MOSCOW — The Chinese defense chief vowed Tuesday to take military cooperation with Moscow to a new level, a statement that reflects increasingly close Russia-China ties amid the fighting in Ukraine.

Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Li Shangfu held talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu after attending a meeting Sunday with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin.

“The armed forces of China and Russia will implement the agreements reached by the heads of state and expand military cooperation, military-technical ties and arms trade,” Li said in opening remarks at Tuesday’s meeting with Shoigu. “We will certainly take them to a new level.”

Li’s trip follows last month’s three-day state visit to the Russian capital by Chinese leader Xi Jinping, reflecting China’s strengthening engagement with Russia. Moscow and Beijing have closely aligned their policies in attempt to reshape the world order to diminish the influence of the United States and its Western allies.

China has refused to criticize Russia’s actions in Ukraine and blamed the U.S. and NATO for provoking Moscow. Xi’s visit to Moscow gave a strong political boost to Putin, sending a message to Western leaders that their efforts to isolate Russia have fallen short.

After the talks, Putin and Xi issued joint declarations pledging to further bolster their “strategic cooperation,” develop cooperation in energy, high-tech industries and other spheres and expand the use of their currencies in mutual trade to reduce dependence on the West.

After more than a year of fighting in Ukraine and bruising Western sanctions, Russia’s dependence on China has increased significantly. Facing Western restrictions on its oil, gas and other exports, Russia has shifted its energy flows to China and sharply expanded other exports, resulting in a 30% hike in bilateral trade.

Last month, Putin and Xi also vowed to further develop military cooperation between Moscow and Beijing and conduct more joint sea and air patrols. However, there was no mention of any prospective Chinese weapons supplies to Russia that the U.S. and other Western allies feared, and the Chinese foreign minister reaffirmed Friday that Beijing wouldn’t sell weapons to either side in the conflict in Ukraine.

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