China proclaims bilateral “all-weather friendship”
Institutionalizing bilateral ties; Sibu military drills
Chinese officials have begun to characterize relations with Russia as “all-weather” (全天候)。I don’t recall ever seeing this phrase applied to bilateral relations until this year. Johan van de Ven’s analysis for Jamestown in February 2020 noted that China had withheld this designation from Russia.
What does “all-weather” signify? According to Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping, speaking in Islamabad in 2015: “By all-weather, we mean that our two countries will always move ahead together rain or shine. This description of China-Pakistan partnership is a most appropriate one, as it aptly defines the all-weather friendship and all-round cooperation between China and Pakistan.” In 2015 the People’s Daily wrote: “In fact, ‘all-weather’ as an aviation term refers to ‘the general term for all kinds of weather including all complex weather conditions.’ The extended ‘all-weather friend’ describes the friendship that remains strong under the test of various conditions. It can be said that this is a high-level expression of friendly countries in China's diplomatic discourse.”
The PRC most frequently and famously uses “all-weather” to describe its relationship with Pakistan, but at least 13 other countries had earned this distinction by 2015, including Zimbabwe. Belarus obtained this title by 2016. During then-First Secretary of the Secretariat of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping’s visit to Romania in 2009, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs proclaimed that “the two countries are all-weather intimate friends” [两国是全天候挚友]. Xi said during his visit that “all Romanian political factions are highly consistent in developing Romania-China relations and are willing to strengthen the all-round pragmatic cooperation with China… the Romanian parliament is ready to make contributions in this respect.”
Just like Xi attempted to deepen and institutionalize Beijing’s state-to-state relationship with Bucharest in 2009, the PRC in 2021 may be seeking to insulate Sino-Russian relations from potential changes to Russian domestic politics. China has displayed little attachment to particular political leaders in its “all-weather” friendships with Zimbabwe and Pakistan: Beijing may have tacitly backed Mugabe’s defenestration in 2017 and its relationship with Rawalpindi has remained intact despite Pakistan’s tumultuous domestic politics. Beijing may be seeking to de-personalize bilateral ties in the event that Putin retires or is retired in the medium-term.
China and Russia also conducted bilateral military drills on Chinese territory while a brief bilateral spat over imported COVID cases seems to have been resolved. A future edition of The Report will discuss Afghanistan and its impact on Chinese and Russian interactions.
Table of Contents:
1) Political Interactions
2) COVID Interactions
3) Military Interactions
4) Economic Interactions
1) Political interactions
Shenzhen TV: In NBC News' exclusive interview, Russia's President Vladimir Putin said that "we have developed a strategic partnership relationship- between Russia and China that previously had not been achieved in the history of our nations, a high level of trust and cooperation in all areas: in politics, in the economy, in the area of technology..." He expressed support to China on issues related to Xinjiang and Taiwan and refuted attempts to sabotage China-Russia relations. Do you have any comment?
Zhao Lijian: We highly appreciate President Putin's positive remarks on China-Russia relations. Indeed, China and Russia are united like a mountain, and our friendship is unbreakable. Under the strategic guidance of President Xi Jinping and President Putin, bilateral relations have withstood the test of the changing international landscape, setting an example of a new type of major-country relationship. The two countries have firmly supported each other on issues concerning each other's core interests, and the political mutual trust and strategic coordination between the two has been continuously consolidated and enhanced. In the first five months of this year, bilateral economic and trade volume surged by 23.6 percent, injecting strong impetus and confidence into the world economy, which is struggling to recover. Together, we have resisted political viruses, safeguarded the outcome of the victory of World War II and international equity and justice, and firmly defended genuine multilateralism and international equity and justice. Together, we have become an important force for stability in a turbulent world. It is fair to say that the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for the new era is all-dimensional and all-weather. The sky is the limit for down-to-earth China-Russia cooperation, and we are full of confidence in the development of bilateral relations.
The relations between Russia and China are at their highest level ever, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a meeting with his Chinese counterpart
"Let me single out the quote from the statement, which stipulates that our ties today outpace the form of inter-state interaction that was the military-political alliances of the Cold War period. This is the most essential benchmark for our relations in all areas without exception," [Lavrov] said.
