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 criticism of their relationship in the West as the war in Ukraine drags on.
Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, the highest-ranking Russian official to visit Beijing since Moscow sent thousands of troops to Ukraine in February 2022, held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang.
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 abating, with G7 statements over the weekend singling out both countries on a series of issues including Ukraine. The Group of Seven agreed to toughen sanctions against Moscow and urged China to pressure Russia to withdraw its forces from 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.
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,” Steve said. Tsang, director of the China Institute for Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London.
China’s policy toward the war in Ukraine is to “declare neutrality, support Putin and pay no price,” Tsang said, “and the visit reaffirms this, especially the element of supporting Putin.”
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 called a “special military operation” to “discredit” its neighbor. .
Beijing rejected Western attempts to link its partnership with Moscow with Ukraine, insisting that the relationship does not violate international norms, and China has the right to cooperate with any country it chooses, and its cooperation does not target any third country.
Xi told Mishustin that China and Russia should find ways to “raise the level of economic, trade and investment cooperation,” as energy cooperation can be expanded.
Russia’s Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev said deepening ties with China is a strategic path for Moscow, as he held talks on Monday with Chen Wenqing, a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo that oversees police, legal affairs and intelligence.
Beijing has refrained from explicitly denouncing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 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 has described as its effort to promote peace talks and a political settlement.
Li Hui is scheduled to visit Russia on Friday.
Reporting by Ryan Wu. Additional reporting by Lydia Kelly and Ethan Wang; Editing by Michael Perry
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