Why cooperation with China is so important for Russia

Chinese President Xi Jinping holds a welcoming ceremony for Russian President Vladimir Putin at the square outside the east gate of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, May 16, 2024. Picture: Xinhua

Chinese President Xi Jinping holds a welcoming ceremony for Russian President Vladimir Putin at the square outside the east gate of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, May 16, 2024. Picture: Xinhua

Published May 17, 2024


By Nikola Mikovic

China is possibly the most important partner Russia has in the international arena. The fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin chose Beijing for his first trip abroad after being inaugurated for a fifth term in office, perfectly indicates that, for the foreseeable future, cooperation with China will be the Kremlin's foreign policy top priority.

Prior to the conflict in the Donbas that broke out in 2014, Russia was actively developing close ties with the West. But the Ukraine crisis had a serious impact on relations between the Kremlin and its Western partners. As a result, over the past 10 years, Moscow has been turning its geopolitical and geo-economics vector eastward.

Russia now sees China as its major economic partner. Last year, bilateral trade between the two countries reached $240 billion, while both exports and imports between Russia and the European Union dropped significantly. For instance, in 2023 Russian exports to Europe reached $84.9 billion, which is much lower than the $303.6 billion the Russian Federation earned from exporting goods and energy to Asia.

More importantly, Russia and China have doubled their trade turnover over the past five years. According to Putin, more than 90 percent of settlements between Russian and Chinese companies are now made in national currencies – rubles and yuan – rather than in U.S. dollars. In his view, business contacts between Moscow and Beijing are "reliably protected from the negative influence of third countries."

The Russian leader was almost certainly referring to the sanctions the United States and its allies have imposed on his country over the Kremlin's actions in Ukraine. But given that sanctions were never approved by the United Nations Security Council, from the perspective of international law, nothing prevents China from increasing its economic cooperation with Russia.

"In response to Western sanctions, Russia aims to bolster collaboration with China in the automotive and household appliance industries," Putin told Chinese President Xi Jinping following the summit the two leaders held in Beijing on May 16.

President Joe Biden signs documents related to tariffs on goods from China, in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC, US, May 14, 2024. Picture: CFP

The United States' recent decision to raise taxes on Chinese electric vehicles, advanced batteries, solar cells, steel, aluminum and medical equipment, could have a negative impact on the trade ties between Beijing and Washington. At the same time, it allows China to deeply enter the Russian market. It is no secret that several Chinese companies have increased their presence in Russia following the exodus of Western firms, which suggests that Moscow and Beijing will remain committed to what they often describe as "win-win cooperation" as the driving force in their relations.

Previously, on May 14, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressed that "the duo of Moscow and Beijing plays the most important balancing role in global affairs," which clearly suggests that Russia is interested in deepening strategic cooperation with China. Indeed, Putin's decision to visit Beijing shortly after his inauguration is unlikely a pure coincidence, but rather a carefully calculated move aimed at sending a political message to the West. As the U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said: In politics, nothing happens by accident. Dates and timings of bilateral meetings between world leaders always carry certain political weight.

More importantly, the fact that Putin was accompanied by a high-powered delegation, including the new Russian Defense Minister Andrei Belousov and his predecessor Sergei Shoigu, indicates that Moscow aims to strengthen not only economic, but also security cooperation with China.

There is no doubt that China and Russia will continue to deepen exchanges in the fields of politics, economics, diplomacy and people-to-people exchanges. They will also seek to jointly respond to regional and global issues and challenges in the context of intensified turmoil in the international geopolitical landscape. The two countries are expected to continue developing their cooperation in the BRICS format as well.

Next month, Russia will host the BRICS summit in the city of Kazan, which will be another opportunity for the Russian and Chinese leaders to deepen what Xi labeled as "two-way political trust," and strengthen their "comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for the new era".

* Nikola Mikovic is a special commentator on current affairs for CGTN. He covers mostly Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian foreign policy issues and writes for multiple web magazines.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.

IOL Opinion