China’s Xi offers Russia ‘firm support’ in ‘core interests’

BEIJING: Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday offered Beijing’s support on Moscow’s “core interests”, at a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin. China and Russia have in recent years ramped up economic and diplomatic cooperation, growing even closer since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine despite Beijing’s insistence that it is neutral in that conflict. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin arrived in China on Monday, attending a business forum in Shanghai on Tuesday before travelling to Beijing to meet Premier Li Qiang and President Xi Jinping.

It is the highest-level visit by a Russian official to China since last year’s invasion. Xi told Mishustin on Wednesday that the two countries would continue to offer each other “firm support on issues concerning each other’s core interests and strengthen collaboration in multilateral arenas”, according to a readout by the official Xinhua news agency.

Mishustin had earlier told Li that “relations between Russia and China are at an unprecedented high level”, after a grand welcoming ceremony outside Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on Wednesday. “They are characterized by mutual respect of each other’s interests, the desire 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. Li, in turn, hailed the “comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership between China and Russia in the new era”.

“I believe your trip to China this time will definitely leave a deep impression,” he said. China is Russia’s largest trading partner, with trade between the nations reaching a record $190 billion last year, according to Chinese customs data. Li noted Wednesday that bilateral trade had already reached $70 billion so far this year.

“This is a year-on-year increase of more than 40 percent,” he said. “The scale of investment between the two countries is also continuously upgrading,” Li added. “Strategic large-scale projects are steadily advancing.” Following the talks, ministers from the two countries signed a series of agreements on service trade cooperation and sports, as well as on patents and Russian millet exports to China.


China’s upper hand

Mishustin is accompanied by top officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak, who handles energy policy. China last year became Russia’s top energy customer as Moscow’s gas exports otherwise plummeted due to a flurry of Western sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.

According to Russian state media, Novak told Tuesday’s forum in Shanghai that Russian energy supplies to China would increase by 40 percent year-on-year in 2023. Analysts say China holds the upper hand in the relationship with Russia, and that its sway is growing as Moscow’s international isolation deepens. The leaders of both countries are “brought together more by shared grievances and insecurities than by shared goals”, Ryan Hass, a senior fellow at Washington’s Brookings Institution and a former White House official, told AFP.

“They both resent and feel threatened by Western leadership in the international system and believe their countries should be given greater deference on issues implicating their own interests.” In February, Beijing released a paper calling for a “political settlement” to the Ukraine conflict, but Western countries said it could enable Russia to hold much of the territory it has seized. During their March summit in Moscow, Xi invited Putin to visit Beijing. – AFP

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