China and Russia have signed more than US$20 billion of deals to boost economic ties in areas such as technology and energy following Xi Jinping’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The June 5 meeting between the two leaders, who have spoken of their desire to boost practical cooperation in the face of increasing rivalry with the US, marked the start of Xi Jinping’s three-day visit to Russia to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between both countries.
On June 6, the Chinese Commerce Ministry said that the two sides aimed to increase the volume of trade between the two countries to US$200 billion a year following last year’s 24.5 percent rise to a record level of US$108 billion. Gao Feng, a spokesman for the ministry, said the deals covered areas such as nuclear power, natural gas, automobiles, hi-tech development, e-commerce, and 5G communications. The deals were the first concrete results of the warm words exchanged between the leaders, who agreed to deepen their “unprecedented” strategic partnership for “mutual advantage.” “We discussed the current state of, and prospects for, bilateral cooperation in a businesslike and constructive manner, and reviewed, in substance, important international issues while paying close attention to Russia-China cooperation in areas that are truly important for both countries,” Putin said in a joint press statement with Xi.
Xi Jinping, who had previously told Russian media that he “treasured” the relationship with Putin, whom he described as “my best friend”, said the two countries would work to “build mutual support and assistance in issues that concern our key interests in the spirit of innovation, cooperation for the sake of mutual advantage, and promote our relations in the new era for the benefit of our two nations and the peoples of the world”. Putin also highlighted the energy cooperation between the two countries, adding that Russia was China’s leading oil exporter and the Eastern route of a gas pipeline between Russia and China will enter service later this year.
Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute at the University of London, said China’s efforts to edge closer to Russia underlined changes in their relations with the US. “The context has changed. The restart of the trade war, the US measures against Huawei as well as China’s responses suggest that China and the US are entering a process of decoupling, not only in the economic relationship but more generally,” Tsang said. “This implies a structural change in the global strategic line-up. As this progresses, China under Xi will need to strengthen its capacity to face the US and its allies. Putin’s Russia comes in handy in this context.”