Carrying Forward China-Russia Good-neighborliness and Writing a Splendid Chapter for a New Era

By Le Yucheng

The year 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Good-neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation Between China and Russia (hereinafter referred to as “the Treaty”). It is a year important to the future growth of China-Russia relations. President Xi Jinping and President Vladimir Putin officially decided to extend the Treaty during their virtual meeting in June 2021, and issued a joint statement reiterating that Russia needs a prosperous and stable China, and China needs a strong and successful Russia. It was affirmed that the two countries will stay committed to the principle of “ever-lasting friendship and win-win cooperation” in fostering bilateral relations. All these are vivid demonstrations of China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era. Recently, the two heads of state held their second virtual meeting in 2021. After an in-depth exchange of views over major bilateral and multilateral issues, they agreed to jointly work for “a shared future”, and promote the sustained and high-level development of China-Russia relations in the new era. Under the guidance of the two heads of state, China-Russia relations have continued to expand and deepen from a higher starting point.

Sustaining the Treaty Spirit

Twenty years ago, China and Russia fully reviewed the major achievements and historical experience of the bilateral relationship and established its core values, basic principles and fundamental goals in legal terms, laying a solid foundation for bilateral ties to thrive in the 21st century. This guiding document, which serves as the overarching instrument for China-Russia relations, has become a key milestone in China-Russia relations and a pioneering endeavor in the history of international relations, contributing in an important way to the growth of China-Russia relations.

The Treaty marked the beginning for the two sides to explore a new type of international relations. Based on the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, the two sides put forth the principles of “non-alliance, non-confrontation and non-targeting at any third party” and “ever-lasting friendship and win-win cooperation”, clearly stated their shared views on major issues such as observing international law and maintaining global strategic balance and stability. The two sides have taken firm steps forward in abandoning the Cold War mentality and working toward a multi-polar world. Together, we pursue a new model of state-to-state relations featuring dialogue and partnership rather than confrontation or alliance, creating the conditions for building a community with a shared future for mankind.

The Treaty has guided the two sides to remove historical obstacles in the development of bilateral relations. It pointed out that each party has no territorial claim on the other and both parties are resolved to make active efforts in turning our border into one where ever-lasting peace and friendship prevail. Under the guidance of the Treaty and in the spirit of “putting the past behind us and opening up a new era”, the two sides have delineated the over 4,300 kilometers of border through friendly consultation, resolving the problems left from history in the development of bilateral relations and setting a fine example of peaceful settlement of boundary issues.

The Treaty has demonstrated the will and determination of both sides for firm mutual support. The two sides emphasized that they respect each other’s choice for the path of political, economic, social and cultural development in line with the nation’s actual conditions, and support each other’s policies on defending national unity and territorial integrity. The two countries have pursued security through mutual trust, promoted inclusiveness and mutual learning despite differences in ideology and social system, and supported each other’s efforts to safeguard political security, sovereignty and national security. Consensus on a “four-point agreement on showing firm support for each other” thus took shape. China and Russia have embarked on a new journey of being each other’s strategic support and staunch backing.

The Treaty has started a new era of mutually beneficial cooperation in various areas. The two sides have further strengthened our bond of common interests. Cooperation continues to deepen in political and security fields, military and defense technology, economy and trade, cultural and people-to-people relations as well as international affairs. The two sides have steered our mutually beneficial cooperation onto a fast track with new dimensions, greater depth, and wider scope. Pursuant to Article 10 of the Treaty, a full range of high-level exchange mechanisms have been established, including Summits and regular meetings between the Chinese Premier and the Russian Prime Minister, providing platforms for timely and candid exchange of views on major issues of each other’s interest. It has helped resolve the difficulties and problems in the course of cooperation in various fields, and ensured the sustained and high-level development of bilateral relations.

Deepening Strategic Coordination

The past 20 years have been a journey of fruitful cooperation. Guided by the Treaty spirit, the relationship between China and Russia has become a major-country relationship featuring the highest degree of mutual trust, the highest level of coordination, and the highest strategic value. Particularly, since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), under the strong leadership of the CPC Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core, China has conducted major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics that champions major country coordination and cooperation, bringing the bilateral relationship into a new era in which the two countries are “not allies but closer than allies”.

