Russia’s Prime Minister signed a series of agreements with China on Wednesday during a trip to Beijing, describing bilateral ties at an unprecedented high, despite Western disapproval of their relationship as the war in Ukraine dragged out on time.
Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin – the highest-ranking Russian official to visit Beijing since Moscow sent thousands of its troops to Ukraine in February 2022 – held talks with Chinese Premier Li Qiang and was due to meet President Xi Jinping.
With the war in Ukraine in its second year and Russia increasingly feeling the brunt Western sanctionsMoscow leans on Beijing for support, far more than China does on Russia, and feeds off Chinese demand for oil and gas.
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Pressure from the West has shown no sign of easing, with the Group of Seven nation’s weekend declarations singling out both countries on a host of issues including Ukraine.
“Today, relations between Russia and China are at an unprecedented high level,” Mishustin told Li in his meeting.
“They are characterized by mutual respect for each other’s interests, the willingness to jointly respond to challenges, which is associated with increased turbulence in the international arena and the pressure of illegitimate sanctions from the collective West,” he said.
“As our Chinese friends say, unity makes it possible to move mountains.”
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The memorandums of understanding signed included an agreement to deepen investment cooperation in trade services, a pact on the export of agricultural products to China and another on sports cooperation.
Russia’s energy supplies to China are expected to increase by 40% this year, and the two countries are discussing supplies of technical equipment to Russia, the Interfax news agency reported.
“With sanctions against Russia providing new opportunities for China, it is hardly surprising that China is happy to engage actively, if not proactively, with Russia economically, as long as the relationships they forge will not trigger secondary sanctions against China,” says Steve Tsang, director of The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) China Institute in London.
“China’s policy towards the war in Ukraine is to ‘declare neutrality, support Putin and pay no price,’ and the visit confirms that, especially the pro-Putin element,” Tsang said.
Xi visited Russia in March and held talks with “dear friend” President Vladimir Putin, having committed to a “no borders” partnership shortly before Russia’s 2022 attack on Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special military operation”.
Beijing has rejected Western attempts to link its partnership with Moscow to Ukraine, insisting their relationship does not violate international norms, China has the right to cooperate with whomever it chooses and their cooperation is not directed at any third country.
“China is willing to work with Russia to implement joint cooperation between the two countries, and promoting pragmatic cooperation in various fields can take it to a new level,” Li told Mishustin.
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Deepening ties with China is a strategic course for Moscow, said Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, who held talks Monday with Chen Wenqing, a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo that oversees police, judicial affairs and intelligence.
Beijing has refrained from openly condemning Russia’s invasion. But since February, Xi has promoted a peace plan, which has been met with skepticism from the West and cautiously welcomed by Kiev.
Last week, China’s Special Representative for Eurasian Affairs Li Hui visited Ukraine and met with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on a European tour that Beijing billed as its effort to promote peace talks and a political solution to the crisis.
Li Hui is scheduled to visit Russia on Friday.
(Reporting by Andrew Hayley; Additional reporting by Ryan Woo, Lidia Kelly, Ethan Wang and John Geddie; Editing by Michael Perry)