A Top Chinese Military Official Visits Moscow for Talks on Expanding Ties

MOSCOW (AP) -- A senior Chinese military official held talks in Moscow Wednesday, praising strong ties between the countries during a visit that underlined growing cooperation between them.

Gen. Zhang Youxia, China's second-ranking military official and vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, said that relations between Russia and China are "at the highest level in the new epoch." He said they "invariably support each other on issues of fundamental interest and key concerns."

Beijing declared last year that it had a "no-limits" friendship with Russia. China has denounced Western sanctions against Moscow, and accused NATO and the United States of provoking Russia's military action in Ukraine even as it tried to project itself as neutral in the Ukrainian conflict.

Russia, in turn, has continuously voiced support for Beijing on issues related to Taiwan.

Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Moscow in March to further cement ties and Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to Beijing last month for a summit of China's Belt and Road infrastructure initiative.

Putin is set to meet with Zhang later Wednesday, according to the Kremlin.

Speaking during the talks with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Zhang hailed a "model of strategic trust and mutually beneficial cooperation" between Moscow and Beijing, and noted that his visit is intended to help further promote military cooperation.

Shoigu said that defense ties between Russia and China aren't aimed at third countries. "Unlike certain aggressive Western countries, we are not creating a military bloc," he said, adding that mutual ties "set an example of strategic interaction based on trust and respect."

"We hold regular operational and combat exercises on land, in the air and at sea, and successfully accomplish combat training missions of various levels of complexity shoulder-to-shoulder," Shoigu said. "All those actions do not target third countries and are taken exclusively in each other's interests."

He invited Zhang to discuss "further steps to expand cooperation in the sphere of defense and international issues."