June 5, 2023

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Russia and China sign economic agreements despite Western rejection

BEIJING (Reuters) – Russia’s prime minister signed a raft of agreements with China on Wednesday during a trip to Beijing, describing bilateral relations as having reached an unprecedented level, despite Western disapproval of their relationship as the war in Ukraine drags on.

Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin — the most senior Russian official to visit Beijing since Moscow sent thousands of its troops to Ukraine in February 2022 — held talks with Chinese Premier Li Qiang and was scheduled to meet President Xi Jinping.

With the war in Ukraine entering its second year and Russia feeling the weight of Western sanctions, Moscow is counting on Beijing for support, much more than China does for Russia, as it feeds on Chinese demand for oil and gas.

Pressure from the West showed no sign of easing, with G7 statements over the weekend singling out both countries on a slew of issues including Ukraine.

“Today, relations between Russia and China are at an unprecedentedly high level,” Mishustin told me at their meeting.

“They are characterized by a mutual respect for each other’s interests, a desire to jointly respond to challenges associated with growing turmoil in the international arena and the pressure of illegal sanctions from the collective West,” he said.

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

The signed memorandums of understanding included an agreement to deepen investment cooperation in commercial services, an agreement on exporting agricultural products to China, and another agreement on sports cooperation.

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The Interfax news agency reported that Russian energy shipments to China are expected to rise by 40% this year, and the two countries are discussing supplies of technological equipment to Russia.

“With sanctions against Russia providing new opportunities for China, it is not surprising that China would be happy to engage actively, if not proactively, with Russia economically, as long as any relationships it will establish do not result in secondary sanctions against China,” said Steve Tsang. Director of the China Institute for Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London.

China’s policy towards the war in Ukraine is to “declare neutrality, support Putin and not pay a price,” Tsang said, “and the visit reaffirms this, especially the element of supporting Putin.”

‘Dear Friend’

Xi visited Russia in March and held talks with his “dear friend” President Vladimir Putin, after committing to a “borderless” partnership ahead of Russia’s 2022 attack on Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special military operation”.

Beijing rejected Western attempts to link its partnership with Moscow with Ukraine, insisting that their relationship does not violate international standards, and that China has the right to cooperate with whomever it chooses, and that their cooperation does not target any third country.

“China is ready to work with Russia to implement joint cooperation between the two countries, and strengthening pragmatic cooperation in various fields can bring it to a new level,” Li told Mishustin.

Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, who held talks on Monday with Chen Wenqing, a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo that oversees police, legal affairs and intelligence, said deepening ties with China is a strategic path for Moscow.

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Beijing has refrained from explicitly denouncing the Russian invasion. But since February, Xi has promoted a peace plan that has been greeted with skepticism from the West and welcomed cautiously by Kiev.

Last week, China’s special representative for Eurasian affairs Li Hui visited Ukraine and met with President Volodymyr Zelensky on a European tour that Beijing described as its effort to promote peace talks and a political settlement to the crisis.

Li Hui is scheduled to visit Russia on Friday.

(This story was corrected to change the phrase in the citation to “unlawful sanctions pressure” in paragraph 6)

Reporting by Ryan Wu. Additional reporting by Lydia Kelly and Ethan Wang; Editing by Michael Perry

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