Chinese President Xi Jinping addresses the opening ceremony of the "Tourism Year of China" in Russia, in Moscow, capital of Russia, March 22, 2013. (Xinhua/Xie Huanchi)
MOSCOW, March 23 (Xinhua) -- Visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, pushed for tourism cooperation when addressing the opening ceremony of the Year of Chinese Tourism in Russia on Friday evening.
Putin, the host, said in a speech that cultural cooperation forms an important part of the comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership between Russia and China.
The China-Russia Tourism Year program, which began last year with the Year of Russian Tourism in China, aims to foster tourism ties and cultural exchanges between the two countries.
It is the third theme year following the China-Russia National Year and the China-Russia Year of Language held in recent years in the two countries.
Putin said those events have greatly deepened mutual understanding and trust between the two peoples and have consolidated the social basis of bilateral relations.
Both rich in tourism resources, China and Russia boast distinctive features to attract tourists, with China renowned for its oriental elegance and Russia famous for Eurasian-style architecture.
China, a country with a long history and splendid culture, is the third largest destination country for Russian tourists, and bilateral tourism cooperation holds great potential, Putin said, adding the Year of Chinese Tourism in Russia would further promote friendship and relations between the two countries.
Xi said China and Russia, sharing a long border, are good neighbors, partners and friends.
"President Putin and I have agreed to identify expanding practical cooperation in various fields as a priority in the development of bilateral ties so as to provide an important driving force for improving the living standards of both peoples," Xi said.
Tourism is a bridge between different civilizations and cultures, said Xi, voicing hope that China and Russia could take the hosting of the tourism year as an opportunity to foster tourism cooperation as a new highlight of bilateral strategic cooperation.
Official figures showed that the number of visits between the two countries reached 3.3 million last year, with the number of Chinese tourists to Russia increasing 46 percent thanks to the hosting of the Year of Russian Tourism in China.
China is now the second largest source of tourists for Russia and Russia is the third largest source of tourists for China, Xi noted.
"I, on behalf of the hospitable Chinese people, invite our Russian friends to visit China. We look forward to having you as our guests to enjoy natural scenery, have a taste of Chinese culture and build friendship with the Chinese people," Xi said.
After the opening ceremony, the two presidents, along with more than 5000 audience, watched a performance by Chinese artists.
Xi arrived in Moscow earlier in the day for a state visit to Russia, the first leg of his maiden foreign trip since he took over the presidency last week.
Before attending the opening ceremony, Xi hold talks with Putin. The two leaders vowed to enhance bilateral relations.
Backgrounder: "National Year," "Year of Language," "Tourism Year" held in China, Russia
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