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How Putin’s recent visit to Beijing fortifies the Sino-Russian relationship

In Beijing, Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin reaffirmed their complex partnership and promoted a multipolar world order in opposition to US leadership.

In mid-May, Chinese President Xi Jinping welcomed Vladimir Putin to Beijing for a bilateral discussion on their comprehensive strategic partnership.

The two-day ordeal placed significant emphasis on the growing bond between both nations, bolstered by the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war and a shared ambition of countering the US-led world order.

During the visit, Xi reaffirmed that their relationship would endure for generations, a sentiment reflecting their dependence on one another. In fact, without China’s support, Russia’s economy would stagnate under Western sanctions.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Sino-Russian diplomatic relationship and coincides with Putin’s re-election. As a result, it’s expected that ties between the two nations will increasingly fortify, especially given their mutual economic and diplomatic dependencies.

The ‘no limits’ partnership

Weeks before Russia engaged in the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, both nations formally announced their ‘no-limits’ partnership – which was re-affirmed at the visit. Fueled by the isolation and threats of the West, economic interdependence, and military cooperation, the partnership is driven by mutual geopolitical interests.

Military-wise, intensified collaboration between both nations has brought with it joint military exercises, technology sharing, and the development of new weapons. Russia is providing military technology such as air defense systems used in China’s under-the-radar submarines, while China is providing Russia with drone and missile engines as well as semiconductors for use in the defense industry.

The Russian imports of semiconductors from China rose by $300 million between 2021 and 2022, pointing to the use of Chinese components in its increasing military presence against Ukraine.

To counteract US leadership on the geopolitical stage, both nations have been working on their diplomatic outreach through forums such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the BRICS summit. Both alliances aim to reduce the dependence of member nations on Western economies through alternative trade routes and platforms for global governance outside the US-led framework.

Economic collaboration driven by Western pressure

With China as its lifeline amidst Western sanctions, it’s no secret that Russia’s economy has flourished. Russia is now a major energy supplier to China and through increasing its investments in multiple Russian industries, China is a key financier for Russia in return.

Last year, trade between the two nations reached $240 billion, an estimated increase of 64% since February 2022. After the U.S. announced that it would quadruple tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles, Putin stated that China-made cars were welcome in his nation.

With Chinese car exports to Russia totaling $23 billion last year, this figure is expected to rise significantly in response to Western hostility.

Moreover, before the war, Europe was a major importer of Russian oil. Following the invasion, the U.S., U.K., and EU sanctioned Russian oil heavily. To offset this loss, Russia turned to Asia – particularly China and India – as an alternative market for its oil exports.

In 2023, Russia surpassed Saudi Arabia as China’s top crude oil supplier, exporting 107 million tonnes to Beijing, up 24% since 2022.

With this in mind, the recent meeting saw both leaders pledge to intensify cooperation in various energy sectors, including oil, natural gas, coal, and more. Additionally, Chinese and Russian firms are expected to collaborate on large energy projects and explore new areas such as renewable energy, hydrogen, and carbon markets.

To mitigate the impact of sanctions, Xi and Putin announced plans to increase the use of their currencies in bilateral trade. As a result, most commercial transactions between China and Russia will be settled in yuan or roubles.

A plan to open new shipping routes across the Arctic region is also under development as China tries to develop its Belt and Road initiative.

A shared geopolitical vision

In criticising the current US-dominated international system, a section of the leaders’ 7000-word joint statement highlights the battle between democracy and autocracy. Xi and Putin view the existing global governance structures as unfair and biased towards Western interests.

Both nations are committed to undermining US global leadership to create an alternative power structure wherein China positions itself as the leader of the Global South. The statement also examines their individual conflicts, with Russia reaffirming ‘its commitment to the principle of “one China”,’ denouncing Taiwan as an independent state, and China stating that it opposes any external interference in Russian internal affairs.

It also emphasises its neutral stance on the war and hopes that the conflict will be mediated with both sides taken into account. It is vital to note that China recently rejected Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy’s invitation to peace talks in Switzerland to urge nations with influence in Russia to sway Russian aggression.

The statement focuses largely on the US’s actions, branding them ‘attempts to violate the strategic balance.’ Most of Xi and Putin’s concerns with the Western nation regard its unbalanced military presence and capabilities, yet both nations agree that a nuclear war isn’t an option because ‘nobody wins’.

However, this is in contrast with Putin recently ordering tactical nuclear weapons drills, expected to take place ‘in the near future.’

In essence, the visit has cemented the Sino-Russian relationship for the foreseeable. Should the West persist in its hostility towards both nations, it’s anticipated that this alliance will only strengthen further.