To emphasize how much China values close ties with Russia, China sent Li Zhanshu, formally the third man in China’s governing body, to Vladivostok to attend the Eastern Economic Forum.
China was present with the largest foreign delegation. Li may also immediately prepare a summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping. It would then take place in Uzbekistan later this month, during Xi’s first foreign trip since the end of 2019, when corona broke out in China.
So much credit to Russia and relations between China and Russia seem better than ever. When Russian President Putin came to Beijing in early February for the opening of the Winter Olympics, the two countries said in a joint statement that the friendship between the two countries was “boundless” and that there were no “forbidden areas for cooperation”.
Even when Russia invaded Ukraine, China remained on Putin’s side. China pointed to the US and NATO as the real aggressors in the war against Ukraine, and when Russia made the unlikely claim that the US is producing biological weapons in Ukraine, China was the first to bring up the ‘news’.
But looks are deceiving. Russia and China do not trust each other at all. Both are only trying to put the other on their own agenda. China succeeds in this better than Russia because Russia is much more dependent on China than the other way around.
This dependence is only increasing because of the war. China does not give Russia disinterested practical support. And now that Russia urgently needs missiles and shells, they get them not from China, but from North Korea and Iran. China does not supply weapons to Russia on a large scale, as the US does to Ukraine.
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It shows how complicated the relationship between Russia and China is. Communist China initially received a lot of support from the Soviet Union, but by the late 1960s the love was over. The founder of the People’s Republic Mao Zedong no longer wanted to remain subservient to Russia, he himself wanted a leading role in the communist world. It almost led to a war, and older Chinese still remember digging underground tunnels for shelter in the event of a nuclear war.
China is now mainly occupied by the United States. In the long run, the United States is the greatest enemy to fight. China can use Russia’s support for this, but preferably with Russia in a subordinate role. Russia, traditionally China’s big communist brother and supreme commander of the communist world, must become the little brother as soon as possible. A brother who can force China to follow an international policy that China outlines and determines at will.
China is now mainly occupied by the United States
China therefore wants Russia to become as dependent as possible. The war provides excellent opportunities for this. For example, China wants energy from Russia as cheaply as possible. Outside of energy, trade flows between Russia and China are limited and not crucial for China. Russia accounts for only 2 percent of China’s trade, and 70 percent of that goes to energy.
Because of the war, Russia is finding it difficult to get rid of its gas and oil in Europe. China is quite willing to buy more, but only on favorable terms.
China sells Russian LNG
In addition, China is also making good use of the high prices in the gas market in Europe by selling Russian LNG, liquefied natural gas, which it has bought cheaply, to Europe for the highest price. China doesn’t need that LNG at the moment: the economy is in bad shape and China already gets enough cheap Russian gas through pipelines.
China also gets oil cheaply, although it is not publicly known what exactly China pays. The country has imported much more Russian oil since May. Russia has thus become China’s largest oil supplier, at the expense of Chinese imports from, for example, Saudi Arabia and Angola. This is favorable for China, but less favorable for Russia’s coffers due to the low price.
China wants to avoid becoming too dependent on Russian energy. Russia is becoming increasingly dependent on China and India for oil sales. More than half of Russia’s oil already goes to China and India, with China buying slightly more than India.
Meanwhile, China is supporting Russia in opposing a European proposal for a maximum oil price. Such a maximum would be unfavorable to Russia.
From now on, China can also pay for oil and gas in Chinese yuan or rubles, it was announced on Tuesday. It is beneficial for China because it makes the Chinese currency more dominant internationally, without it immediately having to become freely tradable. Sberbank, the largest Russian bank, announced on Tuesday that the bank will also provide loans in Chinese yuan.