By Elisabeth Hellenbroich

The visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Chinese President Xi Jinping at the occasion of the opening of the 24rth Winter Olympic Games in Beijing is meant as a signal that in key strategic matters Russia and China are united and that their relations are entering a “new era.” A joint statement which was issued by the two presidents, despite strong criticism coming from European press outlets, embodies the potential that a different way in international relations may be chosen, so as to overcome the “strategic deadlock” and the growing danger of war.

Before his arrival in Beijing the Chinese News Agency “Xinhua” published an article by President Putin: “Russia and China: A future- Oriented Strategic partnership”, in which the president outlined that Russian- Chinese relations of comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation were “entering a new era.” He emphasized that the volume of mutual trade had increased by more than a third by end of 2021, exceeding the record level of $ 140 bn. U.S. dollars” and that “we are well on the way towards our goal of increasing the volume of trade to 200 bn. U.S. dollars a year.” He mentioned a series of initiatives that are being implemented in the investment, manufacturing and agro-industrial sectors and referred to the portfolio of the “Intergovernmental Commission on Investment Cooperation” which includes 65 projects worth over 120 bn. U.S. dollars, including collaboration in such industries as mining and mineral processing, infrastructure construction, and agriculture.

Of key importance was his remark concerning future Russian- Chinese cooperation in the domain of finances and currency. “We are consistently expanding the practice of settlements in national currencies and creating mechanisms to offset the negative impact of unilateral sanctions,” and he considered a major milestone in this work, “the signing of the Agreement between the Government of Russia and the Government of the PRC on payments and settlements in 2019.”

Putin also mentioned that a mutually beneficial energy alliance was formed between the two countries, based on a number of large-scale joint projects. The construction of four new power units at Chinese nuclear power plants with the participation of Rosatom State Corporation, launched last year, was one of them. “All this significantly strengthens the energy security of China and the Asia region as a whole. (…) We see an array of opportunities in the development of partnerships of information and communication technologies, medicine, space exploration, including the use of national navigation systems and international Lunar Research Station project,” Putin wrote.

In respect to future Sino -Russian economic cooperation Putin underlined that “one of Russia’s strategic objectives is to accelerate the social and economic upliftment of Siberia and the Russian Far East. These territories are immediate neighbors of the PRC. We also intend to actively develop interregional ties. Thus the modernization of the Baikal- Amur mainline and the Trans- Siberian Railway has been started. By 2024 their capacity must increase one and a half times through higher volumes of transit cargo and reduced transport time. The port infrastructure in the Russian Far East is also growing. All this should further enhance the complementarity of the Russian and Chinese economies.”

He concluded his article by emphasizing that China’s and Russia’s foreign policy is based on “close and coinciding approaches to solving global and regional issues (…) we are working together to strengthen the central coordinating role of the United Nations in global affairs and to prevent the international legal system with the UN Charter at its center, from being eroded.(…) Russia and China are actively cooperating on its broadest agenda within BRICS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, as well as other organizations. Within the G 20 we are committed to taking specifics into account when formulating our recommendations, be it the fight against pandemics or the implementation of the climate agenda.”

In the follow up to his meeting with President Xi Jinping (February 4rth) President Putin announced a new draft contract with China. It was reported by Izvestia (February 4) that Russian oil producers have prepared a gas contract for the supply of 10 bn. cubic meter of fuel to China per year.

China- Russia Joint Statement

There was hardly any coverage in the European press about the “Joint statement on international relations concerning a new era and global sustainable development” whose text was published on the website of the Kremlin.

A closer look at the 14 pages long document, indicates that both China and Russia want to present an alternative for future cooperation and development among nations, thus answering what they perceive as “disregard” for their security interests from the side of Western countries. Some of the key features of the paper include:

Both sides are committed to “protect the United Nations- driven international architecture and the international law-based order,” and underline that the “United Nations and its Security Council playing a central role and coordinating role, promote more democratic international relations, and ensure peace, stability and sustainable development across the world.”

The statement focuses at length on the issue of “democracy as a universal human value”, and considers its protection a common responsibility of the entire world community. “A nation can choose such forms and methods of implementing democracy that would best suit its particular state, based on its social and political system, its historical background, traditions and unique cultural characteristics. It is only up to the people of the country to decide whether their state is a democratic one.” The statement warns that certain states try to “impose their own ‘democratic standards’ on other countries.” They want to monopolize the right to assess level of compliance with democratic criteria and draw a dividing line based on the grounds of ideology, by “establishing exclusive blocs and alliances of convenience”. Such attempts, according to the document, “pose serious threats to global and regional peace and stability and undermine the stability of the world order.”

The two heads of state made a strong commitment to “link” the development plans for the “Eurasian Economic Union” and the “Belt and Road” Initiative: “The sides reaffirm their focus on building the Greater Eurasian Partnership in parallel and in coordination with the Belt and Road construction to foster the development of regional associations as well as bilateral and multilateral integration processes for the benefit of the peoples on the Eurasian continent. Furthermore, both sides agreed to continue consistently intensifying practical cooperation for the sustainable development of the ‘Arctic’.