Firstly, he claims, during the Cold War, the Soviet Union was concerned with enemies on more than one front. Now, with Beijing on the side of Moscow, Russia can utilize China as a strategic resource, he went on to say…
When it comes to China, Karaganov dubs the relationship a “semi-alliance,” noting that it came about due to the West’s geostrategic failures. However, the political scientist warned against “selling the country’s sovereignty” to Beijing, repeating the mistakes of Europe’s close friendship with Washington in the past.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi suggested discussing the current regional situation at a meeting with Russia’s top diplomat Sergey Lavrov in Tashkent on Thursday on the sidelines of the high-level international conference "Central and South Asia: Regional Connectivity. Challenges and Opportunities."
The Russian-Chinese Treaty of Good-Neighborliness, Friendship, and Cooperation was signed on July 16, 2001, by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Jiang Zemin. On June 28, it was announced after talks by video between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping that the treaty would be extended for five years.
According to Volodin, the Russian-Chinese ties are relations of a "new type between two superpowers" that are built on the principles of openness, and the mutual respect of common interests. He noted that the United States and a number of other Western countries are seeking to hamper Russia’s and China’s development. "Trying to build a unipolar world, they regularly violate the norms of international law, interfere in sovereign affairs. We see imperial ambitions instead of equality and justice, pressure instead of dialogue. They have no partners, only vassals," he stressed…
Relations between Russia and China, two superpowers, which are working "on mutually beneficial terms in the interests of their countries and the development of their states," can serve as an example of such an approach, he added.
The relations between Moscow and Beijing are more stable and effective than traditional military-political alliances, Vitaly Fadeev, a senior counselor at the Russian Embassy in China, said during a video conference on Thursday…
"The Russian-Chinese relations surpass the traditional military-political alliances when it comes to their effectiveness and stability, with the flexibility that helps support this format of relations," Fadeev said…
The diplomat also mentioned the development of cooperation between both superpowers in the post-Soviet space.
Over the past 20 years, China and Russia have been united and determined to move forward. The relationship between the two countries has reached the highest level in history. It has become a pair of major power relations with the highest mutual trust, the highest level of cooperation, and the highest strategic value. The relationship between a pair of major powers with the highest strategic value can be regarded as a model of contemporary major power relations and relations between neighboring countries.
Ambassador Zhang Hanhui said that the sound of the October Revolution brought Marxism-Leninism to China. The Chinese people will never forget the precious support and sincere help provided by the Soviet Union and the Soviet people to the Communist Party of China and the Chinese people during the period of revolution and construction…
China and Russia will strengthen anti-interference cooperation, oppose hegemonism and power politics, work together to practice true multilateralism, resist the "new cold war" and bloc confrontation, and jointly build an open and inclusive world.
Global Times reporters Xie Wenting and Bai Yunyi (GT) interviewed Professor Alexander Lukin (Lukin), head of the Department of International Relations at the Higher School of Economics and director of the Center for East Asian and SCO Studies at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations.
GT: How do you assess the likelihood of a war or military conflict between China and the US in the next 10 or 20 years? If that happens, what position do you think Russia will take?
Lukin: I don't think a war is possible. I believe all sides understand this. A war will be a terrible catastrophe with no winner, because it's hard to imagine what can be called a victory. The two countries are too big and they have nuclear weapons.
But a minor military incident is possible, which can escalate into a larger clash. For example, we have already seen some incidents between ships from the two sides in the South China Sea. It may happen around Taiwan, for example, but I don't think it will.
I don't know what Russia is going to do if a war between China and the US breaks out in 20 or 30 years, because we in Russia don't think that far into the future. But if it happens in the foreseeable future, then Russia would probably support China, because Russia is China's strategic partner. In the case of a minor incident, it will be ideological support, because China would not need military support. Russia will then be morally on the side of China.
China would not need military support in case of a minor incident. China would probably even be against such support from any third party because China is a proud country that can solve its own problems. But it would need a kind of ideological support and coordination of foreign policy.
GT: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited China after the China-US meeting in Anchorage, while China's top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, visited Moscow after a Russia-US foreign ministers' meeting. What signal did this send? Are Russia and China coordinating their position on the US?
Lukin: I'm quite sure that they are coordinating positions on the US. Russia and China coordinate their positions on many issues. This is a part of many agreements that the two sides have reached and they need such coordination. Specifically why they did it before or after their meetings with the Americans is because Russia and China have become strategic partners. When experts talk about the triangular relations between the three countries, there has always been an apprehension that if one side of the triangle comes into some kind of secret agreement with another side of the triangle, it would damage the position of the third side.
