Russia and China signed economic agreements despite Western criticism

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and Chinese Premier Li Qiang attend a signing ceremony in Beijing, China, May 24, 2023. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/Pool

BEIJING (Reuters) The Russian prime minister signed a series of agreements with China during a visit to Beijing, marking an unprecedented level despite criticism of relations with the West amid the prolonged war in Ukraine. He elaborated on the bilateral relationship.

Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, who visited Beijing as a senior Russian government official since the Russian government sent thousands of troops to Ukraine in February 2022, met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang.

With the Ukraine war entering its second year and Russia increasingly feeling the weight of Western sanctions, Russia depends on China for much more support than China does on Russia, and China’s It is fueled by demand for oil and petroleum gas.

Pressure from the West continues, with statements from the Group of Seven (G7) over the weekend naming the two countries on various issues, including Ukraine. The G7 agreed to tighten sanctions on Russia and called on China to force Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine.

“Today, relations between Russia and China are at an unprecedented high level,” Mishustin told Li in their meeting.

“They are characterised 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.

“As our Chinese friends say, unity makes it possible to move mountains.”

The memorandums of understanding signed included an agreement to deepen investment cooperation in trade services, a pact on export of agricultural products to China, and another on sports cooperation.

Russia’s energy shipments to China are projected to rise 40% this year, and the two countries are discussing technological equipment supplies to Russia, Interfax news agency reported.

“With sanctions against Russia providing new opportunities for China, it is hardly surprising that China would be happy to engage actively, if not proactively, with Russia economically, as long as whatever relationships they forge will not trigger secondary sanctions against China,” said 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 one of ‘declaring neutrality, supporting Putin and paying no price’, and the visit reaffirms it, particularly the support Putin element,” said Tsang.

Xi visited Russia in March and held talks with “dear friend” President Vladimir Putin, after committing to a “no limits” partnership just before the 2022 Russia attack on Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special military operation” to “denazify” its neighbour.

Beijing has rejected Western attempts to link its partnership with Moscow to Ukraine, insisting the relationship does not violate international norms, China has the right to collaborate with whichever country it chooses, and their cooperation is not targeted at any third countries.

China and Russia should find ways to “upgrade the level of economic, trade and investment cooperation”, Xi told Mishustin, with energy an area in which they could expand collaboration.

Deepening of ties with China is a strategic course for Moscow, said the secretary of Russia’s Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, who held talks on Monday with Chen Wenqing, member of the Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo who oversees police, legal affairs and intelligence. The Chinese government has refrained from publicly condemning Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. But since February, Mr. Xi has been pushing a peace plan, met with skepticism in the West and welcomed cautiously in Kiev.

Last week, China’s special envoy for Eurasian affairs, Li Hui, visited Ukraine and met with President Volodymyr Zelensky during his visit to Europe, which Beijing described as an attempt to facilitate peace talks and a political settlement.