A New Journey for China-Russia Relations

By Li Hui

The year 2019 marked the 70th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between China and Russia and saw profound changes rarely seen in a century unfolding in the world. It is at such a critical historic juncture that President Xi Jinping paid a state visit to Russia, where he decided with President Vladimir Putin to upgrade the China-Russia relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era. The decision sends a clear signal to the world that China and Russia will lead the way in building a new type of international relations, and thus contributing to world stability and injecting new impetus to global development. The China-Russia relations have since embarked on a new journey and embraced greater opportunities for growth.

Ushering in a New Era with New Thought

What defines the China-Russia relationship is the top-level strategic planning from the two presidents, which underpins the resilience of the bilateral ties. Since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, President Xi has set great store by integrating China’s development with global progress and aligning the fundamental interests of the Chinese people with the long-term interests of all humanity, with a view to forging benign interactions and a new type of relations between China and the rest of the world.

During his visit to Russia in 2013, the first foreign visit he made as the Chinese president, President Xi reached the important consensus with President Putin that the two countries will firmly support each other in protecting their core national interests, seeking development and rejuvenation, pursuing a path suited to national conditions and managing domestic affairs. They also agreed that China and Russia should encourage other major countries to go beyond the zero-sum mentality. Specifically, countries need to respect each other politically, pursue mutual benefits in economic exchanges, value trust and inclusiveness on the security front, learn from each other culturally, and expand common ground while setting aside ideological differences—they need to develop a new type of major-country relations featuring long-term steady and sound development. Facts have proven that rapid and steady development of China-Russia ties requires the nurturing and stewardship from the two presidents, and the relationship is a vivid illustration of China’s commitment to Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy.

China and Russia champion openness and win-win cooperation. Russia firmly supports the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) proposed by President Xi. The two heads of state issued the Joint Declaration on Construction of the Silk Road Economic Belt and Construction of Eurasian Economic Union, and President Putin attended both the first and second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation as a guest of honor. The two countries support each other’s major international cooperation initiatives and have worked in tandem to advance connectivity and institutional arrangements on trade and investment, which have produced significant outcomes. The two countries also call on the global community to share development opportunities, support the building of an open world economy, protect the rules-based multilateral trade regime centering on the WTO, oppose unilateralism and protectionism, and pursue robust, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth of the world economy.

China and Russia set the pace for the building of a new type of international relations. Peace, stability, development and win-win cooperation is the prevailing trend of the times. Those who fail to follow the trend have no future. Over the past 70 years since the establishment of diplomatic ties, China and Russia have gone through ups and downs in their interactions and finally fostered a state-to-state relationship that serves the fundamental interests of both countries, a relationship featuring non-alliance, non-confrontation and non-targeting at any third party.

This has accelerated the growth of the China-Russia relationship into one with the highest level of mutual trust, coordination and strategic value among major-country relations, which contributes significantly to development and rejuvenation of the two countries and to world peace, stability and progress. The success of China-Russia relations lies in their adherence to the trend of our times and to the principles of mutual respect, equity, justice and win-win cooperation. The relationship speaks volumes that win-win cooperation is possible as long as members of the international community respect each other, interact on an equal footing, accommodate both their own interests and those of other countries, shoulder responsibilities together and handle international affairs through consultation.

China and Russia lead the way in developing global partnerships. Both countries have made the establishment of a comprehensive, diverse and multi-dimensional network of global partnerships a goal of their foreign relations. They expand cooperation platforms for emerging markets and developing countries by spearheading the SCO cooperation and actively engaging in BRICS and “BRICS Plus” cooperation. China’s support for the Greater Eurasian Partnership and Russia’s support for BRI cooperation contribute to global cooperation and synergy between regional integration mechanisms. The two countries play important roles in the G20 and the UN and are deeply engaged in global governance. The friend circle of China and Russia is expanding and it helps cement the irreplaceable role of the two countries in promoting world multi-polarity, advancing economic globalization, tackling global challenges and upholding regional and global peace and stability.

China and Russia share the vision of building a community with a shared future for mankind. Based on his deep reflection on the future of humanity, President Xi put forward the vision of building a community with a shared future for mankind. In 2013, he initiated the idea for the first time in a speech at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and it was well-received by the global community. President Putin shares a similar vision. At the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club, he stressed that trying to stay immune from the impact of global challenges is just unrealistic in today’s world and that it requires global response to make the world peaceful and prosperous. 

During President Putin’s state visit to China in 2018, the vision of building a community with a shared future for mankind was for the first time written into the joint statement issued by the two presidents. The vision has been included in other bilateral political documents since then as an important part of international coordination between the two countries. Committed to sharing a common future with the rest of the international community, China and Russia have become the most active forces for the reform of the international system and the most dynamic drivers for improving global governance.

Outlining a New Vision for the New Era

It is the shared aspiration of the two countries and peoples to take the bilateral relations to an even higher level. The Joint Statement made by the two presidents in June 2019 elevated the relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era. It also outlined the overarching goal, fundamental principles and direction of bilateral cooperation, drawing a blueprint for the new era.

The two countries will stand in solidarity. Mutual support has always been the centerpiece of China-Russia relations. In the new era, both countries will render each other even stronger strategic support. The two sides will, as always, show firm support for each other’s efforts to uphold one’s own sovereignty, security, territorial integrity and other core interests; for each other’s choice of development path suited to one’s national circumstances; for each other’s development and revitalization; and for each other’s management of one’s own affairs. The two countries will further enhance cooperation in safeguarding their respective sovereignty, security and territorial integrity and addressing various traditional and new security threats and challenges. Neither China nor Russia will allow any force to use its territory for activities against the other, or interfere in the other’s internal affairs.