— China and Russia are committed to justice and mutual trust. On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Russia in 2019, President Xi Jinping and President Vladimir Putin announced the elevation of bilateral ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era, and gave China-Russia relations a new characterization of “mutual support, deep convergence, continuous innovation and mutual benefit”. In 2021, the two countries kept in mind of what led to the conclusion of the Treaty, and took our coordination to an even higher level of “no limit, no forbidden zone, and no ceiling”. The two sides further strengthened solidarity and mutual support. For Russia, the State Duma election was the most important political event in 2021. Some Western countries, however, attempted to make unscrupulous interferences in this regard. In his phone conversation with President Putin, President Xi Jinping unequivocally stated China’s firm support for Russia in pursuing a development path that suits its national conditions, and for actions Russia had taken to safeguard its national sovereignty and security. President Xi Jinping noted, “Only the wearer knows whether the shoes fit or not. It is the people of China and Russia who are in the best position to decide which system works in their own country.” For China, celebrating the centenary of the CPC was top on the political agenda of the Party and the country in 2021. On the eve of July 1, President Putin sent a warm congratulatory message to President Xi Jinping and extended his congratulations in person during their virtual Summit. Russian archives department forwarded to the Chinese side a series of valuable archives and historical materials, documenting the early years of the CPC, a testimony to the precious support and best wishes from a true friend and a genuine partner. During the two presidents’ virtual meeting in December, President Putin emphasized that Russia will give the staunchest support to China on Taiwan-related issues and firmly opposes moves by any force to undermine China’s interests using Taiwan-related issues. When certain countries made waves at the United Nations Human Rights Council and the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly under the pretext of human rights, Russia took a clear-cut stand and supported China’s position on issues relating to Xinjiang and Hong Kong. It commended the Chinese government on delivering substantial benefits to people of all ethnicities in Xinjiang, and pointed out that the legislation on national security in Hong Kong is purely China’s internal affairs which allows no foreign interference. Russia firmly supported China in hosting the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games, and criticized the contemptible moves by a few countries to politicize sports. What China and Russia have done in supporting each other and standing up for justice shows that the two countries are real partners committed to justice and mutual trust and sharing weal and woe.

— China and Russia stand in solidarity and mutual assistance. The cooperation between the two countries against COVID-19 reflects our sincere friendship of coming to each other’s help in times of difficulty. China and Russia have maintained close communication and coordination in tackling the dual challenges of containing cross-border coronavirus transmission and facilitating smooth cross-border cargo transport. Not long ago, at a virtual consultation, heads of Chinese and Russian epidemic prevention agencies exchanged views on stepping up cooperation in policy coordination and COVID testing and reached a series of new agreement. In the second half of 2021, some areas in the far east region of Russia were hit by a shortage of COVID supplies. The Chinese side made special efforts to swiftly coordinate various government agencies and assisted the Russian side in procuring and transporting liquid medical oxygen from China to the affected areas, giving strong support to Russia’s COVID response. China and Russia have actively carried out cooperation on drugs and vaccines research and development. Progress has been made in the production of the Russian “Sputnik V” vaccine by Chinese companies. The two sides have taken a clear-cut stand on opposing “vaccine nationalism” and together call for making vaccines a global public good. China has provided over 1.8 billion doses of vaccines to 110 countries and regions. Russia’s “Sputnik V” vaccine has been approved for use in more than 70 countries. Both countries have contributed to bridging the “vaccine divide” and making vaccines affordable and accessible for developing countries. China and Russia have been working shoulder to shoulder to defeat both the coronavirus and the “political virus”. When the US and certain other Western countries smeared China in terms of origins-tracing, President Putin denounced these moves by saying that many Western politicians speak as if they were virologists, and pointed out that politicization would move the world away from the truth, and investigations into the origins of COVID-19 should be based on objective facts.

