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China premier urges stepped up trade, investment with Russia

China premier urges stepped up trade, investment with Russia
President of China Xi Jinping attends the plenary session during the 2023 BRICS Summit at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, 23 August 2023. (Photo:EPA-EFE / Gianluigi Guercia / Pool)

Chinese Premier Li Qiang told his Russian counterpart that he wants to boost their trade and other cooperation, underscoring the nations’ close ties with the war in Ukraine well into its second year.

China is “willing to further align its development strategies with Russia” and “maintain the growth momentum of cooperation on trade and investment”, Li said in a meeting on Wednesday with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

The partnership the two nations have built “is not targeted at any third party”, he added, remarks that may be intended to allay US worries. The Li-Mishustin meeting came on the sidelines of a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the nine-member bloc Beijing champions for coordinating security policies across Asia.

Li’s comments are a reminder that China-Russia relations have remained warm, especially since Russian leader Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Beijing has provided diplomatic and economic support to Moscow that has helped blunt the effects of Western sanctions on Russia.

That closeness was on display on Wednesday at the United Nations Security Council, when Russia and China vetoed a US-backed resolution that called for measures including “humanitarian pauses” that would give UN agencies access to provide “essential goods and services important to the well-being of civilians in Gaza.” Russia and China pressed for a different motion calling for a broader cease-fire, which also failed. 

Read: Xi, Putin Hail Benefits of Alternative to US-Led World Order

Last week, Xi reiterated to Putin in Beijing that China supports Moscow’s efforts in safeguarding its sovereignty, security and development interests, adding that deepening ties is not an expedient but a long-term solution.

Putin was visiting for the Belt and Road Forum, which Xi touted as a sweeping alternative to the US-led world order. It was a rare trip abroad for the Russian leader after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against him in March for alleged war crimes in Ukraine.

China was also eager to work with Moscow to ensure grain and energy security, Xi said, and wanted to see “substantial progress” on a natural gas pipeline between both countries and Mongolia as soon as possible.

Beijing has also sought to cast itself as a neutral broker on the war in Ukraine by releasing a 12-point blueprint this year for bringing peace that included calls to halt hostilities. The proposals gained little traction because they would have left Russian troops in control of parts of Ukraine, but they won Xi credibility among Global South nations.

Putin said in September that Russia’s cooperation with China has reached “unprecedentedly high levels”. With the West severing its trade ties over the war, China’s exports to Russia have jumped this year. China is now the largest importer of fossil fuels from Russia, with coal shipments more than doubling since 2020.

Also: Putin Oversaw Drills by Russian Nuclear Forces, Kremlin Said

Still, Beijing has placed limits on the relationship. Xi hasn’t provided any major military aid to Russia that would provoke US sanctions against China, and he’s warned against both the use of nuclear weapons and attacks on civilians. 

Putin recently oversaw drills by Russia’s strategic nuclear forces, raising the stakes in a confrontation with the US and its allies over the war in Ukraine. Ballistic and cruise missiles were fired during the exercises, the Kremlin said in a statement late on Wednesday. 

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