With China-Russia ties at ‘best in history,’ trade still needs a boost to ensure security
Growing partnership calls for deeper ties to deal with common threats
Published: Mar 23, 2021 08:13 PM
National flags of China and Russia are seen in the Red Square, Moscow, Russia.

National flags of China and Russia are seen in the Red Square, Moscow, Russia.

China and Russia are seeking to further bolster the security of their financial and trade relations to fend off threats posed by some "unfriendly" countries, officials said on Tuesday, in an apparent reference to the US and a few Western countries that are imposing unilateral sanctions on China and Russia over unsubstantiated accusations.

The renewed commitment also offered a sobering reminder of the need to further boost cooperation in trade and investment, which, despite recent improvements, still lags behind and isn't reflective of the constantly rising strategic partnership between the two nations.

"We will spare no efforts to ensure the safety of Russia-China relations related to trade and clearing currencies from any threats from unfriendly countries," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a press conference with Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi after bilateral talks in Guilin, South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, according to a report from Sputnik in Chinese.

While the meeting, coming after new sanctions and threats by the US against China and Russia, focused largely on global issues of mutual concern such as countering US bullying tactics, improving economic and trade ties also play a major role in ensuring security for both nations, analysts noted. 

Despite notable improvements in recent years, growth in bilateral trade has remained relatively slow, particularly compared with the ever-expanding bilateral ties. In 2020, two-way trade between China and Russia declined by 2.9 percent year-on-year to $107.8 billion, with Russian exports to China down by 6.6 percent year-on-year, according to official data. 

While the decline was mainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors, it also underscored the need for both sides to expand bilateral economic and trade cooperation, which are directly linked to security for both countries, analysts pointed out. 

"Bilateral trade is indeed less than satisfactory as the two countries are rapidly moving closer in the political, diplomatic and security areas," Song Kui, president of the Contemporary China-Russia Regional Economy Research Institute, told the Global Times on Tuesday, noting that the two countries need to boost not just trade volume but also their cooperation in industry, technology and investment to "elevate the economic tie to a new level… which is very necessary."

Chinese and Russian officials have moved swiftly in recent years, particularly after the COVID-19 outbreak, to strength cooperation in areas such as energy, agriculture, medical care and certain technological innovations, with apparent improvements.

Despite a slight decline in 2020, bilateral trade exceeded the $100-billion mark for three consecutive years, and China remained Russia's top trading partner for the 11th straight year. Energy and agricultural trade also saw a robust growth, with Russian becoming a top energy supplier for China and agricultural exports reaching a record high of $5.55 billion.

"There is still much to do, but progress is certainly being made. In particular, Russia's exports to China have outpaced many other countries," Li Ziguo, a senior research fellow with the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times on Tuesday, pointing to the robust trade in energy and agricultural products.

Still, Li said that the trade volume remains low, and the key to address that is to increase bilateral investment and achieve deeper industrial integration. 

"The main issue is how to increase Chinese investment in Russia, which would help bolster development in certain sectors and eventually elevate trade," he said, adding that both sides should improve business conditions for each other's companies.  

As of 2019, Russia ranked No.13 among foreign destinations for Chinese investment at $12.8 billion, according to the latest Chinese official data. But analysts said that the figure could be lifted to a much higher level, given the massive opportunities in a wide range of areas, including energy, agriculture, manufacturing and technology.

"The potential is huge and the outlook is positive, but further policy coordination is still needed to push forward cooperation," Song said, adding that investment in transport and logistics systems is also need to facilitate bilateral trade.

One of the Chinese infrastructure companies engaged in contracting projects in Russia is China Railway Construction Corp, which had in October 2020 set a record for monthly progress with its large tunnel boring machine in the Moscow subway expansion project.

The contractor also incorporated Chinese elements including cloud pattern in the station decoration of the famous Moscow subway, in a sign of China-Russia friendship, according to a statement sent to the Global Times by the company on Tuesday.