The destination of Party chief Xi Jinping's first foreign tour after the new Chinese government is established in early March is likely to be Russia, a source told the Global Times, as China's foreign minister Yang Jiechi on Sunday set out for a visit to South Africa and Russia.
Xi is scheduled to attend the 5th summit of the leaders from the BRICS nations in South Africa from March 25 to 27. "He will land in Moscow before traveling to South Africa," said the source, who is familiar with the matter.
The annual meetings of China's top political advisory group and top legislature will open on March 3 and 5 respectively.
Xi, who became the general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee during the 18th Party congress in November, is set to take over as the Chinese president after the meetings.
Russia's foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said earlier that Yang would arrive in Russia on Wednesday and would meet with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in preparation for a summit of the two countries' top leaders this year, although he didn't give a detailed timetable.
Selecting Russia as the first foreign destination suggests that China-Russia relations remain the priority of China's diplomacy in Xi's era, analysts said.
"China still positions itself as a developing country. Therefore, a steady and sound relationship with other developing countries in the world is the cornerstone of China's overall diplomacy," Shen Jiru, a researcher from the Institute of World Economics and Politics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.
"At the same time, China's economic development potential lies in the cooperation with those emerging countries, such as the BRICS nations, given that the US and Europe are still mired in debt crises," Shen added.
In the first address on his international outlook in late January, Xi reiterated that China will never seek hegemony and that China will adhere to an "open, cooperative and win-win" development model.
"Another ring of China's diplomacy is to safeguard a peaceful neighboring environment," Shen said. "A good relationship with Russia fits all the needs of China's overall diplomacy."
But Jin Canrong, deputy dean of the School of International Studies at the Renmin University of China, said China and Russia could forge a very close partnership, but not an alliance.
"An unconfident Russia makes the future of China-Russia relations hard to predict. Russia is worried about an overbearing US at present and an uncertain China in the future," Jin told the Global Times. "China must learn to understand and gradually remove Russia's worries about China during the interactions."
Sergey Razov, the Russian ambassador to China, said recently that the China-Russia bilateral relations are not based on common ideology but on common national interests.
"Compared with his predecessors, Xi is more likely to highlight practical actions to realize China's national interests in the international arena," Jin said.
Global prosperity and stability represent an opportunity for China, while China's development represents an opportunity for the world, Xi said in the same speech in January, adding that China's success will depend on using the opportunities that exist for both sides.