The visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Beijing was closely followed not only in Russia and China, but also in the West. The rapprochement between the two countries could affect both Europe and the United States. After unsuccessful US-China talks in Alaska, Moscow and Beijing exchanged assurances of friendship and enhanced cooperation. About who does not like it – in the material of RIA Novosti.
Great Friendship – Global Governance
Sergei Lavrov’s visit to Guilin was remembered not only for the snapshot in the mask with the inscription FCKN QRNTN (“damn quarantine” – Editor’s note), but also for several loud statements. First, the Russian minister suggested leaving Western payment systems. If the United States wants to stop the technological development of Russia and China, he noted, it must become independent and not depend on the “whims of Western partners.”
Another sensation is the words about the absence of relations with Eurosoz. Europe itself tore them apart and destroyed the mechanisms of interaction, Lavrov stressed. “Our partnership with China is developing faster than what is left of contacts with European countries,” he added.
But the main topic of the visit was Russian-Chinese relations. 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the Treaty on Good Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation. The ministers extended it for another five-year term. In a joint statement following the meeting, they outlined a common view of the two countries on global problems in four points: human rights, democracy, reliance on the UN Charter, and cooperation on equal terms.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a meeting in Guilin
The heads of the diplomatic departments also literally demonstrated their feeling of elbow grease: the media scattered shots where Sergei Lavrov and Wang Yi were posing in front of the cameras with their forearms closed.
Even the meeting place was chosen symbolic. Guilin is a small by Chinese standards (only five million inhabitants), a picturesque city in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. For most Russians, these place names do not mean anything, but in the PRC it is a reminder of the help of Soviet pilots in the struggle of the Chinese against the Japanese occupation. In Guilin, there is even a monument to Captain Ivan Babashkin who died here. On the part of Beijing, this is a gesture of courtesy and goodwill towards Moscow.
Under the blows of sanctions
The Russian-Chinese friendship surprises few people today. For more than a decade, states have been working harmoniously on international platforms; in the UN Security Council, they almost always vote in unison, campaigning for multipolarity. Moscow and Beijing are even called “undeclared military allies.”
However, Sergey Lavrov’s current visit to China took place immediately after the failed meeting of his Chinese colleagues with American diplomats in Anchorage. The Chinese side announced that it is going to a “strategic dialogue”. Vis-a-vis this formulation was rejected, saying that they simply want to listen to the position of the PRC and present their own – in order to build relations without equivocation in the post-Trump era.
The conversation began with a skirmish, the parties exchanged accusations. The representative of China firmly declared that he would not allow to speak to himself from a position of strength, as the State Department wants. The Americans, on the other hand, decided to use the meeting as an excuse to express all their claims. Those present only heard about cooperation in passing, only when it came to the climate agenda.
The talks took place immediately after the United States imposed sanctions against China over human rights violations in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Immediately after the failed attempt at dialogue between Beijing and Washington, restrictions came from the EU and Canada. This did not help to restore trust between the collective West and China. In response, the PRC announced measures against the EU, which caused demonstrative bewilderment in European capitals. Some wondered if the West was pushing China and Russia closer to each other, and was it not dangerous.
West and non-West
The Russian-Chinese partnership has unprecedentedly strengthened in recent years, so the fears of the West are not far-fetched, believes Dmitry Suslov, Deputy Director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies (CCEMI) at the Higher School of Economics.
“This is a unique example of two superpowers, besides neighbors, which are not guided by the logic of a zero-sum game in relation to a partner and do not consider each other’s expansion as a threat,” the expert points out.
The Russian and Chinese military are constantly exchanging experience, conducting joint exercises, including in the Baltic Sea. Moscow and Beijing cooperate in such areas as space, missile attack warning systems, Russia sells Su-35 fighters and S-400 air defense systems to the PRC.
At the same time, neither Russia nor China is planning a formal military alliance – this would severely limit the ability to make foreign policy decisions and would oblige the countries to defend each other in the event of an attack.
In addition, since 2014, the PRC’s share in Russian trade has been growing, while the European Union, on the contrary, has been declining. And while trade with the EU is still double that with China, the gap is narrowing. After seven years, Russia is buying more industrial equipment from China than from Germany, and interest in Chinese technology is growing.
Under Joe Biden, there was a clear tendency to separate the West and the non-West, Dmitry Suslov continues. “There is a rallying of the collective West on an anti-Russian and, to a lesser extent, on an anti-Chinese basis. The NATO summit is a clear confirmation of this,” the expert explains.
The real threat of rapprochement between Russia and China for the West is that both countries are becoming stronger economically, militarily and geopolitically. They do not need to fear a war on two fronts, as was the case with the USSR in the sixties. “Russia is calm for the Asian vector, China for the Eurasian one,” Suslov notes.
In the West, they are expressing ideas to call on Russia to their side as the weaker link of the “Entente”, but this is unlikely to succeed. “Firstly, Russia itself will not allow this,” the expert continues. “The deterioration of relations with China is an existential threat for Moscow: it will make problems in Central Asia and the enemy in the face of a growing superpower.” In addition, the West, in the current internal political circumstances, has nothing to offer Russia so that the Kremlin at least thinks about weakening the rapprochement with China. In theory, this requires at least lifting the sanctions and recognizing Russia’s interests in the post-Soviet space and in Europe.
“But the West is not ready to pay even such a minimal price,” emphasizes Suslov. But, he adds, this is an illusion.
At the same time, for a full-fledged rapprochement, the parties will have to resolve many issues – mainly economic ones.
The meeting in Guilin, in contrast to the Sino-American summit in Alaska, really gives the impression of a triumph for the “Russian-Chinese Entente.” And, perhaps, this is true, admits Ivan Zuenko, researcher at the Center for Asia-Pacific Studies of the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
True, Beijing and Moscow have something to discuss besides geopolitics: an unfavorable trade structure for Russia, an insufficient number of successful investment projects, an undeveloped cross-border infrastructure. At the same time, new negative aspects appear.
“For example, the Chinese have closed the ports where Russian fish went under the pretext of fighting the spread of the coronavirus. They are keeping the ports closed, although the pollock fishing season has actually been disrupted, Russian business is suffering huge losses, and the issue of resuming supplies was raised at the level of deputy prime ministers,” says Zuenko.
The Russian-Chinese quasi-alliance works well on the strategic plane. However, from the point of view of ordinary people, the current relationship, according to the expert, cannot yet be called the best in history.
For example, for the Chinese entering Russia, there is an “electronic visa” – in fact, visa-free entry for up to two weeks. At the same time, Russians do not have the opportunity to travel to the PRC in this way. In general, the living and working conditions for foreigners in China are constantly becoming more difficult. “The borders are closed, and no one knows when they will open, although a Russian can fly to the USA with a valid visa any day. Both countries are introducing more and more new trade barriers, business is going bankrupt. Russia, and it’s not just a pandemic, it only accelerated the process that has been growing over the past five to six years,” Zuenko points out.
In this sense, the neighbors have a lot to do in order to establish long-term mutually beneficial relations. But be that as it may, now rapprochement with its largest neighbor seems to be a priority for Moscow. And as long as China needs Russia and it is interested in strengthening relations, it should take advantage of this, while not turning a blind eye to the obvious problems in partnership.