The two countries will further synergize their development. Connectivity in policy, infrastructure, trade, finance and people-to-people exchange will be significantly enhanced. The two countries will maintain close coordination and strategic collaboration on national development strategies and jointly set out the principles, course and specific steps of cooperation in various fields to realize common development.

The two countries will explore new ways of cooperation. Keeping in mind the trend of the times and the development needs of both sides, the two countries will further tap the potential and nurture growth drivers in their cooperation for more benefits. Besides traditional areas including trade, energy and investment, the two countries will take a long-term strategic perspective to look into new possibilities and models of collaboration. Persistent efforts will be made to enhance cooperation for greater economic and social benefits.

The two countries will work together to pursue benefits for all. China and Russia will jointly safeguard the principles of multilateralism, forge a new type of international relations and build a community with a shared future for mankind. As major countries, both will share their wisdom, play their part and shoulder their responsibilities in international affairs. Through extensive cooperation with other countries, China and Russia will firmly uphold the UN-centered international system and the global order based on international law. The two countries will push forward the reform of the global governance system and promote world peace, stability and sustainable growth for the common interests of mankind.

Generating New Driving Forces from the New Vision

As a Chinese saying goes, “a thousand-mile journey starts with the first step”. China and Russia will see to it that the bilateral ties in the new era set off to a good start in 2020. The two presidents, in messages of new year greetings to each other, outlined this year’s goal for developing the bilateral relations: taking the all-round cooperation to a new high to inject more impetus into their respective development at home. This year, the two countries will launch the Year of Scientific and Technological Innovation and jointly celebrate the 75th anniversary of the victory of the anti-Fascism war and the founding of the United Nations. Both sides will make all-out efforts to translate what the leaders have agreed upon into fruitful cooperation to the benefit of the two peoples.

There will be four highlights in China-Russia relations this year.

First, more solid political mutual trust. Guided by head-of-state diplomacy, China and Russia will continue to engage in multi-dimensional strategic coordination in a back-to-back and shoulder-by-shoulder fashion through exchange mechanisms and multilateral platforms. Both countries have identified their bilateral relations as a priority on the diplomatic agenda and firmly support each other’s rejuvenation and development. Facing bullying practices from certain hegemonic country like containment, suppression, sanctions, coercion, interference, smearing and attempts to drive a wedge between China and Russia, both countries will make unremitting efforts to consolidate the bilateral ties, strengthen communication and coordination, offer each other support and tackle threats and challenges together.

Political mutual trust between the two countries has been further enhanced through their joint response to COVID-19 that caught all by surprise since early this year. President Putin sent a message of sympathy to and made a phone call with President Xi and spoke in public to express his firm support to China. The two governments have sent urgently needed medical supplies to each other based on the situation of fighting the virus and exchanged expert groups for sharing experience. The cooperation against COVID-19 has been a vivid testimony to the high-level and distinctive China-Russia relations.

Second, increasingly intertwined interests. Greater synergy will be fostered between the Belt and Road Initiative, the Eurasian Economic Union and the Greater Eurasian Partnership, especially in enhancing connectivity. The two countries will take the opportunity of the Year of Scientific and Technological Innovation to work more closely together to step up joint research in scientific innovation for breakthroughs in such frontier areas as big science, big data, artificial intelligence and 5G technologies. China and Russia will also endeavor to launch more joint projects of aviation, aerospace, smart manufacturing and energy integration and actively carry out technical exchanges and industrial cooperation to enhance the competitiveness of both countries.

Third, joint efforts to uphold equity and justice. China and Russia, as two countries that played a crucial role in prevailing over Fascism and maintaining the post-war international order, will call on the international community to remember history and cherish peace and the hard-won achievements. The two countries will actively participate in the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the UN, firmly uphold its authority and support a strengthened role for the UN. They will also jointly champion multilateralism, safeguard equity and justice in international relations and contribute to the improvement of global governance.

Fourth, an even stronger bond between the two peoples. The Chinese and Russian peoples have developed lasting friendship through their joint fight against the Fascist aggression. Now the smokeless battle against COVID-19 has again elevated such friendship. The Russian mainstream media have been running reports and articles in support of China’s fight against the disease, highly commending China’s actions and significant progress and voicing strong confidence in and support for Wuhan and the country at large. It is quite touching to see the video clips on various social media platforms of Russian people from all walks of life cheering “Stay strong, Wuhan! Stay strong, China!”. Staff of the Moscow Zoo and Russian kids actively participated in online and offline outreach activities of “Isolate the Virus, Not Love”. Russian artist Yana Gelman gave her oil paintings “the Line of Destiny” as a gift to the Chinese embassy in Russia, symbolizing the perseverance and mutual assistance of the two countries. Such examples abound. The Chinese people have reciprocated the goodwill by supporting Russia in its combat against the virus through various ways. Heilongjiang and other provinces bordering Russia and cities in other parts of China have helped their sister cities in Russia through sub-national channels. Chinese businesses such as Alibaba have provided badly needed protective equipment to Russia. As the Chinese saying goes, families and neighbors always wish the best for each other. There is every reason for China and Russia, two neighboring great nations, to carry forward the friendship from generation to generation by standing in solidarity with each other.

The China-Russia relationship in the new era is underpinned by rich experience, guided by inspiring thoughts and based on profound people-to-people ties. It boasts strong internal driving forces and follows the trend of the times. It will keep developing from strength to strength, set a fine example of contemporary state-to-state relations and contribute to the cause of human progress.

Li Hui is Special Representative of the Chinese Government on European-Central Asian Affairs,former Chinese Ambassador to Russia.