As the war it launched against Ukraine drags on, the Kremlin strengthens its relations with China. Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin arrived in Beijing on May 24 where he held a meeting with President Xi Jinping and signed a series of trade agreements with which Moscow aims to strengthen its finances. Both powers stress a united front against what they consider Western “domination” and an avalanche of measures that they label as “unjust.”
Moscow and Beijing strengthen their ties, despite China’s insistence on showing itself as a neutral actor in the conflict ordered by Vladimir Putin.
“Today, Russia-China relations are at an unprecedentedly high level,” the Russian prime minister said. Mikhail Mishustin after signing a series of economic pacts on May 24 in Beijing, where he was received with honors and held meetings with his counterpart Li Qiang and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Beyond maintaining a diplomatic ally in the midst of the international isolation in which it finds itself submerged, Moscow relies on the Asian giant in an attempt to come out of the financial sanctions imposed from the West for the invasion of its neighboring country.
Among the agreements signed this Wednesday is an agreement to deepen investment cooperation in commercial services and the export of agricultural products to China.
In addition, a 40% increase in Russian energy exports to Chinese territory is expected, according to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak.
Li added that his government is willing to work with Russia to promote their pragmatic cooperation in various fields and bring it to a “new level.”
Moscow seeks to challenge the West in the face of the “pressure of illegitimate sanctions”
With the war in Ukraine dragging on and Russia increasingly feeling the brunt of Western sanctions, Moscow is leaning on Beijing far more than its ally, feeding off Chinese demand for oil and gas. Chinese influence grows as Moscow’s international isolation deepens.
After Russian gas exports plummeted under a spate of sanctions from Europe and the United States, China became Russia’s biggest energy customer last year. A strong dependence on Moscow towards its new ally, after decades of mistrust between the two governments.
“Given that sanctions against Russia provide new opportunities for China, it is not surprising that China is happy to actively and proactively engage economically with Russia, as long as the relationships they forge do not trigger secondary sanctions against China,” said Steve Tsang, director of the Institute. of China from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.
And it is that Beijing is Moscow’s largest trading partner with bilateral trade that reached a record of 190,000 million dollars in 2022, according to Chinese customs data.
So far in 2023, trade between the two powers has already reached 70 billion dollars, Li said, but aims to exceed last year’s figure.
“I am sure that this year we will achieve the goal set by the heads of our states, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, of obtaining a mutual turnover of 200 billion dollars,” added Mishustin, referring to a goal established between the two governments on last march.
The ongoing conflict would have turned into an economic opportunity between the two sides, but one in which Beijing, without sanctions despite accusations of backing the Kremlin, has more leeway.
Mishustin stressed that the signing of the new agreements occurred despite the “pressure of illegitimate sanctions” from the West.
But pressure from Western allies shows no sign of abating, especially after the recent G7 summit in which the world’s biggest powers agreed to tighten sanctions against Moscow while urging China to pressure Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine. .
The leaders of both countries are “united more by shared grievances and insecurities than by shared goals (…) Both resent and feel threatened by Western leadership in the international system and believe their countries should receive greater deference on matters involving their self-interest,” said Ryan Hass, an analyst and former White House official.
China and its efforts to promote a diplomatic role that causes mistrust
Beijing has rejected attempts by Washington and members of the European Union to link its association with Moscow to its support for the Kremlin’s actions in Ukraine.
Although Beijing insists that the relationship does not violate international norms and that it has the right to collaborate with any country it chooses, from the West its position is viewed with suspicion, given its open support for the Kremlin that many find contradictory.
“China’s policy toward the war in Ukraine is ‘declare neutrality, support Putin and pay no price,’ and the visit reaffirms this, particularly the support for Putin element,” Tsang said.
Despite the latent disbelief in the Asian giant’s diplomatic role, last week China’s special representative for Eurasian affairs, Li Hui, visited Ukraine, where he met with President Volodimir Zelenski, in the middle of a European tour that Beijing described as an effort to promote peace talks and a political settlement.
Li Hui is also scheduled to visit Russia next Friday.
But Beijing has refrained from openly denouncing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and since last February the Xi administration has promoted a 12-point peace plan, met with skepticism by Washington and Brussels and greeted with caution by Kiev.
Critics say the proposal could allow Russia to control much of the territory it has already seized in its neighbor.
With Reuters, AFP and AP
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