Beijing (AsiaNews) - Xi Jinping, the leading member of China's 'fifth generation' of Communist leaders, plans to take the country's foreign policy in a radically new direction. Officially "crowned" as president by the National People's Congress earlier this month, Xi is set to begin a state visit to Russia tomorrow, followed by a trip to Africa: Tanzania, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo. On 26 and 27 March, he is expected in Durban, South Africa, for the summit of BRICS nations.
When he arrives in Moscow, Xi will sign an agreement on a natural-gas pipeline during Xi's three-day trip starting tomorrow, Vice Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping said yesterday.
China imported 42.5 billion cubic metres of natural gas in 2012, up almost a third from a year before. A new gas pipeline would bring to fruition a decade of talks to supply as much as 68 billion cubic metres of gas a year to keep the wheels of the world's second-biggest economy turning.
"Energy cooperation is the crown jewel of China and Russia cooperation," said Li Lifan, deputy director of the Centre of Russia and Central Asia Studies at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. "The mutual trust built upon energy cooperation could quickly spread to other areas."
For his part, Cheng noted, "We will have some outcomes related to energy, investment and major projects of strategic importance". In fact, "We expect some breakthrough on these pragmatic cooperation fields."
In an interview discussing China's foreign policy interests, Xi said that China and Russia should "strengthen coordination in international and regional affairs to safeguard world peace, safety and stability," the Xinhua News Agency reported.
China's recent diplomatic appointments added more fuel to speculation about its new course in foreign policy. Yang Jiechi, a former ambassador to Washington, has been named the state councillor in charge of the foreign ministry, its top post. He firmly believes the United States should stay out of regional Asian affairs such as the South China Sea dispute.
The new foreign minister is Wang Yi, a diplomat who knows Japan well and will be in charge of repairing ties with Tokyo.
One problem Xi might face however is the rise of nationalism among younger Chinese, used by the party when relations with Japan are tense but a problem in times of relative calm.
As soon as the visit to Moscow was announced, almost 2,000 comments flooded the micro-blogs of Russia's Embassy in Beijing, demanding the return of Chinese territory relinquished to the Russian Empire in the 19th century in a series of treaties deemed unfair by the Chinese government.
Many Chinese people believe that the ceded lands, 1.5 million sq km lying northeast and northwest of China, were stolen by Russia.
Some internet users also blame Russia for masterminding the independence of Mongolia in 1921.