysts say Russia's pivot to China is strategic, to counter European sanctions over the crisis in Ukraine.

“Russia faces the possibility of economic ties being cut from Europe,” said Yu Nanping from East China Normal University’s International Studies department.

“So it's moving towards developing relations with the Pacific Far East. This blends in well with China's growing demand for resources and energy."

Economics aside, the two countries are also holding a joint naval drill in the East China Sea.

The routine exercise has no specific targets but is nonetheless politically symbolic as China is engaged in a heated territorial dispute with Japan, backed by the US in those very waters.

"In CICA, unfortunately for the time being, we don't have any conflict preventing centre so bilateral disputes are not possible for the time being to be solved in CICA,” said Kanat Tumysh, deputy executive director of the CICA Secretariat.

“But as I said, since there is dialogue covering 90 per cent of Asia and bringing countries together, it means that bilateral questions, bilateral conflicts could be solved much more easily."

Analysts say the complex grouping of member countries in CICA makes it difficult for the organisations to formulate binding policies, which means declarations made at the summit are merely symbolic for now.

Still, some experts say, as a non-western platform growing in size, CICA can represent a shift in world order previously dominated by international bodies led by the West.  

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