Russia-China: ‘Epoch-Making Relations’ for a New Era
Valdai Discussion Club Conference Hall (Bolshaya Tatarskaya 42, Moscow, Russia)
List of speakers

On October 1, 2019, the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China will be celebrated, as well as relations between Beijing and Moscow, which have lasted just as long. In recent years, they have been steadily improving, and experts often talk about the “strategic partnership.” At the discussion hosted by the Valdai Club on September 17, Russian and Chinese experts tried to consider the past and present of these relations, determine their specifics, and guess what we should expect next.

Yu Hongjun, Vice President of the Chinese People’s Association for Peace and Disarmament (CPAPD), former deputy head of the International Liaison Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, gave a brief overview of the relations between the two countries that began the day after the declaration of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. The speaker emphasised that the USSR was the first state to recognize the new China, and this symbolic circumstance influenced and still affects their bilateral relations. Although disagreements and confrontations began between two countries in the 1950s, by the end of the 1980s the parties had decided to forget the past and agreed to build a dialogue on the basis of equality, rather than confrontation or alliance against a third party. Already in 1997, the parties issued a joint statement on a multipolar world and the construction of a new world order, and in 2015-2019 moved ahead with a strategic partnership.

“Our strategic relations are for the benefit of the whole world and for all mankind, although the international community may not fully understand this,” the expert said. “Now it is necessary to expand practical cooperation, especially regarding big projects. As for the prospects for world trade, the trade war between the USA and China presents a new challenge, and for Russian-Chinese relations it is a new opportunity. Together we can contribute to the development of mankind.”

Fully agreeing with the point about the enormous importance of these relations for the world today, Feng Shaolei, Director of the Institute of Russian and Eurasian Studies at East China Normal University, said that they are unique not so much due to similarities as in spite of differences between the two countries. “We have a lot in common, but also a lot of different features,” he said. “The fact that countries with different backgrounds can coexist despite their differences reflects the epoch-making nature of these relations. President Vladimir Putin once said that from a diplomatic point of view, they are now at the highest point, since Russia and China directly look into the eyes of even the most acute problems, and hold very close consultations on them. This helps us solve all the difficulties that arise, so that our relations have developed precisely in the process of overcoming one difficulty after another. This has allowed the two countries to avoid many obstacles.”

The speaker paid special attention to how wider international relations affect relations between Russia and China – in particular, the US trade war with China. “This war has been going on for a whole year, and although some of our partners have tried to push their interests in one fell swoop, they didn’t succeed. So, for example, GDP growth in China amounted to 6.3%. When our countries are faced with external pressure, we only deepen our cooperation.” However, according to the speaker, external factors should not be overestimated, since these relations have a very strong internal “driver”, which, on the one hand, protects them from external influences, and on the other hand, ensures that they are not directed against any third party.

Vasily Kashin, senior research fellow at the Centre for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics, did not agree with this reasoning. He drew attention to the fact that the dynamics in relations between Russia and China depend heavily on the state of the dialogue of both countries with the West. According to him, in the 2000s both countries focused on relations with Europe and the United States and took care to fit into the global economic order. Russia suffered the first crash in this regard in 2014. China tried to avoid experiencing such a fate itself, although it offered help to Russia during its neighbour’s most difficult period. Therefore, a substantial warming and strategic partnership between them dates back to the last few years, when the United States launched a trade war against China.

“In the future, the situation is likely to worsen, and at the moment, the leaders of Russia and China have come to the conclusion that they have been drawn into a long-term and irreversible conflict with the United States, which will end only with the political defeat of one of the parties. Next, the question will arise of developing a joint strategy, and, apparently, cooperation on all international issues will increase. In the economy, America’s efforts to isolate China will mean that we will need to interact more. ”

All experts, however, agreed that with or without impulse from the USA, relations between Russia and China entered a new era. It will last a long time, but what it is destined to be is being decided right now.