Russia, China sign new agreements, defying Western criticism

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin is the highest ranking Russian official to visit Beijing since the Ukraine war began.

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin attends a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China May 24, 2023. Sputnik/Alexander Astafyev/Pool via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin attends a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China May 24, 2023 [Sputnik/Alexander Astafyev/Pool via Reuters]

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin has said that “sensational pressure” from the West was taking Russia-China ties to an “unprecedented high” as officials from the two countries signed a set of agreements on trade and sports cooperation.

Mishustin made the comments on Wednesday during talks with Chinese Premier Li Qiang in Beijing.

The prime minister, who also met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, is the highest-ranking Russian official to visit Beijing since Moscow’s forces invaded Ukraine last year.

His visit comes after Russia and China reacted furiously to the Group of Seven nations’ weekend declarations that singled both countries out on a range of issues including Ukraine.

With the war in Ukraine in its second year and Russia increasingly feeling the weight of Western sanctions, Moscow is leaning on China for support.

Trade between the nations reached a record $190bn last year, according to Chinese customs data.

“Today, relations between Russia and China are at an unprecedented high level,” Mishustin told Li after a grand welcome in Beijing.

“They are characterised by mutual respect of each other’s interests, the desire to jointly respond to challenges, which is associated with increased turbulence in the international arena and the pattern of sensational pressure from the collective West,” he said.

Li, in turn, hailed the “comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership between China and Russia in the new era”.

He noted that bilateral trade had already reached $70bn so far this year, a figure that marks a year-on-year increase of more than 40 percent.

“The scale of investment between the two countries is also continuously upgrading,” Li added. “Strategic large-scale projects are steadily advancing.”

Following the talks, ministers from the two countries signed a series of agreements on service trade cooperation and sports, as well as on patents and Russian millet exports to China.

Mishustin is accompanied by top officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak, who handles energy policy.

Russia’s top customer

China last year became Russia’s top energy customer as Moscow’s gas exports otherwise plummeted due to a flurry of Western sanctions over the war in Ukraine.

According to Russian state media, Novak told Tuesday’s forum in Shanghai that Russian energy supplies to China would increase by 40 percent year on year in 2023.

Analysts say China holds the upper hand in the relationship with Russia, and that its sway is growing as the world turns on Moscow over its war in Ukraine.

China says it is a neutral party between Russia and Ukraine and wants to help broker an end to the conflict.

It has rejected Western criticism of relations with Russia, insisting that their ties do not violate international norms.

Earlier this month, Beijing’s special envoy for Eurasian affairs met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other government officials for talks in Kyiv. The visit by Li Hui followed a phone call last month between Zelenskyy and Xi that the Ukrainian leader described as “long and meaningful”. The call marked the first known contact between the two since the Russian invasion began.

Li Hui, the Beijing special envoy, is scheduled to visit Russia on Friday, Russian news agency TASS reported.

China released a peace plan for Ukraine in February but Kyiv’s allies largely dismissed it, insisting that Putin must withdraw his forces.

Zelenskyy’s own 10-point peace plan includes a tribunal to prosecute war crimes committed by Russia.

Source: News Agencies