Now you see some articles written by influential American experts, who seem to begin to understand that Russian-Chinese rapprochement is a kind of problem for the US. But they still don't know what to do about it. They are discussing how to break the Russia-China de facto alliance without giving either Russia or China anything. So that's also not a very smart position, I would say. They are not going to get anything for nothing. I don't think they can. Contrary to that they might believe, they cannot break our strategic partnership, because it's based on Russia and China's national interests.
GT: Do you think that China and Russia are now in a virtual alliance in terms of international relations?
Lukin: It depends on what you call an alliance, because there are various definitions. If you're talking about a formal military alliance with strict obligations of mutual defense, this is probably not going to happen because the obligations of mutual defense would be too strong for both countries. Also, in the contemporary world military alliances are most often led by a clear leader, a big country or a great power. If you look at NATO, it is certainly led by the US. But Russia and China are kind of equal powers on balance militarily.Russia is still somewhat stronger while economically China is much more effective. So it's not a military alliance, at least not yet.
Comment: “Don’t think that far into the future” – because Sino-Russian relations might be adversarial by that time? Does the PRC think Russia is “on balance militarily?”
2) China-Russia COVID interactions
In March, in tandem with personnel exchanges [“人员往来,” can also be translated as people? see translation note below] between Russia and Europe, the novel coronavirus spread from other European countries to Moscow and other places, and the epidemic gradually spread in Russia. While preventing and controlling the domestic epidemic, China has actively provided Russia with medical supplies and other assistance to support Russia's fight against the epidemic.
Comment: This July 27th article may have been more significant than I thought at the time. It was released three days before Nanjing authorities attempted to deflect blame for local COVID cases onto Russia. The PD (unsurprisingly) claims that COVID-19 spread from Europe to Russia, not China-to-Russia. Second, the phrase “人员往来” may be significant. While I’m not a translation expert, my understanding is that “人员” refers to official personnel [such as, say, airline staff], whereas “人民” is a more generic classifier for people.
The recent coronavirus outbreak in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing originated from a flight from Russia, said Ding Jie, deputy director of the municipal center for disease control and prevention, on Friday. So far, the viral genome sequencing of 52 cases in the outbreak showed that the new cases were highly homologous, suggesting the same transmission chain, and all strains were found to be the highly infectious Delta variant, Ding told a press conference. Among them, the genetic sequence of the virus in earlier reported COVID-19 cases among cabin cleaners is consistent with an imported case reported on Flight CA910 arriving in Nanjing from Russia on July 10.
Comment: It’s a little odd for the PD to call Russia out like this. Russia may have to turn to China for vaccines/booster shots – perhaps the PD is warning Russia to crack down on outbound COVID infections.
Russian politicians, experts and scholars have voiced their opposition to politicizing the traceability of the novel coronavirus, believing that this move may have a devastating impact on global anti-epidemic cooperation.
Ranking member of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee Republican Michael McCall has released a report on the COVID-19 origins supporting the lab leak theory, Fox News announced on Monday.
In July, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced the second phase of studying the origins of COVID-19. After that, he admitted that the spread of infection could be caused by the emergency situation in the Chinese laboratory. The US Intelligence Community also tested the lab leak theory but has not yet arrived at a final conclusion.
Comment: A very odd TASS article that’s critical of China’s COVID response. Might have served as a warning to Beijing amid the blame game surrounding Nanjing’s outbreak.
“The country's latest novel coronavirus outbreak stems mainly from a flight that departed from Russia and landed in Nanjing, capital of east China's Jiangsu Province.”
The United States must address domestic challenges caused by COVID-19 rather than put all its efforts into looking for scapegoats to blame for its own problems, according to Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) Andrey Kortunov. In an article published on the RIAC website, Kortunov argued that the investigation led by the U.S. intelligence community into COVID-19 origins has a clear end-goal of diverting attention from the country's pandemic response failures and casting blame on China.
Lavrov said the comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era between Russia and China has developed vigorously and achieved fruitful results. The two sides have joined hands in fighting the pandemic and have made contributions to international cooperation in the fight against the pandemic. At a press conference following the meeting of the BRICS Ministers of Foreign Affairs held in June, Lavrov said that politicians "shouldn't strive to score points and increase their popularity by speculating about the COVID-19 situation."
Comment: There were some indicators of a spat over imported COVID cases from Russia, but it appears that both sides have moved on.
3) China-Russia Military Interactions
China and Russia must strongly oppose the US' efforts to extend the military competition among major powers into space and oppose its attempts to construct DARC with its allies. China and Russia need to expose the US' shameless practice to further develop space warfare capabilities by hyping the so-called space threat from China and Russia. If the US adheres to such moves, China and Russia should take countermeasures, in a bid to strategically frustrate the US' ambitious plan.
