The Evolution of Sino-Russian Relationship: A Perspective from the Meeting Between Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin

The Shanghai Spirit advocated by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, mutual consultations, respect for cultural diversity and aspiration for common development takes on the key task of facilitating the “conjunction” between the Belt and Road Initiative advocated by China and Greater Eurasia Partnership advocated by Russia.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin met again during the BRICS Summit in Johannesburg. They exchanged in-depth views on current international situation and major issues of common concern. Although the media has not reported details of this talk, yet just as Samuel Charap at the IISS pointed out in 2017, frequent consultations between two heads regarding major issues indicate that “both sides devote significant effort and political capital to managing their bilateral relations effectively. They take a pragmatic, behind-the-scenes approach to resolving disputes and publicly stress the positive elements in the relationship”.

The current Sino-Russian relationship shows the following important characteristics.

First, just as Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan said during his meeting with President Putin on May 24 this year, Xi Jinping looks forward to meeting Putin again to jointly chart the future course of bilateral relations as well as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). It suggests that “charting” for the Sino-Russian bilateral ties is one of the major issues of current mutual concern. Since Putin and Xi Jinping were successively re-elected as heads of states, while drawing their own domestic blueprints, they spare no efforts in designing their future bilateral ties, which obviously attracts both leaders’ attention.

On June 8th, all Chinese people focused their attention upon this scene: at the golden hall of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, an unprecedented solemn ceremony was arranged. It is the first time in Chinese history that President Xi Jinping awarded President Putin the first-ever Friendship Medal. Meanwhile, according to recent polls, President Putin is the most respected and admired foreign leader among the Chinese.

Second, the cooperation between China and Russia is different from bilateral ties in general sense. These two countries are close neighbors, with complementary economic structures and similar stages of development. Over the past thirty years, the enhancement of bilateral political mutual-trust has provided extremely important guarantees for continuing deepening the further progress of bilateral cooperation. It is particularly important that, unlike in the past, both China and Russia will face a new situation in a rather long period. That is, both countries will promote economic and social development envisaging both strong and effective government support and relying on market and democracy. It is actually different from the 1980s, 1990s, and even the beginning of this century when neo-liberalism, market and democracy dominated, while influences of the state and government were weakened. Nevertheless, in the future, it is more likely that the two modes of “strong government” and “market and democracy-oriented” will rely on and support each other. It will be an essential and long-term historic process. Meanwhile, it will also be a more difficult and complex learning process.

Third, against the backdrop of the above-mentioned similarities between both countries, the Sino-Russian relationship will surely be a process pushed forward by the “strong government”, employing market and multiple social forces more effectively. In other words, it will not only need support from more “big projects”, but also requires more diverse civil participation. It will not only consider “market effects” but also focus more on both countries’ long-term development requirements.

According to my recent observation, exchanges between the two leaders continue to be at a high level. Xi Jinping called President Putin his “most intimate friend”. Moreover, among the youth of both countries, especially in some key universities, the number of learning each other’s language is rapidly increasing. This is a pretty good sign.

In addition to advancing a series of big projects, which are often cited today, in the future, I think it is also well worth paying close attention to promoting cooperation in a series of major areas that both countries are planning. For example, President Putin recently delivered an important speech on urban construction in Russia. This is a very encouraging development plan of our great neighbor. Professionals from all walks of life in China can pay more attention to cooperation opportunities within such great and long-term processes. At the same time, this is also a good opportunity to learn in-depth and understand the modernization process of our neighbor. Besides, in fact, both China and Russia have too many such important cooperation areas fitting their respective requirements. For instance, the China International Import Expo to be held this November is also a good chance for Russia to expand its imports from China. Such cooperation will benefit both countries and even the whole world.

Fourth, Sino-Russian bilateral relationship is supported by stable regional cooperation structures.

A model of new type of globalization will, to a large extent, depend on the creation and maintenance of regional cooperation and development frameworks. In particular, under the circumstances that emerging economies are fundamentally reshaping the existing regional frameworks, there emerge very different historical experiences and new ideas as to how to establish new frameworks to replace the old one.

First, whether it is possible to achieve the transition between the old and the new. Obviously, there are no more conditions for such revolutionary approach for transition.

Second, whether such transition has to be managed through conflicts, especially hegemonic competition among major powers. The reality is that there has been no real “Thucydides trap” in history. The world is so large that interest realignment can be arranged without going through a conflictual path.

Third, whether it is possible to go back to the “Yalta Model”, i.e. achieve the transition through traditional geopolitics and division of spheres of influence. The rise of emerging countries, especially the reemerging attention to Westphalian sovereignty in the contemporary world, traditional democratic countries included, means that the simple “return to Yalta” is unrealistic.

Fourth, whether it is possible to handle the challenge of rising countries from the non-European and non-western world, in the way how European Communities and European Union handled the “rising Germany”. Although one can definitely learn from these historical experiences, supra-state, supra-sovereign integration has already encountered strong critical reflection and political backlash. In addition, since current emerging economies still highly rely on sovereignty and emphasize state-building, it is not appropriate to handle the complicated regional and global restructuring through the simple application of such an approach.

Cooperation between Russia and China is not directed against any third party, it is intended to achieve the development goals of both countries, said Feng Shaolei, Director of Centre for Russian Studies at the East China Normal University, in an interview with

Under such circumstances, the Shanghai Spirit advocated by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, mutual consultations, respect for cultural diversity and aspiration for common development – as a new experiment, takes on the key task of facilitating the “conjunction” between the Belt and Road Initiative advocated by China and Greater Eurasia Partnership advocated by Russia. Moreover, development of the Far East and Siberia under such international context constitutes an important aspect of such an experiment of historical significance.

The construction of a new world order just begins with such constructive processes in different aspects.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.