BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Tuesday urged increased cross-border connectivity with Russia and deeper mutual trade and investment cooperation, as both allies vowed ever closer economic ties despite disapproval from the West after Russian forces invaded Ukraine last year.
The Russian minister of economic development held "in-depth" discussions on economic cooperation with the Chinese commerce minister in Beijing on Tuesday, coinciding with a trip by China's top diplomat, Wang Yi, to Moscow for strategic talks that led to the confirmation of Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Beijing next month.
Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao said in the Beijing discussions that Sino-Russian economic and trade cooperation had continued to deepen and become more "solid" under the "strategic guidance" of the two heads of state, according to a statement from his ministry.
With the war in Ukraine well in its second year and Russia under Western sanctions, Moscow has leaned on its ally Beijing for economic support, feeding on Chinese demand for oil and gas as well as grain.
In August, Chinese imports of Russian goods rose 3% from a year earlier to $11.5 billion, reversing a decline of 8% in July, the latest Chinese customs data show.
Beijing has rejected Western criticism of its growing partnership with Moscow in light of Russia's war on Ukraine. It insists the ties do not flout international norms, and China has the prerogative to collaborate with whichever country it chooses.
On Tuesday, Group of Seven ministers reiterated its call, without naming any countries, on third parties to "cease any and all assistance to Russia's war of aggression or face severe costs."
The Russian Far East bordering China as well as North Korea has gained new strategic significance as a zone of cross-border trade and commerce.
Last week, Russia's United Oil- and Gas-Chemical Co. and China's Xuan Yuan Industrial Development agreed to build a transshipment oil complex near a railway bridge linking the Russian town of Nizhneleninskoye to China's Tongjiang as Moscow diversifies its exports of commodities away from Europe, which it now deems politically "unfriendly".
The Russian Far East, where about 70% of the country's seafood is caught, also hopes to boost exports of its marine products to China after Beijing banned seafood from Japan due to the release of radioactive water from the wrecked Fukushima plant into the ocean.
Chinese state media also says there is a growing "necessity" for China and Russia to step up their grain trading amid continued tight global supplies. The construction of a grain corridor linking Russia to Heilongjiang, China's northeastern bread basket, will help bolster China's food security.
Earlier in September, Chinese President Xi Jinping declared that Heilongjiang should become a "pivotal" gateway for China's opening up in the north, saying the province ought to play an active role in safeguarding national defence, food, and energy security.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo; Editing by Alex Richardson, Timothy Gardner and Michael Perry)