Russia wants to work with China on the China proposed Global Development Initiative including participation in the activities of the group of friends of the Global Development Initiative under the UN auspices, as well as step up practical implementation of scientific and technological advances in order to identify new drivers of economic growth. Both sides want to strengthen cooperation in such fields as Artificial Intelligence, sustainable transport, the development and use of arctic routes and other areas as well as work closely together in the fight against “Climate change.”

Warnings on changing the international security architecture and call for strengthening the international arms control systems

The two sides give special attention to the international security challenges. They emphasize that both sides believe that: “No state can or should ensure its own security separately from the security of the rest of the world and at the expense of the security of other states. The international community should actively engage in global governance to ensure universal, comprehensive, indivisible and lasting security (…)” This corresponds to the concern which has been numerous times expressed by Russian authorities in respect to Russia’s demand for lasting security guarantees in Europe. The two sides reaffirm their strong mutual support for the protection of their core interests, state sovereignty and territorial integrity, and oppose interference by external forces in their internal affairs. The Russian side reaffirms its support for the One China principle, confirms that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China and opposes any forms of independence of Taiwan. “Russia and China stand against attempts by external forces to undermine security and stability in their common adjacent regions, intend to counter interference by outside forces in the internal affairs of sovereign countries under any pretext, oppose ‘color revolutions’ and will increase cooperation in the aforementioned areas.”

In respect to the actual war danger emerging in Europa and in light of the fact that according to the document certain states are fueling antagonism and confrontation as well as intensifying geopolitical rivalry, that undermines the international security order and global strategic stability, the two sides stated that they strongly “oppose further enlargement of NATO and call on the North Atlantic Alliance to abandon its ideologized cold war approaches, to respect the sovereignty, security and interests of other states, the diversity of their civilizational, cultural and historical backgrounds, and to exercise a fair and objective attitude towards the peaceful development of other states.(…) The sides stand against the formation of closed bloc structures and opposing camps in the Asia Pacific region and remain heavily vigilant about the negative impact of the United States’ Indo Pacific strategy on peace and stability in the region.”

The sides also “welcome the Joint Statement of the Leaders of the Five Nuclear Weapons States on Preventing Nuclear War and Avoiding Arms Races and believe that all nuclear weapon states should abandon the cold war mentality and zero sum games, reduce the role of nuclear weapons in their national security policies, withdraw nuclear weapons deployed abroad, eliminate the unrestricted development of global anti- ballistic missile defense (ABM) system, and take effective steps to reduce the risks of nuclear wars and any armed conflicts between countries with military nuclear capabilities.” Aside reaffirming the importance of the “Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons” as the cornerstone of the international disarmament and nuclear- nonproliferation system, the sides stated their concern about the AUKUS (trilateral security pact signed September 2021 where the US and UK will help Australia to get nuclear powered submarines). According to the Joint Declaration this security pact would “increase the danger of nuclear proliferation in the Asia Pacific region” and weaken the international non- proliferation and arms control systems, thus undermining global strategic stability.

In respect to the actual conflict between Russia/ Ukraine, US, NATO and EU, the sides call on the United States to respond “positively to the Russian initiative and abandon its plans to deploy intermediate range and shorter range ground-based missiles in the Asia -Pacific region and Europe. The sides will continue to maintain contacts and strengthen the coordination on this issue.” It was further emphasized that “the Chinese side is sympathetic to and supports the proposals put forward by the Russian Federation to create long- term legally binding security guarantees in Europe.”  The sides note that the denunciation by the United States of a number of important international arms control agreements has an extremely negative impact on international and regional security and stability. “The sides express concern over the advancement of the US plans to develop global missile defense and deploy its elements in various regions if the world, combined with capacity building of high precision nuclear powered weapons for disarming strikes and other strategic objectives.” The sides oppose attempts by the United States “to turn outer space into an arena of armed confrontation and reiterate their intent to makes all necessary efforts to prevent the weaponization of space and an arms race in outer space.”

International initiatives to prevent war

In stark contrast to the signals coming from the UK as well as from Poland and the Baltic Countries in response to the crisis around Ukraine, French president Macron has announced to visit Moscow during the second week of February, being followed by a visit from German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who in line with Italy wants to give a chance to “diplomatic dialogue.” One can only hope that reason prevails and that the outbreak of war in Europe can be prevented.

It is interesting that Hungary’s president Victór Orbán on February 2nd independently visited President Putin and held a common press conference with Putin February 2nd. It was the first time that President Putin spoke in public since the December issuance of Moscow’s treaty proposal for binding security guarantees in Europe. Orbán called his visit to Moscow “peacekeeping” and underlined in an interview with the Hungarian National Radio the role of Hungary to mediate between East and West, emphasizing that Hungary is ready to do anything to prevent a new Cold War. “My visit is peacekeeping, because I could talk about the fact that the European Union is united, which means that there is not a single leader in the EU who would like to break out a conflict with the Russian Federation.”  He expressed hope that Russia and the United States and NATO will come to agreement on the issue of security guarantees and said that he considered “agreements with the Alliance as possible.” Aside discussing about Russia enlarging gas deliveries to Hungary in the future, one should also note that in an exclusive interview with “Izvestia” (February 2nd) Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjártó stated, that he was glad that “a wave of dialogue between the West and Russia, thank God has been already launched.” At the same time, he noted that his country was “sympathetic to Russian proposals for the non- expansion of NATO to the East.”

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