Russia Prioritizes China Relationship as West Continues to Punish Putin

Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, lauded the "inexhaustible potential" of his country's strategic relationship with China on Wednesday.

Moscow's top diplomat called for more economic integration with its powerful neighbor as the war in Ukraine neared 100 days and the West's wide-ranging sanctions continued to endanger Russia's growth.

In prepared remarks at the top of an academic conference hosted by state-backed think tanks from Moscow and Beijing, Lavrov said Russia's cooperation with China continued to grow in "scale and intensity" despite punctuative measures and an "information war" led by the United States.

Developing the "strategic partnership" between the two countries "remains among Russia's foreign policy priorities," he said. "The experience of working together in the new environment shows that our ties have a powerful, truly inexhaustible potential, and are confidently passing endurance tests."

Lavrov referenced the February 4 meeting in Beijing of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who further aligned themselves with a 5,000-word joint statement on cooperation that alarmed many in the West.

The Russian diplomat then quoted his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, describing the Russia-China partnership as one of "no limits" and "no forbidden areas."

At the opening of the two-day event, at which Wang also spoke, Lavrov told participants that the two governments were "paying special attention to trade and economic cooperation," with a strategic focus on energy.

"Our economies successfully complement each other," he said at the event co-hosted by the Russian International Affairs Council and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Program notes for the event said the conference would "focus Moscow and Beijing's approaches" in the face of global and regional threats that directly affect both their interests.

"It is known that the word 'crisis' in Chinese is a combination of two hieroglyphs, 'danger' and 'opportunity.' I am certain that the hybrid war unleashed by the 'collective West' against Russia opens new opportunities for expanding Russian-Chinese practical cooperation, including in the field of investment and finance," said Lavrov, who accused the U.S. and EU of having "turned their currencies into an instrument of blackmail."

Moscow and Beijing intend to "significantly increase" the use of the Russian ruble and Chinese yuan to settle commercial deals, he said, noting that the currencies already accounted for one-quarter of two-way trade.

Putin’s Relationship With China
In this combination image, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks during a joint press conference with Bahrain's Foreign Minister at the Bahraini Ministry of Foreign Affairs' headquarters in the capital Manama on May 31, 2022. Inset images of Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi. Getty

Lavrov also thanked China for its "balanced, unbiased position" on the conflict in Ukraine. "We feel Beijing's support in upholding principled Russian approaches to the formation of a security architecture in Europe."

With Putin's military offensive now into its 14th week, officials in Beijing have successfully resisted calls to openly condemn Russia and distance themselves from Moscow's actions against its neighbor. However, in solidifying its relationship with Russia by providing the Kremlin with much-needed political cover, China may be actively undermining far more significant relationships with major economies in the West, chiefly the EU.

In his own remarks, Wang, China's foreign minister, said the world was suffering from deficits in peace, security, trust and governance. He also opposed "the monopolization of the definition of democracy" and interference in the internal affairs of other counties under the pretext of human rights—a nod to Western capitals that responded with disappointment to UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet's recent visit to China.

"China is willing to work with Russia and the international community to promote true democracy in line with the national conditions and public opinions of all countries," Wang said.