— China and Russia join efforts in pursuing development. Both countries are working hard to pursue development and national rejuvenation. The past two decades witnessed the increase of bilateral trade by over 13 times, from US$8 billion in 2000 to US$107.8 billion in 2020. The trade volume in the first 11 months of 2021 was US$130.428 billion, up by 33.6% over the same period last year, exceeding the year-round figure of 2020 and hitting a record high. The two countries have seen fruitful cooperation in energy with significant rises of trade in natural gas, coal, and electric power. Not long ago, Russia increased its energy export to China, giving timely assistance to our coal supply. We have expanded cooperation from trade to such new areas as joint research and development, joint production, and synergizing development strategies. Aside from traditional major and strategic projects, cross-border e-commerce, digital economy, agriculture, tourism and services trade have emerged as a new driving force and new sources of growth in bilateral cooperation. The China-Russia Year of Scientific and Technological Innovation, spanning two consecutive years, was concluded successfully. The two sides signed a road map for science, technology and innovation cooperation from 2020 to 2025, and the Memorandum of Understanding Regarding Cooperation for the Construction of the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS). The China-Russia Joint Scientific and Technological Innovation Fund has been set up and put into use. China-Russia Mathematical Center, China-Russia Marine Science and Technology Innovation Center, China-Russia Alliance of Natural Products and Drug Discovery, among other cooperation platforms, have been established and inaugurated. China participated in the construction of the Nuclotron-based Ion Collider Facility. All these tangible results of scientific and technological cooperation have added an innovation dimension and injected a new driving force to the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era.

— China and Russia have worked together to uphold justice. The two countries have jointly upheld international equity and justice as defenders of international order, practitioners of true multilateralism, and champions of the common values of humanity, contributing to international and regional stability and to efforts in tackling global issues. Military cooperation has continued to deepen. The conclusion of the joint exercise ZAPAD/INTERACTION-2021, Joint Sea 2021, and the third joint aerial strategic patrol cruise has demonstrated the two countries’ resolve and ability to maintain peace and security in the region and beyond. In 2021, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi held four “face-to-face” meetings and three phone calls with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. They compared notes on bilateral relations and major international and regional issues. The two foreign ministers released the Joint Statement on Some Issues of Current Global Governance, expounding on the true meanings of human rights, democracy, international order and multilateralism. It reflects our keen sense of responsibility to the world as major countries by actively taking an part in global governance and upholding international justice and fairness. The two foreign ministers issued the Joint Statement on Strengthening the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction (BWC) at the First Committee of the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, urging the US and its allies to clarify their military biological activities at home and overseas and enhance confidence among States Parties. It is a demonstration of our firm resolve to safeguard the multilateral arms control and disarmament regime. In recent years, China and Russia have maintained coordination on Afghanistan, the Iranian nuclear issue, Syria, the Korean Peninsula and other hotspot issues. They have worked to actively promote peace and dialogue, contributing to the stability of the international situation.

Demonstrating Independent Value

The world is witnessing accelerated changes unseen in a century and a pandemic persistent and unchecked. Anachronistic practices of unilateralism and protectionism are on the rise, driven by resurgent power politics and the Cold War mentality. Instability and uncertainty are growing in the international situation. Humanity has come to a crossroads. China and Russia, as each other’s largest neighboring country, are both emerging market countries and permanent members of the UN Security Council. With the well-being and aspiration of the two peoples and the international community on their shoulders, China and Russia have the responsibility and obligation to stand firm on the right side of history and on the side of human progress, and play a constructive role in upholding world peace, stability, development and prosperity. The more unstable and fluid the world is, the greater the need for carrying forward China-Russia relations in a sound and stable manner, and the more valuable China-Russia strategic coordination will be for both countries and the world at large. In general, China-Russia relations have incomparable independent value, with a solid foundation for sustained, high-level development, and tremendous potential for further growth.

The two countries have similar development visions. China and Russia are good partners with shared ideals. We have similar values and positions regarding democracy and human rights. As two major countries with time-honored history and splendid civilization, China and Russia have always promoted democracy and human rights based on our national realities. Through constant exploration, we have successfully blazed a trail that is suited to our respective national conditions and enjoying the support of our people. Democracy and human rights are the right of the people in every country, rather than the prerogative of a few nations. There is no one-size-fits-all model for democracy and human rights. Not long ago, Chinese and Russian Ambassadors to the United States elaborated, in their joint article, on the view of China and Russia on democracy. The Permanent Missions of China and Russia to the United Nations Office at Geneva co-hosted a symposium titled “Webinar on Democracy & Human Rights: Common Goals with Diversified Approaches” via video link, where China and Russia’s view on democracy and human rights was highly recognized and endorsed by delegates from over 60 countries and regions. This fully shows that the view of democracy and human rights advocated by China and Russia represents the will of the people and an irresistible trend. China and Russia are making strides forward along the development paths suited to our respective national conditions, and no one could hold us back in our march toward development and rejuvenation.

