What has Premier Li discussed during his visit to Moscow and what are the prospects for Russia-China relations both in bilateral and regional context? Radio VR has discussed it with Andrei Ivanov (Russia) and Dr. Cui Hongjian (China).
Russia and China are "natural partners and natural allies," Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday, at a meeting with the Chinese PM Li Keqiang.
Premier Li arrived in Moscow on Sunday for a three-day official visit, which included the 19th Russia-China Prime Ministers' Regular Meeting.
Beijing is Russia's largest trade partner, with bilateral trade expected to reach $100 billion by 2015.
On Monday the two governments signed about 40 cooperation agreements in various areas: trade, investment, energy, advanced technology, satellite navigation, currency swap and customs.
“The China-Russia partnership has entered a new development phase and boasts bright prospects”, Li Keqiang observed Monday.
Says Andrei Ivanov, a senior fellow at the Centre for East-Asian Studies at the Moscow Institute of International Relations:
During this visit something about 40 different agreements were signed by the Russian and the Chinese sides. And I think that this visit became a very important step in the direction of developing Russian-Chinese economic cooperation.
But I also see some commentaries saying that despite the fact that this visit was very positive and very successful, some of our problems weren’t resolved. For example, the agreement about the concrete steps on the implementation of the agreement about gas deal between Russia and China wasn’t signed. And as the Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said, we are planning to resolve this problem next year.
One more dimension of this visit is political, because for Russia good relations with China in economic sphere are very important from the point of view of political situation in the world, including the situation around Ukraine and all these sanctions against Russia. And we can say that now we can feel that China is supporting Russia.
Talking about political cooperation…
Andrei Ivanov: Well, we have information that the Germans, for example, tried use China in their game against Russia. Maybe, this initiative didn’t come from Germany or from the EU countries, but from the US. But it is made by the hands of Germany and we have some information that the German politicians are trying to persuade China not to support Russia in this situation with Ukraine, and to support the anti-Russian sanctions that were organized by the US and the EU. And we also know that such pressure was put on India, which is also the Russian partner.
As I understand, China, since the beginning of this crisis in Ukraine, found itself in a very uncomfortable, awkward position. From one side, for China Russia is a very good economic and political partner. Our economy is developing very quickly and very successfully. In the political sphere China and Russia are very good partners and our positions in different political spheres, and our attitudes towards different international problems are very similar. And you know that Russia and China are parts of Shanghai Cooperation Organization and BRICS, and so on.
From that point of view, China has to put into consideration two very important aspects. China is a big economic partner of the EU and the US. And China has to think about the position of the US and Europe, and their attitude. But, on the other hand, China is the partner of Russia. And it is very difficult for China to balance between these two sides. And so, I think that China is now trying to find the way how to resolve this crisis and to help Russia, and to help the EU to overcome these problems, which we now have in our relations because of the Ukrainian crisis.
You know that since the beginning of this crisis there were some articles in the Chinese mass communication, newspapers, in the Chinese Internet where there was a very clear support of the Russian position, and there was the understanding of the Russian position towards Ukraine, towards Crimea and so on. Of course, the Chinese leaders cannot openly support the Russian position in this crisis, but there were many articles supporting the Russian position. And this means that the Chinese leaders are also supporting Russia in this sphere.
But now, in order to overcome this crisis, because it is very uncomfortable not only for Russia, it is also uncomfortable for China, it is very dangerous for China, because it can spoil its economic relations with the EU. It can spoil the economic relations with the US, because the US can use the economic tools in order to put pressure on China. And in order to overcome this crisis, I think China will try to find the way to settle the misunderstandings between Russia and the EU. Maybe, China will try to explain the Russian position in this crisis. I hope that China really play a role of a good mediator.
Premier Li visited Moscow as part of his three-leg European tour. So, what are the goals and strategy Beijing is pursuing in Europe? Says Dr. Cui Hongjian, the Director of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies:
Firstly, now China is in a very critical stage of its development. And also the Chinese leadership has launched a new round of opening up and reforming. So, I think now, for China the very-very critical task is to keep sustainable development. And undoubtedly, I think that Germany, Russia and Italy – all of them are very-very important economic and trade partners for China. So, I think that the first goal of this visit by Premier Li is to try to get more cooperation from these countries, to help the Chinese reforming and opening up.
And the second I think, maybe, as we understand it, now both China and the European countries are facing some security challenges. So, I think this visit would be helpful not only for China, but also for the European countries to keep the mainstream of development, because, as we understand it, now some countries of the world want to make use of some security issues or challenges to keep its dominating role in the world.
So, I think it is gaming between the two directions. One of them is – we have to keep the mainstream of development. The other is – we have to make kind of a trip into the continental security. So, I think it is good of this visit to transfer the message from China to Europe, and also to get some more consensuses between China and the European countries, including Russia, Germany and Italy, because development and the economic growth are still a very-very impressing task for all these countries.
Some experts are also talking about the so-called axis of Germany, Russia and China.
Dr. Cui Hongjian: This visit by Premier Li, we have to recognize the background of this action. I mean, the summit between Asia and Europe. And also, we understand that President Xi of China has stressed the proposal of one belt and one road, which means that China wants to build up kind of an economic development zone between Asia and Europe. So, I think that may be the wider map in the minds of the Chinese leaders.
And if we look at the situation from this angle, we can find out that there is no problem if China wants to have some more development of its western part, and also including its neighboring countries in the Central Asia region, and also including cooperation with Russia and even some eastern European countries. So, we can find that Russia, Germany and Italy – they are very-very important partners for China to finish this kind of proposal.
Because now there is some transportation or roadway between China and Germany, and also there are very-very important supplies between China and Italy, we can have the real understanding about what this cooperation is. China wants to have a more liberal trade and investment channel. I don’t think there is kind of geopolitical design, just like you’ve mentioned this axis between China, Germany and Russia. But I think it is mostly a very natural demand of the Chinese development, that China needs to have some more markets and more cooperation with its partners. I think it is just kind of geo-economic vision of this map.
And at the beginning of our interview you also said that China is at a critical point.
Dr. Cui Hongjian: Because, as we know, China indeed has achieved a lot, especially economically in the last more than 30 years. But also, China faces some bigger challenges, I think. For example, China has to upgrade its development model, because in the past China depended so much on the foreign trade and the FDI from the foreign countries to China. But now, as we know, China is already the second biggest economy in the world. So, I don’t think the traditional model for the construction of economy would be still good for China. So, China has to reform something. Just like this time Premier Li stressed everywhere about how important it is for China to have an innovative economy.
So, I think that is also the reason. China looks for the important European countries. As we understand, Germany, Russia and Italy, all of them have some very-very big advantages for this kind of innovative economy. So, I think China still eagerly wants to get some more cooperation and assistance from the outside. And also, as you understand, there are not only just the economic achievements. China is also facing some challenges from its society and from the political circle.
So, I think that is the reason why China needs to do something more for reforming its system to be good for this new situation, because now there is more and more competition between the economies, or kind of strategic competition between China and the US. China needs to have some more space for its goods, for its trade, for its international cooperation. So, from this judgment, undoubtedly, Europe is a very-very good choice for China.