ST. PETERSBURG/BEIJING, Dec. 21 (Xinhua) -- Russian linguist Aleksey Rodionov is no stranger to China. He has spent nearly 30 years in studying Chinese literature, and developed a career out of it.
Now his enthusiasm for and pride in the profession have grown even stronger, thanks to Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit in June 2019 to St. Petersburg State University (SPbU), where Rodionov works as senior deputy dean of the Faculty of Asian and African Studies.
"Especially (from) his mentioning of the century-old academic tradition of Chinese studies at our university, we do feel the support and care in his words," recalled Rodionov.
The sinologist is also an eyewitness to something much larger. He was in the packed hall where Xi received an honorary doctorate of SPbU, the alma mater of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had less than two months ago been awarded an honorary doctorate by Xi's alma mater, Tsinghua University.
That episode, Rodionov believes, serves as an epitome of the already close and still growing China-Russia relations.
"I am very familiar with President Xi, in the sense that I read about him in the news almost every day and frequently use his speeches as teaching materials in my class," said Rodionov.
"He strikes me as a very solid man, who means what he says, and I also see from him the charisma of the leader of a major country," added the associate professor.
He still vividly remembers what he saw and felt when Xi traveled to his university on June 6, 2019. It was the first visit to SPbU by a Chinese head of state, and there was a lot of anticipation and excitement, he said.
When Xi, accompanied by Putin, walked into the hall for the honorary doctorate awarding ceremony, Rodionov and the other faculty members and students there offered a standing ovation.
In a speech of thanks, Xi said that Tsinghua and SPbU are outstanding representatives of higher-education institutions in China and Russia, and their conferring of honorary doctorates on the heads of state of each other's countries testifies to the close bilateral educational and cultural exchanges, and demonstrates the high level of China-Russia relations.
As a token of friendship, SPbU, which Rodionov proudly pointed out is the birthplace of Chinese studies in Russia and boasts a rich collection of rare ancient Chinese books, gifted Xi with a copy of "Tie Ye Zhi" from China's Ming Dynasty.
"The book is essentially about the making of iron, and it's a very befitting gift for the Chinese leader since Russian novel 'How the Steel Was Tempered' is the most popular Russian literary work in China," said Rodionov.
Tsinghua and SPbU have maintained a long-term partnership. They inked a university-level cooperation deal in 2017 and a student exchange agreement in 2018.
During Xi's June visit to Russia, Tsinghua President Qiu Yong and SPbU Rector Nikolay Kropachev, witnessed by Xi and Putin, signed an agreement in Moscow to jointly set up a Russian Institute at Tsinghua to deepen cooperation in education, scientific research, training and people-to-people exchanges.
Days later, Qiu inaugurated the Tsinghua University Day at SPbU, a program featuring exhibitions, book donations and seminars aimed at strengthening the partnership. Tsinghua hosted a similar event for SPbU in November 2018.
Speaking in December 2019 at the founding ceremony of the Tsinghua Russian Institute, Qiu said the newly established organ will meet the practical needs in the development of bilateral relations and promote practical cooperation with Russia and other Russian-speaking countries.
The value of universities, said Qiu, lies not only in passing down history and culture but also in fostering future-oriented young talents.
"The younger generations are the hope of progress for mankind, and they are also the future for China-Russia friendship," said the Tsinghua president.
Some 6,000 km away in St. Petersburg, also in December, Kropachev gave Xinhua a slew of numbers that are a telling testament to the passion for China at his university.
There are currently about 2,000 Chinese students at SPbU, about 1,000 Russian students learning Chinese, and nearly 20,000 students pursuing studies in China-related disciplines, the rector told Xinhua.
"Such exchanges are on the rise and it will ensure the unity and friendship between our two countries," said Kropachev.
The increasing collaboration between the two universities befits the historical moment, as the year of 2019 marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and Russia.
Speaking at a celebratory ceremony during his June visit, Xi said that the two countries are good neighbors and true partners, and the most prominent feature of China-Russia ties is firm political mutual trust and mutual support.
He called on the two neighbors to cherish and nurture their valuable mutual trust "in the way we protect our eyes."
The Chinese leader has been walking his talk. Since taking office as Chinese president in 2013, Xi has made eight visits to Russia and met with Putin more than 30 times on bilateral and multilateral occasions, writing a fascinating chapter in head-of-state diplomacy.
Spearheaded by the close personal interactions between the two leaders, the China-Russia relationship is now in the best shape ever, which was upgraded to a comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era in June 2019.
"A framework featuring all-around, in-depth and mutually beneficial cooperation in multiple areas is taking shape between the two countries," said Ji Zhiye, a veteran researcher on China-Russia ties and also former head of China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.
With the increasing alignment between the Belt and Road Initiative and the Eurasian Economic Union, China and Russia, as well as other countries in the region, will further unleash their cooperation potential, he said.
The significance of China-Russia relations goes far beyond the bilateral scope. The deepening relationship between the two countries is actually serving as an "anchor of stability" for the region and the whole world, said Wu Dahui, a professor of international relations at Tsinghua University.
Rodionov, though in a different area of academic research, shares the idea. "I know from what I see that mutual support between our two countries will make the world a better place," he said. Enditem
(Xinhua correspondents Xu Wei in Shanxi, Luo Chen, Wang Yachen and Wang Chendi in Beijing, Lu Jinbo and Vyacheslav Severinov in St. Petersburg contributed to the story.)