BEIJING, March 19 (UPI) -- China's new President Xi Jinping picked Russia as his first foreign visit destination, pointing to the importance of bilateral ties, a Chinese official said.
Xi, elected president last week by the country's Parliament, has become China's top leader with additional titles of general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and head of the party's powerful Central Military Commission.
The new leader's three-day Russia visit, starting Friday, will promote both countries' pragmatic cooperation in energy, trade and people-to-people exchanges, which have shown great potential since Russia joined the World Trade Organization last year and began investing heavily in its Far East region, China Daily reported Tuesday.
Both sides are determined to deepen their strategic partnership amid the increasingly complicated international situation, China's Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Cheng Guoping told China Daily.
The report said Xi's Russia trip comes at a time of increased tension on the Korean Peninsula and in Syria, and against the backdrop of Washington's "pivot to Asia" strategy.
Cheng, however, denied closer ties would lead to an alliance, saying China and Russia want to target any third party.
He said development of Russia's sparsely populated but resource-rich Far East region would be key for the revival of the world's largest country by area, while cooperation with Asia, especially China, is an important part of it.
The two countries plan to increase bilateral trade, which totaled $88 billion last year, to $200 billion in 2020.
Russia's RIA Novosti reported Xi's meeting with Russian leaders also would focus on "fulfilling major energy projects." The two sides have been talking about a huge energy deal since 2009.
The deal calls for Russia's Gazprom to provide up to 68 billion cubic meters of gas to China annually for 30 years. However, price issues are yet to be settled.
Cheng told China Daily both countries are keen to conclude a deal as it would be mutually beneficial in terms of Russia becoming a stable energy supplier and China a reliable market.
Choosing Russia as Xi's first destination shows continuity and stability for the China-Russia relationship, which means strategic cooperation between China and Russia will be improved, Alexander Lomanov from the Institute of Far Eastern Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences was quoted as saying.