China-Russia relations scale new heights

By Cui Heng Source:Global Times Published: 2018/6/10 16:38:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Russian President Vladimir Putin has become the first foreign head of state to be awarded the first ever Friendship Medal of China on Friday, China's highest state honor for foreigners. This has lent fresh momentum to bilateral ties after Putin visited China from June 8-10 to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit and held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping. 

When Xi visited Russia in July last year, Putin presented him with the country's highest honor - the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle the First-Called. Xi said the honor showed the feeling of sincere friendship the Russian people have for the people of China. The Medal of Friendship to Putin also indicates the importance the two countries attach to relations.

Putin's presidency has contributed to bolster bilateral relations. When China and Russia were on the verge of engaging each other in the 1990s, the newly-independent Russian Federation under Boris Yeltsin leaned West and kept Beijing at a distance, from which it had a different social system. Moscow didn't seek to improve ties until Yevgeny Primakov who espoused the idea of a multi-polar world served as foreign minister and prime minister. The China-Russia partnership of strategic coordination established in 1996 laid a solid foundation for the development of bilateral relations.

Since Putin took office as Russian president in 2000, China-Russia relations have been on the upswing. The two countries set up the comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination featuring equality, mutual trust, mutual support, common prosperity and long-lasting friendship in 2011 and elevated it to a new stage. The rapid development of relations in the new century has been driven by strategic pressure of the US and other Western nations, but more importantly, it is in line with the needs of both countries' development and the wellbeing of the people.

During the past two decades, the political trust between China and Russia has continued to deepen. The two have firmly supported each other on issues related to core interests including sovereignty, security, territorial integrity and development. They began to integrate the construction of the Belt and Road initiative and the formation of the Eurasian Economic Union in 2015.

Trade volume between China and Russia reached $84.07 billion in 2017, a year-on-year increase of 20.8 percent, and will exceed $100 billion in 2018. China has been Russia's biggest trading partner for eight consecutive years and Russia ranks 11th among China's major trading partners. The two countries' energy cooperation has expanded to the Yamal project in the Arctic region.

People-to-people and cultural exchanges and cooperation, especially in fields such as youth affairs, tourism and media, have also deepened. In recent years, China and Russia have continuously organized the "Year of Russia" in China, the "Year of China" in Russia, the "Year of Chinese Language" in Russia, and the "Year of Russian Language" in China, China-Russia Tourism Year and China-Russia Youth Friendly Exchange Year and other thematic activities. According to statistics of the Ministry of Education, there are approximately 80,000 students studying under China-Russia mutual exchange programs and the two countries plan to increase the number to 100,000 by 2020.

On the international stage, the two jointly promoted the establishment of the SCO, BRICS, the China-Russia-India and the China-Russia-Mongolia cooperation mechanisms. They have maintained close communication and coordination on global issues including safeguarding international law and basic norms of international relations, UN reforms, anti-terrorism operations and crackdown on drug smuggling under the framework of a string of joint multilateral mechanisms. They have worked together to promote a new type of international relations centered on cooperation and mutual benefits, with the aim of enabling the international order to develop in a more just and reasonable direction.

The Friendship Medal is meant to express gratitude not only to Putin but also to Russian officials, scholars, entrepreneurs, tourists and even students who have contributed to Sino-Russian relations. Just as Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi once said, "The sky is the limit for Sino-Russian cooperation, and we must continue to make relations even better than they already are."

The author is a PhD candidate at the Center for Russian Studies, East China Normal University.

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