Representatives of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China signed more than 30 agreements on cooperation in various fields during the state visit of Chinese president Xi Jinping to Moscow that ended on 24 March 2013. Russia became the first country visited by Xi Jinping as the leader of China, which, according to the observers, emphasizes importance of the two countries’ strategic partnership.
As part of the three-day visit, the politician took part in over 20 events, including negotiations with the president of Russian Federation, meeting with students of Moscow State Institute of International Relations, opening of the Year of Chinese tourism in Russia and visit to the Ministry of Defense. In addition, Xi Jinping became the first foreign politician to visit the center for the operational management of Russia’s armed forces.
“It confirms to us once again that military and military-technical cooperation between our two countries is a priority area of interaction between Russia and China,” Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu commented the visit.
Following the meeting, Russian president Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping approved the joint declaration on mutually advantageous cooperation and deepening the countries’ comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation, and signed the action plan for implementing the agreement on good-neighborliness, friendship and cooperation. According to the president of Russia, these documents reflect the two states’ commitment to common goals and similar positions on many issues.
Special attention was paid to cooperation in the energy sector – Russia and China signed an agreement on expanding trade in crude oil and an agreement on construction of an oil refining and petrochemical plant in the Tianjin metropolitan area. The two parties also signed a memorandum on promoting investments in the Far East.
A significant number of agreements were reached between Russian and Chinese companies. In particular, the heads of Gazprom and China National Petroleum Corporation signed a memorandum of understanding for cooperation in the project of pipeline gas supply to China via the eastern route.
One of the priorities also was the development of cultural and humanitarian contacts – Russia and China signed an agreement to facilitate travel between the two countries and combat illegal migration.
Vladimir Putin expressed confidence that the visit of the Chinese leader would “certainly produce positive long-term results, have a good effect on relations between our countries and peoples, and strengthen our partnership’s strategic nature,” and Xi Jinping, in turn, noted that it “was a great success.”
International observers are also mostly positive about the results of the visit. Thus, Dr. Chen Gang, Research Fellow at East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore called the trip fruitful and added that it boosted the politician’s popularity as state leader in China.
“China and Russia signed a number of energy agreements that are to significantly increase Russia’s supply of oil, gas and coal to China, the largest energy consumer in the world. These deals in the long run will be very important for China’s industrialization and urbanization and enhance China’s energy security,” he said in an interview with news agency “PenzaNews.”
According to him, the Russia-China relations are in good momentum now – the two powers share common grounds on many international issues and their economic interests are supplementary instead of competitive.
“Cooperation of the two states is a balance to US pivot to Asia,” Chen Gang emphasized.
However, Raffaello Pantucci, Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute believes that the results of the Moscow trip were “somewhat limited and unsurprising.”
“Mostly, China and Russia reaffirmed the strategic partnership between the two powers and highlighted their eagerness to develop a new non-American world order. For both powers, a significant geopolitical relationship was strengthened without moving too far beyond the current state of affairs,” he said.
Speaking of the most important agreements, the expert noted that the most significant was the deal that was not signed: according to him, the fact that Russia and China were yet again unable to come to an agreement over gas pricing highlights the tensions that underlie the relationship – something that has dragged on for over a decade now.
“The point is that relations between the two are not all rosy and have all sorts of underlying tensions,” Raffaello Pantucci noted.
From his point of view, relations between the two countries are best characterized as being a strategic friendship – they each play an important role for the other, but at the same time they are not intimate friends and have a key region of mutual interest that they fundamentally disagree on: Central Asia.
“Looking internationally, while China and Russia seem to agree on a lot of things in the UNSC, the reality is that China would prefer to take a far less confrontational approach than Russia,” the analyst added.
He also noted that the relationship between the two powers is something that influences their balance between each other, rather than anything regional.
“Any regional balance is more likely to be influenced by China’s growing economic and political weight than Russia’s. It is true that in Central Asia – the region the two share – Russia remains the preeminent military power, but it is China that is increasingly becoming the more consequential economic and political power,” the expert explained.
In turn, Margarete Klein, Senior Associate at German Institute for International and Security Affairs, suggested that the visit had practical as well as symbolic meaning.
“While devoting his first trip abroad to Moscow, Xi Jinping valued the strategic partnership with Russia,” she said.
In her opinion, the most important agreements concern cooperation in the energy sector – the backbone of Russian-Chinese economic relations. According to the expert, now Russia will be able to further diversify its oil exports and China will broaden its access to secure deliveries by land.
“Furthermore, the visit demonstrated the intention of both sides to expand military cooperation. The visit was rich in symbolic in the military field: defense minister Sergei Shoigu was the only minister who met Xi Jinping separately and Xi Jinping was the first foreign politician who visited the operational command of the Russian armed forces,” Margarete Klein said.
She also added that with their strategic partnership, Moscow and Bejing intend to enhance their diplomatic and political weight vis-à-vis the US. However, though Russia and China share common strategic goals on the global level, the regional interests of both sides are different, she believes.
“The relationship between Moscow and Bejing is increasingly getting unbalanced – from the political and economic point of view and to the disadvantage of Russia. This is a potential source of conflict in a mid to long-term perspective. From an economic point of view, the bilateral relationship between Russia and China is much more important for Russia than for China. China accounts for 10% of Russia’s external trade and is the most important single trading partner of Russia. For China, Russia is of much less significance than the US or Japan,” Margarete Klein noted.
In the meantime, Xu Jin, Research Fellow at Institute of World Economics and Politics of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Xi Jinping’s visit was very successful.
“It helped the two presidents to establish good working relationship and pointed out the direction for the development of bilateral relations in the next five years,” he added.
However, according to him, Moscow and Bejing are quasi-allies.
“Sino-Russian relationship may develop toward a formal alliance or stay where it is. It depends on the development of international situation, especially the US foreign policy. When I say the relationship will stay where it is, it does not mean stagnant, but mean our strategic cooperation will meet a ceiling but our economic and cultural cooperation have a long way to go,” the expert explained.
Speaking about the potential influence of Sino-Russian relationship, the analyst stressed that the size of the two countries’ economic cooperation is quite small, and influences nobody in the East Asia.
“The gravity of our relationship is political and military cooperation. That is why the influence of our relationship is not regional but global. It represents a power to change the world from unipolarity to multipolarity,” he said.
“We must notice the sentence in the joint declaration: Both sides give firm and mutual support on the issues concerning core national interests such as the sovereignty, territorial integrity, national security. The sentence is the essence of our strategic and cooperative partnership,” Xu Jin concluded.
This article was published at PenzaNews