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China-Russia Relationship: Full of Strong Endogenous Dynamics

CIIS Time:06 07, 2018 Writer:Zhao Mingwen Editor:Wang Jiapei




 

In 2017, the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination developed smoothly on high levels, with the level of political mutual trust and strategic coordination rising continuously, and cooperation in various fields going deep. Although there were some problems concerning the development of strategic coordination and mutual beneficial cooperation between the two countries, the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination maintained the momentum of rapid development.

 

I.                   The Level of Political Mutual Trust and Strategic Coordination Has Risen Continuously

 

The leaders of China and Russia repeatedly stressed during their bilateral meetings that no matter how the international situation was changing, the two countries would support each other’s efforts to safeguard their respective core interests, including preserving sovereignty, security and territorial integrity, which has made them trusted partners to each other in true sense.

A. Intensive Meetings and Interactions between the Heads of State of the Two Countries. In the past year, President Xi Jinping met President Putin five times on formal occasions and engaged in close interactions on other occasions, exchanging ideas and “coordinating stances” on major international and regional affairs, and repeatedly stressing that the two countries should improve their strategic mutual trust, uphold the accountability as major powers, play the role as the important ballast stone to preserve regional and global peace and stability, and lead the profound development of the bilateral pragmatic cooperation with coordinated strategies. In the congratulatory letters sent respectively to the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Russia-China Friendship Association, both heads of state spoke highly of the contributions made by the Russia-China Friendship Association to improve mutual understanding and friendship between the peoples of the two countries. When Xi Jinping re-elected as the General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee, President Putin immediately made a phone call to congratulate, saying the results of the “19th National Congress” had fully displayed the trust and support the Chinese people had for the Communist Party of China led by Xi Jinping, and the high prestige Xi Jinping enjoyed among the party members of the CPC and the Chinese people. President Xi Jinping thanked President Putin for his congratulations and stressed that no matter how the international situation was changing, Russia was always China’s comprehensive strategic cooperative partner, and China’s determination to deepen the China-Russia relationship would not change. 

B. Institutionalization of Strategic Consultation between the Two Countries. In the letters of congratulation sent respectively to the 6th meeting under the dialog mechanism of the ruling party of China and Russia and the 5th China-Russia Political Party Forum, the heads of state of the two countries emphasized the “dialog between the ruling parties” and the “political party forum” were important parts of the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination and platforms for institutionalized communication between the two ruling parties, which played an important role in enhancing self construction of the two parties, and promoting strategic mutual trust and pragmatic bilateral cooperation between the two countries. The parliaments of the two countries maintained close ties of consultation and communication, with the two sides proposing at the 3rd session of the China-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee that cooperation of the legislative bodies of the two countries should not only keep pace with the development of the bilateral relations, but also create benign legal and policy environment for the two countries to engage in comprehensive cooperation in a profound way. The two sides reached a consensus at the 13th round of China-Russia Strategy and Security Consultation that they should be further aware of the importance of enhancing strategic mutual trust and strategic coordination between the two countries, and strengthening mutual support over issues relating to each other’s core interests, as well as support and coordinate with each other under bilateral and major multilateral frameworks to enrich the connotation of the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination in an increasing way and safeguard common strategic and security interests.

C. Free of Interference of the American Factor. The China-Russia relationship remained free of interference and impact, whether the US President Trump tried the tactics of “containing China with Russia” or “restraining Russia with China”. Just as the Russian Ambassador to China Denisov said, although Trump’s slogans and promises during the election campaign were turning to practical policies, the relations between China and Russia would not change because of the change of the American government, as the bilateral relationship was the constant in political equation either for China or for Russia. Glazyev, advisor to the Russian president, stressed that given the fact that the Russia-China relationship was built on pragmatism and coinciding interests, it would never be possible for the China-US relationship to get better than the China-Russia relationship. In spite of the $ billions upon billions worth intentional cooperation agreement signed by China and the US, elites in Russia generally believed it would not affect the China-Russia cooperation in the fields of high tech and energy. The Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said more flatly, the China-Russia relationship was currently at the best of times in history, with their mutual trust reaching the highest level, while China remained full of confidence in China-Russia relations, and such relations would not be affected by external factors. 