The two countries share similar goals on governance. China and Russia’s pursuit of development, prosperity and strength is never aimed at threatening, challenging or replacing other countries. The goal is to make our people masters of the country, society and their own future, and increase their sense of fulfillment, happiness and security. For Chinese and Russian leaders and governments, people are above all else. Not long ago, the Resolution of the CPC Central Committee on the Major Achievements and Historical Experience of the Party over the Past Century was deliberated on and adopted at the Sixth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee of China. The Resolution summarizes 10 points of valuable historical experience drawn from the Party’s success over the past century. It stresses that the Party has in the people its roots, its lifeblood, and its source of strength, and that the people are the greatest source of confidence for the Party in governing and rejuvenating the country. In the revised version of Russia’s National Security Strategy, the Russian government puts the preservation of the people of Russia on top of its strategic national priorities, setting out goals and tasks for improving the people’s well-being. Sharing a people-centered governance philosophy, China and Russia are in the best position to speak with one voice and work in unison.

The two sides enjoy strong internal impetus for cooperation. China-Russia relations have a strong inherent driving force and independent value, immune to changes in the international landscape or interruptions of any other factors. The source of this inherent driving force lies in cooperation that delivers benefits to both countries and peoples. In recent years, with the needs of both countries and peoples in mind, we have never sidestepped difficulties or shirked obligations in conducting cooperation. Outcomes of such cooperation have long benefited numerous Chinese and Russian households. For instance, the China-Russia east-route natural gas pipeline, stretching over 5,000 kilometers in China and running across half of eastern China, has delivered Russian natural gas to Chinese homes. China is now the biggest importer of Russia’s poultry meat and beef. At an online and livestream sales event during the fourth China International Import Expo, candies and ice cream from Russia were sold out in just a few seconds. It not only diversified Chinese people’s grocery options, but also brought Russian businesses a pleasant surprise of an over-4 million-yuan profit in seconds. DiDi, a ride-hailing company from China, has opened its business services in 20 Russian cities. Chinese brand smartphones like Huawei and Xiaomi have become the choice of half of Russian users. One in 13 cars sold in Russia comes from China. As President Putin pointed out at the 23rd St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Russia “maintains very deep and wide-ranging relations with China; in fact, we don’t have such relations with any other country. Indeed, we are strategic partners in the full sense of this word.” His remarks illustrates the excellent state of China-Russia cooperation and its promising future.

China and Russia have worked together as responsible major countries. The world is undergoing profound changes unseen in a century. Living in the same world, no country, in the face of global threats and challenges, can handle all these on its own. We are like passengers in the same boat. Only by taking coordinating actions and choosing cooperation over confrontation, openness over isolation, and mutual benefit and win-win outcomes over zero-sum games, can we make the earth, our common homeland, a better place for all. Both China and Russia are at critical stages of our respective development and rejuvenation, and both face arduous tasks in promoting reform, development and stability domestically as well as grave and complex situation internationally. In the face of challenges in international relations such as rising ideological factors, unilateralism practised by certain big powers and attempts to scapegoat other countries for domestic problems, China and Russia have stepped forward, shouldered responsibilities as major countries and taken the lead in advocating equality, trust, cooperation and rule of law. Together, we are working to steer the international community to make the right choice that is in keeping with the trend of the times and meets the people’s expectations, thus contributing to the development and progress of humanity.

Starting a New Journey

China has embarked on a new journey toward building a modern socialist country in all respects and toward the Second Centenary Goal. In the meantime, Russia is making solid strides toward its national development goals by 2030, i.e. achieving breakthrough development and improving the living standards of its people. At a new historic starting point, keeping in mind the long-term, overarching, coordinated and complementary nature of China-Russia relations in the new era, the two sides will focus their efforts on the following fronts.

First, China and Russia will continue to leverage the strategic and guiding role of head-of-state diplomacy. Head-of-state diplomacy is the anchor and compass of China-Russia relations. At the invitation of President Xi Jinping, President Putin will come to China for the opening ceremony of Beijing Winter Olympics in February 2022. This will be the first meeting in person between the two leaders since the start of COVID-19 and the top priority in bilateral relations in the next stage. The “get-together for the Winter Olympics” will also be a “get-together for the Spring Festival”, as President Putin will visit China at the Chinese Lunar New Year. Together, the two presidents will not only attend the grand event, but also celebrate the new year. This reflects Russia’s valuable political support as well as the deep friendship between the two presidents. The two sides need to take the visit as an opportunity to bring bilateral cooperation in various fields to a new level, broaden and deepen back-to-back strategic coordination, and make a unanimous voice of rock-firm China-Russia unity to the international community.