“The Su-57 has triggered great interest, considering that a government contract has been signed for this fighter under Russia’s state armament program, the Rosoboronexport chief said, noting that there was fierce competition from US, European and Chinese companies on the world combat aircraft market.”
It may signify a vast expansion of China’s nuclear arsenal — the cravings of an economic and technological superpower to show that, after decades of restraint, it is ready to wield an arsenal the size of Washington’s, or Moscow’s.
Visiting Chinese State Councilor and Minister of National Defense Wei Fenghe and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu pledged here on Wednesday to safeguard regional peace, security and stability.
Wei said the two countries should continue to strengthen all-round and all-weather strategic coordination, and maintain the steady and high-level development of China-Russia relations.
Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe invited his Russian counterpart Sergey Shoigu to participate in the joint military exercises, which will be held in China in August.
The Chinese defense minister noted that he was "very glad to meet with my great and old friend, the well-respected Russian Defense Minister Shoigu, once again, emphasizing that "this meeting was challenging to organize amid the COVID-19 pandemic."
China’s defense minister also mentioned that in the current international context, the meeting with his Russian counterpart "was a pleasure for both of them, however, some countries did not like it." "This is exactly the essence of our meeting," Fenghe concluded.
Comment: Hosting Russian troops in combined military drills on PRC territory is significant. TASS mistakenly referred to the Chinese Defense Minister by his given name, Fenghe.
He noted that "I am very glad to meet once again with my great and old friend – the respected Russian Defence Minister Shoigu," stressing that "this meeting was not easy – against the background of the spread of the pandemic."
The Chinese Defence Minister also noted that against the background of the current international situation, his meeting with his Russian counterpart "can be said to please both, but some countries do not like it." "This is exactly the essence of our meeting," Wei Fenghe said.
The Minister also recalled that when the IX Moscow Conference on International Security was held last month, he was unable to come to Russia due to a number of events held by the Communist Party of China.
"That's why I specially made a video message for this conference. And today we have the opportunity to meet again at the site of the SCO Council of Defence Ministers," Wei Fenghe said.
Dmitry Stefanovich, a researcher at the International Security Center with the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations, pointed out that where the American military has clear goals, Russia will have to deal with a dilemma. "Formally, there is no mutual nuclear deterrence between Russia and China but our medium and long-term military plans should include the most negative scenarios," the expert stressed.
It is a common understanding among foreign and Chinese military analysts that the PLA has the upper hand if a war breaks out on China's doorsteps, be it in the South China Sea, the East China Sea or the Taiwan Straits, even against powerful opponents like the US and its allies.
From Monday to August 13, China and Russia will hold the Zapad/Interaction-2021 exercise in the Qingtongxia Combined Arms Tactical Training Base in Northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, which will feature more than 10,000 personnel, multiple types of aircraft, artillery pieces and armored equipment with the aim of testing joint reconnaissance, early warning, electronic information attack and strike capabilities.
In addition to displaying China' and Russia's roles as major powers in jointly safeguarding regional peace and stability in Central Asia following the US' irresponsible troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the joint exercise will also enhance military cooperation under the context that both countries are facing suppression by the US, a Chinese expert on international affairs who requested anonymity told the Global Times.
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu arrived in China on a working visit to observe the active phase of the Sibu/Interaction-2021 joint Russian-Chinese operational and strategic drills.
The Sibu/Interaction-2021 drills are running at the Chinese Army’s Qingtongxia training ground in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in northern China on August 9-13. The drills will involve about 13,000 troops and over 400 items of armament and military hardware. The strategic maneuvers will be directed jointly by the command of the military contingents of the two countries.
"We have held this event on the territory of China with the participation of the Russian contingent for the first time, which has become a logical follow-up of our joint work that commenced in the course of the Vostok 2018 [East 2018] maneuvers of troops and forces, the Tsentr 2019 [Center 2019] and the Kavkaz 2020 [Caucasus 2020] strategic command and staff drills," Shoigu said.
It is reported that the bidding information was published on the official website of Russian State Procurement on June 30, and the bidding results were announced on August 5. The winning bidder is Intelligent Social System Co., Ltd., with a total project value of 329.3 million rubles (approximately RMB 29 million). "Moscow Transport" is a software that combines navigation, taxi, rental bicycles and scooters. The Moscow City Road Traffic Organization Center stated that users can upload personal photos in the software, and the system will bind the user's bank card to achieve "completely contactless payment" when riding a car. No one has the right to obtain the user's biological data, and the user's payment data is kept by the bank. At present, some subway lines in Moscow have started testing the facial recognition payment system.