D. Russia Deepened Its Understanding of China. The people of Russia held friendlier attitude toward China than ten years before, with the ratio of those who saw China as a strategic and economic partner rising to 50 percent from 34 percent, and about 30 percent of interviewees seeing China as a friend to Russia. When the China-US relationship was worsening, about 53 percent of the interviewees believed Russia should remain neutral, and 33 percent of them were ready to support China. For the question “whether Russia should respond to China’s missile deployment in some way”, 24 percent of the interviewees felt there was no need to worry about it. Faced with another round of “China Threat”, many elites in Russia refuted it was just the same as the so-called “Russia Threat” fabricated by the West, and Russia would not believe it, as it was used by Western politicians to frighten their fellow citizens.

 

II.               Military and Security Cooperation Has Gone Deeper

 

Cooperation between the two countries in traditional and non-traditional security areas has developed in a profound way. Last year, the armed forces of both countries held three successive anti-missile briefings on the global and regional anti-missile situation, to make it known that the militaries of the two countries would by no means overlook the actions that would damage security interests of China and Russia. They reiterated their positions that countries concerned seeking for absolute security through developing global missile defense systems at the expenses of other countries’ security would be bound to worsen the international security environment, seriously threaten the safety of international space activities, offset the global strategic balance and stability, and give rise to confrontation or even arms race. Russia formally delivered the third batch of 5 Su-35s fighters to China and the first batch of S-400 AAGMS began to be delivered to China. The legislative bodies of China and Russia engaged in cooperation actively in formulating universal rules governing behaviors in cyberspace. The two countries issued joint statement resolutely condemning terrorism in all forms, and calling the international community to reject double standards so as to join force politically in fighting against terrorism and address both the symptoms and root causes. The Navies of both countries held, as planned, the China-Russia Joint Sea-2017 military exercise in the Baltic Sea, Sea of Japan and Sea of Okhotsk adjacent to Russia and initiated several “first’s”: the Navies of China and Russia held their first joint exercise in the Baltic Sea; China deployed its naval combat forces to the Baltic Sea for the first time and sent its latest model of warship ---- 052D guided-missile destroyer to join the joint exercise for the first time; Russia invited China for the first time to the joint exercise held in the Baltic Sea and Sea of Okhotsk and the two sides practiced wrecked submarine rescue for the first time, an exercise subject Russian Navy practiced with a foreign navy for the first time, all of which showed the high level of mutual trust between the two militaries.

 

III.           Cooperation in Other Areas Has Kept Following

 

The two sides formally started the AHL heavy-duty helicopter cooperation project, and prepared to sign relevant contracts by the end of this year. CRAIC was formally set up in Shanghai, indicating that the CR929 long-range and wide-body airliner cooperation project made a substantial step forward. The two sides completed the compatibility test of “Beidou” navigation system and “GLONASS”, and signed the Outline for Space Cooperation between CNSA and National Aerospace Corporation of the Russian Federation from 2018 to 2022, which would promote the development in the following five areas: the Moon and deep space, special materials, satellite systems, Earth remote sensing, and spacecraft debris search, as well as in-depth cooperation in lunar exploration and landing, joint launching of satellites, and joint development of rocket components.

China is the largest source of foreign investment for Russia. For the first 9 months last year, China’s investment to Russia grew by 34 percent on a year-on-year basis, with the total investment expected to reach $8.2 billion. In 2017, bilateral trade between China and Russia reached $84.071 billion, with a 20.8 percent growth on a year-on-year basis. Cooperation in cross-border e-commerce between the two countries has become a bright spot in the bilateral trade and economic cooperation, with Aliexpress becoming the most popular e-commerce platform in Russia as more than 22.2 million consumers are using it. The increase of postal flights between China and Russia has sped up the flow of logistics between the two countries. In addition to the operation of scheduled postal flights (two or three times a week) from Zhengzhou and Harbin to Novosibirsk, scheduled postal flights from Harbin to Yekaterinburg will be put in formal operation after trial operations.

