Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councilor Wang Yi visited Russia from April 4 to 5, making up for a previously scheduled visit that was postponed. Wang’s trip overlapped with that of Chinese Defense Minister and State Councilor Wei Fenghe. Wei was in Russia from April 1 to 5 both to attend the Moscow Conference on International Security and to conduct his first visit abroad since assuming his post.
While in Russia, both Wang and Wei made it clear that their visits signaled increasingly tight China-Russia cooperation amid tensions on both sides with the United States.
Wang, during his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, declared that “China-Russia relations are in the best period of history.” He added that the two sides should seek even closer coordination in the future, saying that “since the current international and regional situation is still full of various uncertainties, it is necessary for China and Russia, two close strategic partners, to strengthen communication and coordination.” In talks with both Lavrov and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Wang stressed the need for China and Russia to coordinate on regional and global issues of interest, help safeguard each other’s national interests, and support each other in taking up larger roles on the world stage.
In his meeting with Wang, Putin also emphasized that the China-Russia relationship is a strategic choice, not a marriage of convenience, as sometimes suggested. “Both sides become comprehensive strategic partners of coordination, which is not an act of expediency but each other’s deliberate decision,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry readout paraphrased Putin as saying.
Wei, meanwhile, was explicit about the cooperation between Russia and China being aimed at the United States. “[T]he Chinese side has come to show Americans the close ties between the Armed Forces of China and Russia, especially in this situation. We’ve come to support you,” Wei said in talks with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, according to Russia’s TASS news agency.
In his comments at the Moscow Conference on International Security, Wei also added that China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership is “as stable as Mount Tai,” and said that the strengthened military cooperation between the two was important for international peace and security.
According to Sputnik, Wei and Shoigu particularly discussed the Chinese and Russian perspectives on the rapidly unfolding situation on the Korean Peninsula, as well as how to form a joint response to new lows in their relationships with the United States.
Russia stands accused of using a nerve agent to poison a former Russian spy in the United Kingdom, drawing sharp responses from the United States and other NATO members. Allegations of a recent chemical weapons attack by Russian-backed government forces in Syria also drew the ire of U.S. President Donald Trump, who warned of a “big price” to be paid. And of course the United States’ accusations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election continue to overshadow ties.
For China’s part, the prospect of a trade war with the United States has ballooned since Trump announced a plan to slap tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports in response to charges of intellectual property theft. In response, Beijing unveiled its own plans for tariffs on $50 billion of U.S. goods; Trump then further upped the ante by threatening tariffs on an additional $100 billion in Chinese imports.
China has been attacking the U.S. trade moves, and Wang did not miss the opportunity to do so again from Moscow. “The U.S. may think it can profit through pushing protectionism, which is a wrong idea… By waving a big stick of trade sanctions against China, the U.S. has picked a wrong target,” Wang told reporters, accusing Washington of “sheer economic hegemony.”
Meanwhile, both Russia and China were listed as competitors and revisionist powers in the Trump administration’s National Security Strategy. Taken together, these developments have accelerated the trend of a deepening China-Russia partnership under Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping. The timing of the visits from Wei and Wang, amid the nerve agent crisis involving Russia and escalating trade disputes between China and the United States, sends a clear signal: in formulating its dealings with Moscow, Washington will have to account for Beijing, and vice versa.
Putin will visit China in June, both to attend the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (to be hosted in Qingdao this year) and to make a state visit. Ahead of that visit, Putin told Wang, “It is hoped that Russia-China relations will achieve greater development.”