Comment: Intelligent Social System doesn’t appear to have PRC ties. Potentially huge intelligence/counterintelligence implications for Russia had a Chinese company won this bid.
The Sibu/Interaction 2021 joint Russia-China strategic drills were not aimed against any third countries and were crowned with a complete success, Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe said at a meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergey Shoigu on Friday. "Today we observed together the practical operations of the troops at the Sibu/Interaction 2021 drills. The two sides achieved a complete success by their joint efforts at the drills," China’s defense chief said.
As the Chinese defense minister emphasized, "these drills have great significance." "These are the first joint drills organized on the territory of China after the epidemic’s outbreak. And these are the first Chinese-Russian operational and strategic maneuvers with the participation of Russian servicemen," Wei Fenghe stressed.
Comment: Back to saying drills are “not aimed against any third countries.”
4) China-Russia Economic Interactions
China welcomes an increase in the supply of goods from Russia to its market and is ready to provide assistance to Russian manufacturers, China's ambassador in Moscow Zhang Hanhui said at a press conference dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party.
Comment: In response to Russian anxieties about imbalanced trade? Both sides show interest in enhancing extra-petroleum trade ties but that will prove difficult.
An upgrade of the eastern leg of the Baikal-Amur Main Railway (BAM) by 2024 year-end will ramp up the transport capabilities of Eastern Siberia and boost transit traffic and the transit transportation volume after its implementation, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said at the inauguration ceremony. "Today we laid a stone symbolizing the start of upgrading the eastern leg of the Baikal-Amur Main Railway. This is the 340-km long segment from Ulak to Fevralsk. The value of this BAM section for the national economy is enormous," the Minister said.
Comment: While it’s very odd for a Defense Minister to inaugurate a transit railroad, this event seems related to Russian domestic politics, not an oblique warning to a neighboring continental power. Shoigu hails from nearby Tuva and may be consolidating political support in the region.
Russian and Indian warships held joint drills in the Baltic Sea on July 28-29, the Indian Navy’s press office reported on its Twitter on Friday. The drills were held as part of the Indra Russian-Indian maneuvers, the press office specified.
Comment: Significant that TASS only indirectly meta-reported the exercise (i.e. “the Indian Navy’s press office reported”).
Visiting Chinese State Councilor and Minister of National Defense Wei Fenghe and Mongolian Defense Minister Gursed Saikhanbayar pledged here on Monday to beef up pragmatic cooperation between the two militaries. China and Mongolia are friendly neighbors linked by mountains and rivers, and their building of a community with a shared future has been constantly deepened, Wei said during a meeting with Saikhanbayar.
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the two countries have been supporting each other and working together to overcome difficulties, setting an example of anti-pandemic cooperation among neighboring countries and injecting positive energy into a turbulent world, he said. The two sides should continue to firmly support each other on issues concerning each other's core interests and major concerns, remain highly vigilant against interference by outside forces in regional affairs, and jointly safeguard regional security and stability, Wei added.
Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Tuesday held talks with visiting Mongolian Foreign Minister Batmunkh Battsetseg in north China's port city of Tianjin. Wang said that since the outbreak of COVID-19, China and Mongolia have supported and helped each other, writing a new chapter of bilateral friendship.
Wang said China is ready to continue providing Mongolia with necessary help in fighting the epidemic, strengthen cooperation with Mongolia in the fields of mining, energy, finance, agriculture, husbandry and infrastructure construction, and innovate new forms and contents of people-to-people exchanges.
The [Russian Direct Investment Fund, Sputnik V’s producer] is also having trouble fulfilling its commercial contracts for the vaccine. As of May 2021, Russia reportedly had produced only 33 million doses out of 800 million it had promised.
The Ukrainian authorities are unable to pacify the radical forces in the country, and if Kiev attacks Donbass, the population of the region may be subject to genocide. In this case, Moscow, like the entire global community, won’t stay indifferent, Deputy Chief of the Russian Presidential Staff Dmitry Kozak said in an interview with the French quarterly Politique Internationale.
Until next time,
The China-Russia Report is an independent, nonpartisan newsletter covering political, economic, and security affairs within and between China and Russia. All articles, comments, op-eds, etc represent only the personal opinion of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the position(s) of The China-Russia Report.