China National Development Bank signed an agreement with Russian Direct Investment Fund to establish a joint investment fund (68 billion RMB in total) for RMB settlement, and also signed a cooperation framework agreement with Russian Foreign Economic Bank for a 15-year investment worth $850 million. Russian Agricultural Bank issued a UnionPay-MIR debit card, which could be used not only in Russia, but also on UnionPay networks in other countries and regions. The Export-Import Bank of China signed a framework loan agreement with Russian Foreign Economic Bank to provide the latter with $3 billion in RMB loans. 

Under the circumstances that sanctions imposed by the West on Russia have cut off the capital chain of large Russian energy enterprises, they have stepped up their efforts to seek financing from China and succeeded in finding “alternative supports”. In the first 8 months of last year, Russian crude oil supply to China increased by 38.5 percent. Beijing Gas Refco Group Ltd completed a deal with Rosneft Oil, involving a 20 percent equity transaction (worth $1.1 billion) of the latter’s Jonasque Oil and Gas Co., Ltd. China CEFC Energy Company Ltd. signed a strategic cooperation agreement with Rosneft Oil, and came to an agreement with Glencore Consortium and Qatar Investment Authority Consortium to buy over the 14.16 percent of shares worth $9.1 billion they held of Rosneft Oil. The first LNG production line under the China-Russia Yamal Project has been formally put into production, from which China will get 4 million tons of LNG every year.

The China-Russia Moscow-Kazan high-speed rail project has been included into the long-term economic development planning of the two countries, which is expected to be ready for operation by 2023. The railway from Dongguan, a city in China’s Guangdong province, to Vorsino of Russia, has already been put into formal operation. With regard to the slow progress on the Russian side of the cross-border bridge cooperation project, departments concerned in Russia has repeatedly expressed that they will complete the construction of the railway bridges from Tongjiang to Lower Lenin Skokuya and the highway bridges from Heihe to Blagoveshchensk on the Russian side by the end of 2018. 

The 23 projects China has got involved in the Russian Far East Leapfrog Development Zone and 5 free ports have all developed steadily. China has become not only the largest source of import and the second largest destination of export for Russia’s Far East Federal District, but also the major source of foreign capital for Russia’s Far East region, with investment covering forestry, agriculture, building materials, light industry, mining, trade and business. 

The two sides made positive efforts to carry out various rich and colorful activities relating to the start of the 2017-2019 cooperation plan worked out by the ministries of culture of the two countries and the conclusion of the China-Russia “media exchange year”. Students of the two countries learning the language of the other country have increased instead of decreased. In the first 9 months of last year, Chinese tourists visiting Russia without visa reached eight hundred thousand, registering a 24 percent growth. Meanwhile, China has become the 6th largest tourist destination of Russia. Prime ministers of both countries came to an agreement that the two sides would collaborate actively to optimize the procedures for handling related documents and simplify travel procedures in an increasing way so as to create conditions for each other’s tourists to stay more comfortably in the host country.

Although problems still exist in the China-Russia relationship such as people at middle and lower levels are short of adequate cognition, confidence in mutual expansion of investment among enterprises is low, and the scale and level of bilateral trade need to be improved, they cannot impede the strong momentum of sustainable development of the bilateral relationship, with the heads of state of both countries full of confidence in the future development of the bilateral relationship. China’s clear goal and firm resolution to develop and deepen relations with Russia will not change, while Russia has reached a “national consensus” to develop relations with China. After the Russian presidential election in 2018, whoever is elected president, Russia’s relations with China will keep unchanged, and the two countries will remain a strategic partner to other for a long time to come.

 

 

 

Zhao Mingwen is Senior Research Fellow from China Institute of International Studies, and former political counselor to foreign countries.

 

 

Source: Peace and Development, N0.2 2018.