Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says relations between Russia and China are at their “best” and highest level ever, amid the pair’s long-running tensions with Washington over a range of contentious issues.
Lavrov made the remarks at a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on the sidelines of a high-level international conference in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent on Thursday.
"I would like to fully share your assessment of our bilateral relations as the best ever…The Sino-Russian Treaty of Good Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation, whose 20th anniversary we are celebrating, played a crucial role in cultivating our contemporary bilateral relations, comprehensive partnership and strategic interaction," the top Russian diplomat said.
"Our ties today outpace the form of inter-state interaction that was the military-political alliances of the Cold War period. This is the most essential benchmark for our relations in all areas without exception," he added.
Lavrov also said the 26th regular meeting of the heads of Russian and Chinese governments was “on the agenda.”
"All the sectoral mechanisms led by deputy prime ministers are functioning. Our ministry is contributing to the positive agenda that Russia and China are promoting on the international scene.”
Relations between the US and Russia remain strained over several issues, including Syria, Ukraine and allegations of Russian interference in US presidential elections.
The US has imposed more than 90 rounds of sanctions on Russia in recent years. The measures have targeted state banks and corporations, the oil and gas sector, and top officials and business tycoons.
Moreover, the United States’ relations with China have in the past years grown increasingly tense over trade, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei, the South China Sea and the coronavirus pandemic.
‘China is our largest foreign trade partner’
In a related development on Friday, Lavrov said Moscow and Beijing expect to achieve a new record high in mutual trade by the end of 202 and to reach a trade turnover of $ 200 billion in the long-term perspective.
"China is our largest foreign trade partner. In 2020, the dynamics in this area was negatively affected, albeit not radically, by the coronavirus pandemic. However, we observe a rapid recovery in volumes,” the Russian foreign minister said in his article published in Russia's Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily and the Chinese newspaper People's Daily.
“There is every reason to expect achieving a new record high in trade by the end of 2021, and in the long term - reaching the target level of $200 billion, which was set by the heads of state," he stressed.
Lavrov described trade and economic ties as the most important component of Russian-Chinese relations in accordance with Article 16 of the Sino-Russian Treaty of Good Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation signed in 2001.
The top Russian diplomat said that since then, the mutual trade turnover has soared almost 14 times and for the last three years has consistently exceeded $100 billion.
Russia sends fighter jets to intercept US bombers
Russia's Defense Ministry announced on Thursday that it had scrambled fighter jets to escort US bombers over the Bering Sea in the country's far east, amid rising tensions between Moscow and Washington.
Moscow said it had dispatched MiG-31 and Su-35 fighters to accompany the US Air Force's B-52-N strategic bombers over the Bering Sea, which separates North America from Russia.
"Russian airspace control devices over the neutral waters of the Bering Sea detected three air targets approaching the state border of the Russian Federation," the ministry said in a statement.
The ministry added that the fighters landed "safely at home" after the US aircraft turned away from the Russian border.
Tensions between Russia, the US and NATO continue to simmer, with Moscow angered by the military alliance’s drills and other provocative moves in the Black Sea — a hotspot since Crimea rejoined Russia in a 2014 referendum.
There was a standoff in the region last month following a trespassing by British warship HMS Defender in Russia territorial waters off the Crimean coast.
Russia has time and again voiced concern about the increasing activities of the US-led NATO forces near its western borders.
China warns US of 'serious consequences'
Separately on Thursday, China warned of "serious consequences" for trespassing in its airspace after the US air force delivered "diplomatic mail" to Taipei.
Flight tracking data showed that a C-146A Wolfhound, typically used by US Air Force Special Operations Command, had left Okinawa's Kadena air base in Japan before landing at Songshan airport in Taipei.
Wu Qian, a spokesperson for China's defense ministry, said in an online statement that Beijing had expressed its "serious concern" over the stopover, which lasted just over half an hour.
Chinese Taipei is part of “China's sacred and inalienable territory," Wu said. "Any foreign military aircraft that lands on Chinese territory must obtain permission from the government of the People's Republic of China," he said.
"Any foreign ships or planes trespassing into Chinese airspace will trigger serious consequences."
Media reports said the American aircraft had delivered items intended for the handover at the American Institute in Taipei, the first time "diplomatic mail" had been delivered to Chinese Taipei by chartered aircraft.
The island remains China's most sensitive territorial issue and a major bone of contention with Washington. China has repeatedly warned the US against any formal relations with the government in Taipei.
Beijing has sovereignty over Chinese Taipei under the "One China" policy, which is in principle recognized by almost all world countries.
But successive US administrations and other Western governments have been seeking independent relations with Chinese Taipei.
The administration of US President Joe Biden has, likewise, taken a hostile posture against China, including over Chinese Taipei.
The US has been selling weapons to, staging shows of military force around, and facilitating diplomatic contact with the self-ruled island, in violation of Chinese sovereignty and its own stated policy.
China has in response ramped up military patrols and drills near the island in recent months, asserting its sovereignty.