SHANGHAI (RFE/RL)–Chinese President Hu Jintao described Armenia as a “trustworthy friend” of his country and called for the expansion of bilateral political, economic and cultural ties as he met with his visiting Armenian counterpart, Serzh Sarkisian, on Sunday.
The two men met in Shanghai on the margins of the 2010 World Expo exhibition that opened there at the weekend. Sarkisian was among foreign leaders that attended the opening ceremony.
“China and Armenia have become trustworthy friends and sincere partners since they established diplomatic relations 18 years ago,” the official Xinhua news agency quoted Hu as saying.
The two nations have “always treated each other as equals” and “supported each other” in the international arena, he said. They should therefore step up their inter-governmental contacts, economic cooperation and “people-to-people exchanges,” Hu added, according to Xinhua.
“The presidents of China and Armenia assured each other that they are ready to make additional efforts to expand the friendly Armenian-Chinese relations,” Sarkisian’s office said in a statement. It said they agreed that Beijing and Yerevan have already laid the groundwork for raising bilateral ties to “a qualitatively new level.”
Hu and Sarkisian noted “numerous joint projects” already implemented in various areas and the energy sector in particular, added the statement.
Chinese companies have been involved in the multimillion-dollar reconstruction of two Armenian thermal-power plants. One of those facilities, located in Yerevan, went on stream late last month.
Sarkisian also pointed to the recent launch in northern China of a Chinese-Armenian joint-venture producing synthetic rubber. Much of its technology and equipment was contributed by a big Soviet-era chemical factory located in Yerevan.
The implementation of these and other commercial projects has been accompanied by a rapid growth in Chinese-Armenian trade. According to official Armenian statistics, China surpassed Germany as Armenia’s second largest trading partner after Russia last year and solidified this status in the first quarter of this year.
The total volume of first-quarter commercial exchange between the two countries jumped by 66 percent year on year to $95 million and accounted for 9.4 percent of Armenia’s overall foreign trade. Chinese imports to Armenia made up the bulk of the sum, despite a more than tenfold surge in Armenian exports to China recorded during the three-month period.
According to Sarkisian’s office, the Armenian leader also discussed with Hu possible Chinese involvement in an ambitious project to build a railway connecting Armenia to neighboring Iran. The office did not specify whether they reached any agreement to that effect.
It said in a separate statement that Sarkisian also met in Shanghai with the chief executives of two Chinese corporations specializing in the manufacturing of telecommunication equipment. One of them, Huawei Technologies, is considering investing in Armenia, said the statement.
Sarkisian spoke of his admiration for China’s economic reforms and called for greater Chinese presence in the South Caucasus ahead of his last trip to Beijing in August 2008. He said that would “undoubtedly have a positive impact” on the region.
Earlier in 2008, China pointedly declined to vote for an Azerbaijani-drafted UN General Assembly resolution that demanded an “immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian forces” from occupied Azerbaijani lands. Armenian leaders regularly praised Beijing for its “balanced” position on the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict both before and after that vote.
Successive Armenian governments, for their part, have voiced unequivocal support for the restoration of Chinese control over Taiwan. Former President Robert Kocharian reaffirmed that support in a joint declaration with Hu signed during a 2004 state visit to Beijing.
According to Xinhua, Sarkisian told Hu on Sunday that he “admires China for its constructive role in international and regional affairs and feels grateful for China’s support to Armenia.” The Armenian president was likewise quoted by his office as saying that forging closer links with Beijing remain one of his foreign policy priorities.