Editor's note: Strategic partnership between China and Russia goes well despite global recession, except for some minor controversial issues about frontier trade.
Although bilateral relations have not changed dramatically, mechanisms are needed to address specific trade issues
Vice-President Xi Jinping's visit to Russia last Saturday is a prelude of high-level visits to come between the two nations this year.
The visit is noteworthy after some hiccups on trade last year. Many Western academics and diplomats have bad-mouthed the relations between China and Russia, while concern has risen from both nations for the future of their relationship.
But how are China-Russia relations now and what lies in their future?
First, China-Russia ties have not changed drastically. Achievements have been made in strategic planning, treaties and deals. Cooperation has strengthened. In recent years, the two sides have worked closely on a number of major issues. China held an event called the "Year of Russian Language" in 2009 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the establishment of China-Russia diplomatic ties. Russia is returning the favor this year by making 2010 the "Year of Chinese Language".
Second, China and Russia have worked side-by-side to tackle the global financial crisis. China provided Russia with a $25 billion loan to help Russia weather its own economic crisis. Russia also agreed to a long-term supply of oil to China as well as to the construction of an oil pipeline to China. These important economic measures are significant because they helped stem economic crises.
Third, officials from China and Russia held talks together on a number of major international issues.
But there were indeed new issues and problems that arose last year. The sudden closure by Moscow authorities of the Cherkizovsky Market due to alleged illegal activities created enormous economic losses for many Chinese businesspeople. Traders in China who were supplying goods to the market were hurt by the closure. This incident riled up the Chinese public and chiefly the netizens, who pressured the Chinese government to do something. The Ministry of Commerce then sent several delegations to negotiate with Russia about the incident.
In Russia, there were also some reports and comments that seemed one-sided about the behavior of Chinese businesspeople at the market. Cleaning up the Cherkizovsky Market is indeed Russia's affair but local authorities should have considered the interests of Chinese merchants doing business at the market. Though some shady trade activities by several Chinese businessmen should be blamed, Moscow's local authorities should have been more careful and considered the factors that led to such a situation at the market. They should have tried to reduce the economic losses of the Chinese businessmen there, rather than dealing with the accumulated problems at the market through relatively simple administrative measures.
The incident has raised new issues for the two nations to discuss, namely how to understand and handle their specific problems and contradictions.
I think relations between the two nations overall is in good shape but that does not necessarily mean there are no discords or problems. The relationship between China and Russia is not an alliance, but a strategic partnership, so it is understandable that problems are emerging which don't need to be exacerbated by either nation.
The key is to identify the nature of these contradictions and problems and their negative impacts on bilateral ties.
Most of the problems between the two are minor and are highly specific. Timely and expeditious agreements from bilateral discussions wouldn't impair bilateral relations.
But the two countries should form a system that is flexible for solving contradictions and problems within the framework of their strategic partnership rather than flare up these issues - inflamed by public opinion (in particular, irrational public opinion) - into major conflicts and issues, or even irresolvable deadlocks. This is what both the Chinese and Russian governments, including local governments, need to pay close attention to.
China and Russia will continue to develop their ties, a general trend that will benefit each side. There is great potential in this relationship and I believe that Vice-President Xi's visit will further promote the China-Russia friendship and enhance mutual trust.
The author is a senior researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
(China Daily 03/22/2010 page8)