Second, China and Russia will work together to upgrade practical cooperation. In September 2021, President Xi Jinping delivered an important statement and put forth a Global Development Initiative (GDI) at the General Debate of the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. China is ready to work together with Russia for the implementation of the GDI and advance more robust, green and balanced global development. China will ground its work in the new development stage and follow the new development philosophy to foster a new development paradigm. By leveraging resource complementarities between the two countries, we will focus on priorities, address inadequacies, and shore up points of weakness to transform and upgrade our practical cooperation, and make steady progress to increase bilateral trade to US$200 billion by 2024, the goal set by the two leaders. China and Russia will coordinate the development of “heavy asset” and “light asset”. While ensuring sound implementation of major projects with strategic importance, we will actively develop new business models including 5G, digital economy and cross-border e-commerce, and foster new areas of cooperation such as tackling climate change and Arctic development. We will work to develop self-supporting, secure and reliable industrial and supply chains that will withstand potential disruptions at critical moments. We will continue to leverage the outcomes of the China-Russia Year of Scientific and Technological Innovation, aim for the frontiers of science and technology, step up joint research for breakthroughs in core technologies and key fields, and strive to break technology bottlenecks.

Third, China and Russia will strengthen the foundation for cooperation on connectivity. The two sides, in keeping with the important consensus reached by the two presidents, will enhance synergy between the Belt and Road Initiative and the Eurasian Economic Union, and translate the political consensus and shared vision into concrete actions and practical results. It is important to make hard connectivity of infrastructure a priority direction. Conditions are now ripe for opening vehicle traffic over the Blagoveshchensk-Heihe Highway Bridge, and track-laying has been completed at the Nizhneleninskoye-Tongjiang Railway Bridge. Efforts should be made to let the new pattern of “two bridges and pipelines” of China-Russia connectivity inject impetus to economic development of both countries at an early date. The two sides need to work for soft connectivity of rules and standards to provide strong support for cooperation. On the basis of the Economic and Trade Cooperation Agreement Between the People’s Republic of China and the Eurasian Economic Union, China and Russia will step up alignment of policies and rules, so as to lay a sound institutional foundation for enhancing our economic and trade cooperation. The two sides also need to pursue people-to-people connectivity as a goal, and achieve win-win outcomes with anti-COVID cooperation as the bond and cooperation across the board as the bridge.

Fourth, China and Russia will maintain close coordination in international affairs. The two sides will step up coordination in multilateral platforms such as the UN, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and BRICS, carry out more “China-Russia plus” cooperation, play an important role in steering and engaging in global governance, and keep strengthening the penetration of Chinese and Russian voices globally. China and Russia need to hold high the banner of true multilateralism, stay committed to peace, development, equity, justice, democracy and freedom, which are the common values of humanity, and strive for the building of a new type of international relations and a community with a shared future for mankind.

Fifth, China and Russia will further cement the basis of public support. The year 2022 will mark the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the China-Russia Friendship Committee for Peace and Development. As a major channel for people-to-people exchanges between the two countries, the Committee has made remarkable contributions to enhancing friendship between the two peoples, promoting practical cooperation and strengthening social and public support for China-Russia relations. The two sides could take this opportunity to hold celebrations of various kinds in 2022 to highlight our commitment to an ever-lasting friendship, deepen people-to-people exchanges, and gain increasing public support for the two countries to forever be good neighbors, good friends and good partners, thus constantly taking China-Russia relations to new heights.

As a new year begins, everything takes on a new look. In 2022, we in the diplomatic service will continue to follow the guidance of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era and Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy, pursue peaceful development, make more friends across the world, and provide international public goods. We will make new contributions to common development and shared prosperity for all countries, and work proactively to foster a favorable external environment for the convening of the 20th CPC National Congress and the realization of the Second Centenary Goal. China is ready to work with Russia and other countries to be builders of world peace, contributors to global development and defenders of the international order, and make unrelenting efforts for the progress of human civilization.

Le Yucheng is Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs.