From June 5 to 7, 2019, President Xi Jinping paid a state visit to Russia and met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He also participated in the 23rd St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), marking the first visit of a Chinese head of state to the international event. For Xi Jinping and Putin, this meeting was only one of many, but it had a special significance. Both sides confirmed and signed a comprehensive strategic partnership for another year; they once again issued a common declaration on maintaining global security, opposing hegemony and unilateralism, and upholding multilateralism and the international order, in accordance with the principles of the United Nations.
In addition to formal state meetings, President Putin accompanied his close friend on a boat trip on the Neva River in St. Petersburg. They then boarded the Cruiser Avrora, which symbolises the history of the October Revolution, and held private talks at the Winter Palace, an emblem of Russia’s storied history and glorious civilisation. Against this backdrop, the leaders of the two great countries sought to pursue longstanding diplomatic ties uniting past and present, while keeping a global outlook in mind and looking forward to a better political arena for the whole world.
As many experts have observed, the current relationship between China and Russia is exemplary. The emergence and the evolution of this positive relationship reflects two logical and theoretical paths. The first path, which can be called internal evolution, can be associated with the inherent need for state-building and the evolution of the social system, for top leaders to skilfully engage in statecraft, and for a political philosophy rooted in both cultures. The second path, however, is also undeniable due to intense, sustained external pressure, increasingly adversarial geopolitics, cyberspace threats, and the new ghosts of the cold war mentality, which have manifested themselves amid technology innovation and “a clash between civilisations”. It could be said that both paths are strengthening the relationship simultaneously.
Currently, the direct origin of that pressure is Donald Trump’s protectionist, unilateralist administration has employed reactionary rhetoric in its trade dealings, even invoking the cliché of there being a “clash of civilisations”. Even amid a growing tide of anti-globalisation and populism, this dated hegemonic approach seems absurd. The joint declaration by China and Russia on the strategic strengthening of global stability doesn't just address geopolitics, it addresses “commercial interests.” These words may not be final, but they’re thought to be unprecedented.
For several reasons, China and Russia have both more or less restrained themselves from condemning the behaviour of the United States. President Trump’s priority is ostensibly to get re-elected in 2020. For that reason, all of his policy moves should be seen as potentially disingenuous. The narrow, atavistic approaches the US is using reflect the paucity of Washington’s strategic wisdom; this is manifestly evident in its foreign policy and its actions.
Loyalty is a special commitment great powers have to world order. It is not a compulsory external force, but a positive hope for the well-being of international order. The loyalty requires a high degree of consensus, a spirit of solidarity, and optimism for better coordination. By answering this call of loyalty, the big powers could arrange and optimise their strategies more rationally, predict a partner’s strategic intentions and then seek a more inclusive way of relating, avoiding the potential for narrow mutual-suspicion. The exchanges between China and Russia can be regarded as vivid examples of this spirit of solidarity.
During the state visit, we saw that China and Russia continue to steadily push forward the possibility of such loyalty. Both sides have agreed to build close ties between the Belt and Road Initiative and the Eurasian Economic Alliance, which require more political wisdom and business plans in order to satisfy both sides. We saw both China and Russia, with their great sincerity and perseverance, call for all countries to adhere to the agreement on multilateral cooperation during the Iran nuclear crisis, call for continuous dialogues with the North Korean leader, and oppose any easy breakthrough in the negotiation boundaries. We also saw President Xi Jinping, at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, apply the sharing spirit to high-technology innovation, especially the notion of providing 5G communication technology to all the countries of the world. President Putin applauded and positively recognised this.
There are many things that China and Russia need to do in order to carry out and maintain this path of cooperation. But first of all, China and Russia should do their own things and do well in matters related to both sides. The elites and ordinary people of the two countries alike should be sincerely pleased and proud of their achievements, but this is far from enough. We need more actors and advocates, as well as storytellers who can provide a good description of the Sino-Russian partnership.
Shanghai, a global city full of Russian culture and stories, could be a vivid observer and participator in this kind of partnership for a new era. On June 6, a group of outstanding Chinese artists gathered together to commemorate the 220th anniversary of the birth of the Russian poet Pushkin; all of them recited Pushkin’s poems beautifully in Chinese and Russian. Almost simultaneously, in St. Petersburg, a delegation from Shanghai Pharma (SPH), China’s leading pharmaceutical enterprise, signed a joint venture with BIOCAD, the largest biomedical company in Russia, which will soon produce high-tech biomedical medicine for Chinese consumers at a competitive, affordable price. These two “capital P” events, Pushkin and Pharma, could represent the past and the future of the partnership between Russian and China. This partnership should be seen as a solid milestone for both sides, and inspire us to pursue the well-being of the people of Russia and China.