Li Qiang and Mikhail Mishustin praise new level of cooperation

It seems we are forging an alliance against us

Chinese premier Li Qiang wants to take economic cooperation with Russia to the next level. During the visit of Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin to Beijing, it seemed that both countries were growing towards each other, but mistrust remains high.

During a state visit in March, Xi Jinping called his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin a good friend and their diplomatic relationship has not deteriorated since. At a press conference in Beijing on Wednesday, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin stressed the equal interests of both nations and said that relations had never been better. According to state media, Xi even told Li Qiang that the countries should cooperate even more in the field of Economy, Trade and energy. The cooperation is worth 200 billion dollars this year and both countries would like to add to that. Both countries would like to create an image that their bond is very good, but that is not necessarily the case.

Where do you see tensions between the two countries?

China and Russia are among the top three global powers and they feel threatened by the number one: the United States. They find each other in it, but the past hangs like a shadow over their collaboration. Relations were far from always good. Moreover, China was not happy with the Russian attack on Ukraine and certainly not with the scale of the offensive.

The war also affected China on a diplomatic level. Relations between the European Union and China were already under pressure before and they have deteriorated since then. After all, the West blames China for not taking a clearer position and not cooperating with the sanctions against Russia.

What is the likelihood that China will also provide military support to its important trading partner? The likelihood of military support exists, but for now it is not very high. By providing such a form of support, relations with the West would deteriorate sharply. The economy would also decline. That is a risk that China does not want to take for the time being. Only if Russia was about to implode, I see China doing something like that. But at the moment, I think that China wants to support Russia economically and keep its distance from it militarily. Thus, for the struggle itself, the closer cooperation between Russia and China does not make any difference.

Zelensky is quite cool about the connection between Russia and China, while giving other countries a swipe from the pan for such cooperation. Why is he more tolerant here? That pragmatic attitude is sensible. Zelensky knows very well that it is not feasible to convince China to treat Russia like a pariah. He therefore chooses the next interesting option, namely to keep in touch with a country that can indeed exert some influence on Russia. I do not think China has the willingness and ability to actually bring the two sides to an agreement on a ceasefire. Even if the country exerted heavy pressure on Russia, it would not succeed.

If both sides are ever willing to stop fighting, it will be useful if the other major players such as NATO and China join the table in peace negotiations. Then that connection is interesting. In any case, it is also threatening for the Russians if Ukraine can talk to China outside of them.

In February, China already published a twelve-point plan to achieve peace, but it was strongly criticized by both sides. Ukraine opposed an immediate ceasefire. After all, Russia could rearm and attack again after a period of rest. The Kremlin, in turn, did not see anything in the demands on territorial integrity and did not want to hand over the conquered territories.

Since then, important steps have been taken. Xi has said during a state visit to the Kremlin that nothing could come between his ties with Russia, but has also indicated that China is not Russia. He continued to take his own positions and talk to other parties. For example, he got European leaders like French president Emmanuel Macron across the floor. China was originally criticized for being too reticent, but in the meantime it has more and more contacts.

Finally, at the G7 summit last weekend, China received criticism for its growing influence on the development of the global economy. Is Li’s statement also a counterattack?

We don’t know exactly, but that seems like a plausible assumption. I don’t think it was wise to react to China like that anyway. The country does not pose a military threat to us, therefore, in difficult times, it seems to me important to focus on the big problems.

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