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China Takes Panda Diplomacy to Moscow

Chinese leader Xi Jinping is on a three-day state visit to Russia

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Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a ceremony at which Xi was presented with an honorary degree from St. Petersburg State University in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 6, 2019. VOA

Chinese leader Xi Jinping is on a three-day state visit to Russia aimed at underscoring Russian-Sino cooperation — and his close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin — in the face of strained relations with the United States.

“In the past six years, we have met nearly 30 times,” said Xi of the Russian leader.

“Russia is the country that I have visited the most times, and President Putin is my best friend and colleague,” added Xi.

While ostensibly timed to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties, the state visit comes as both leaders bristle over their treatment by the U.S., which has levied sanctions against Russia since 2014 and currently is engaged in a trade war with China.

China, Panda, diplomacy, Moscow
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the ceremony at which Chinese President Xi Jinping was presented with an honorary degree from St. Petersburg State University at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 6, 2019. VOA

“People generally tend to go to the places where they are liked,” said Mikhail Korostikov, Asia-Pacific observer for the Kommersant daily newspaper, in explaining the personal chemistry between Putin and Xi. “But the conflict with the U.S. that both countries are facing made them closer.”

Military ties

Indeed, beyond their grudges with Washington, a shared worldview on global security has helped both sides overcome distrust that once plagued the Soviet-China relationship, which fractured over differing interpretations of communist ideology and border disputes.

Case in point: inclusion of 3,200 Chinese troops alongside 300,000 Russians in the Kremlin’s massive Vostok-2018 military training exercise in Russia’s Far East last year, according to official sources.

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From their perch at the U.N. Security Council, Russia and China now regularly form a global counterweight to the U.S. on thorny issues such as Syria, North Korea and Iran — a point noted by Putin in a statement after meeting with Xi on Wednesday.

“In discussing important international and regional problems, I can say that in most of them, the views of Russia and China are aligned or very close,” said the Russian leader.

So, too, increasingly, are their economies.

Russian ‘pivot’

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Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, attend a welcoming ceremony for two Chinese giant pandas, male Ru Yi and female Ding Ding, at the Moscow Zoo on June 5, 2019. VOA

In the wake of Western sanctions levied over the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, Putin announced Russia would “pivot” its economy toward Asia.

Russian officials now tout trade deals with China worth more than $100 billion annually — making China Russia’s top trading partner — as proof Russia has weathered the storm. Russia is only 10th on China’s list, with the United States first.

Xi also will appear alongside Putin at the annual St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on Friday. While the Chinese delegation to the event is 1,000 strong, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Huntsman Jr., is boycotting the event over the detention of an American businessman in Moscow.

Yet, in all likelihood, the lasting image of the state visit will prove to be Ru Yi and Ding Ding, two giant pandas from China’s Sichuan province that Xi gifted on loan to the Moscow Zoo for the next 15 years.

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With the gesture, Xi tapped into China’s famed panda diplomacy — the use of furry diplomatic gifts to help repair relationships or forge ties anew.

It certainly seemed to have the desired effect on the Russian leader.

“When we talk of pandas,” noted Putin, “we always end up with a smile on our faces.” (VOA)

Next Story

Facebook’s Push to Become China’s WeChat May Kill it

As people become increasingly aware of social media’s harm, social media will lose its lustre

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FILE - The Facebook logo is seen on a shop window in Malaga, Spain, June 4, 2018. (VOA)

Facebook which accounts for 75 per cent of global ad spend that is likely to hit $110 billion by 2020 is nowhere near an immediate demise and government regulations would only strengthen the social networking giant in the short term, a new Forrester research has forecast.

However, Facebook’s push to become China’s WeChat — more than a messaging app and is full of capabilities to make life easier for its one billion users — would be its undoing.

Facebook‘s no-good-very-bad 2018 may have meant an overworked PR team but the social media behemoth is doing just fine.

It continues to report steady user and revenue growth: a 9 per cent year over year increase in users in Q4 2018 and a 30 per cent increase in revenue in the same time-frame.

“The three parties that could impact Facebook the most — users, brands and regulators — will move too slowly for it to feel any instant impact,” said Jessica Liu, Senior Analyst, Forrester.

The coming years won’t be easier, but the social media behemoth won’t suddenly collapse either, as many predict.

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FILE – The logo for Facebook appears on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite, in New York’s Times Square, March 29, 2018. VOA

“But while Facebook’s short-term outlook might be fine, its long-term outlook is bleak,” Liu added

Despite constant negative news last year, Facebook continued to report strong quarter-

over-quarter user and revenue growth. Brands that mishandle their own users’ data and fail to inform them typically falter.

While these users and advertisers could affect change at the social media giant immediately, they won’t, thus allowing it to continue to defy the odds.

“Enacting and enforcing regulation takes so long that Facebook will be able to shore up its assets and unique advantages in the short term and eliminate any vulnerabilities before serious user, advertiser, or regulatory changes materialize,” Liu emphasised.

The social networking giant with over two billion users globally, is facing regulatory challenges as the Cambridge Analytica scandal has exposed its lapses of data privacy and security.

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FILE – A man poses for a photo in front of a computer showing Facebook ad preferences in San Francisco, California, March 26, 2018. VOA

The downfall for Facebook, said Liu, would come with its desire to build an all-inclusive social media experience, as its CEO mark Zuckerberg is planning to merge all apps like Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram into one.

“Facebook’s hope to recreate WeChat, China’s largest messaging app turned all-in-one portal

to the Internet, presents long-term challenges,” Liu added.

WeChat primarily operates in a single country’s political and regulatory environment.

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“Facebook will need to tack on products and services to fulfill its one-app vision while global regulators threaten antitrust. It will also grapple with protecting user privacy globally while appeasing advertiser appetite for hypertargeting,” Liu noted.

As people become increasingly aware of social media’s harm, social media will lose its lustre.

“History has taught us that existing apps max out and then decline as users tire of the services or the company (like AOL, MySpace, Friendster). The Facebook app is already experiencing this; Instagram and WhatsApp will follow in a natural peak and then eventually decelerate, too,” Liu commented. (IANS)