BEIJING (Reuters) – Russia’s prime minister signed a raft of agreements with China on Wednesday during a trip to Beijing, describing bilateral relations as having reached an unprecedented level, despite Western disapproval of their relationship as the war in Ukraine drags on.
Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin — the most senior Russian official to visit Beijing since Moscow sent thousands of its troops to Ukraine in February 2022 — held talks with Chinese Premier Li Qiang and was scheduled to meet President Xi Jinping.
The visit comes after Russia and China responded strongly to statements from the Group of Seven over the weekend that singled out both countries on a range of issues, including Ukraine.
With the war in Ukraine entering its second year and Russia feeling the weight of Western sanctions, Moscow is counting on Beijing for support, much more than China does for Russia, as it feeds on Chinese demand for oil and gas.
“Today, relations between Russia and China are at an unprecedentedly high level,” Mishustin said at their meeting in Beijing.
“They are characterized by a mutual respect for each other’s interests, a willingness to jointly respond to challenges associated with growing turmoil in the international arena and an exciting pattern of pressure from the collective West,” he said.
“As our Chinese friends say, unity makes it possible to move mountains.”
The signed memorandums of understanding included an agreement to deepen investment cooperation in commercial services, an agreement on exporting agricultural products to China, and another agreement on sports cooperation.
Xi visited Russia in March and held talks with his “dear friend” President Vladimir Putin, after committing to a “borderless” partnership ahead of Russia’s 2022 attack on Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special military operation”.
Beijing rejected Western attempts to link its partnership with Moscow with Ukraine, insisting that its relationship does not violate international norms, and China has the right to cooperate with whoever it chooses, and their cooperation does not target any third country.
“China is ready to work with Russia to implement joint cooperation between the two countries, and strengthening pragmatic cooperation in various fields can bring it to a new level,” Li told Mishustin.
In April, China’s exports to Russia saw continued momentum, jumping 153.1% from a year earlier, after doubling in March, according to data from Chinese customs.
The Interfax news agency reported that Russian energy shipments to China are expected to rise by 40% this year, and the two countries are discussing supplies of technological equipment to Russia.
Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, who held talks on Monday with Chen Wenqing, a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo that oversees police, legal affairs and intelligence, said deepening ties with China is a strategic path for Moscow.
Beijing has refrained from explicitly denouncing the Russian invasion. But since February, Xi has promoted a 12-point peace plan, which has been met with skepticism from the West and welcomed cautiously by Kiev.
Last week, China’s special representative for Eurasian affairs Li Hui visited Ukraine and met with President Volodymyr Zelensky, kicking off a European tour that Beijing has described as its effort to promote peace talks and a political settlement to the crisis.
Russian news agency TASS reported that Li Hui is scheduled to visit Russia on Friday.
Reporting by Ryan Wu. Additional reporting by Lydia Kelly and Ethan Wang; Editing by Michael Perry
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