World / Asia-Pacific

Pragmatism to fore in China-Russia ties, experts say

By Zhang Yunbi ( Updated: 2016-06-24 18:21

Foreign Minister Wang Yi has held either face-to-face talks or telephone talks with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in almost every one of the past 12 months, a clear demonstration of the closeness of ties between China and Russia.

Those talks have taken place not just in the hallowed halls of ministry buildings, but also in venues of global or multilateral events from New York and Munich to Tashkent in Uzbekistan.

Chinese experts on Russia say both sides are increasingly pragmatic in dealing with one another, and the issues they have discussed have ranged widely, taking in the Korean peninsula, Syria, Iran and tensions in the South China Sea.

Wang, in his latest meeting with Lavrov, in Tashkent on May 24, said: "China and Russia have maintained close strategic coordination and cooperation in international and regional issues, becoming an indispensable and important factor for safeguarding international strategic stability."

As for the top leaders, President Vladimir Putin is expected to make at least two visits to China this year – a state visit starting on Saturday and another to attend the G20 summit in Hangzhou in September, observers said.

Feng Yujun, head of the Institute of Russian Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said there have been frequent top level-contacts in recent years, sometimes five or six meetings a year.

Putin's upcoming state visit to China "aims to reinforce economic cooperation – particularly trade, investment, infrastructure and cutting-edge technologies – because both countries are faced with demanding tasks for structural reform even as they face economic pressures", Feng said.

He forecast that the two countries will discuss major global issues, especially on the Korean peninsula, the US rebalancing in Asia and the reinforced US East Asia alliance, and he said he looks forward to seeing how Beijing and Moscow will further coordinate their policies and interests.

Chen Yurong, director of Eurasian studies at the China Institute of International Studies, said the shape of the China-Russia relationship will be "shaped by how they each define themselves strategically".

"China is deepening reforms at home and seeking stability in its neighborhood ... while Russia is seeking to return to its best shape and secure its say in the global arena. That is why they are working with one another and why their interests outweigh their differences."

This year marks the 20th anniversary of both countries establishing their strategic partnership of coordination, as well as the 15th anniversary of the signing of the China-Russia Treaty of Good Neighborly Friendship and Cooperation.

Yang Cheng, deputy director of the Center for Russian Studies at East China Normal University in Shanghai, said the two countries do not need to forge a Cold-War era style alliance.

"Also, the two countries could work on cooperative ties that go beyond generic two-way collaboration. It is acceptable if they are selective, covering certain topics."

Yang dismissed the notion that "good strategic collaboration could automatically be translated into considerably improved economic collaboration".

A range of factors, including economic pressures in the two countries, dictate that the growing economic collaboration will be limited, he said.

"Both sides need to rule out these proposals that are not that pragmatic when they plan economic cooperation."

Yang said he believes "there is no absolute standoff" between the West and the rest, because countries can work on global issues such as climate change, drug abuse and anti-terrorism that challenge all mankind.

Sun Zhuangzhi, an expert on Russia at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the "two-way collaboration has considerably transcended bilateral realms" when the two countries echo each other's points on major global issues and work more closely together in institutions such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the BRICS and G20.

As China's Belt and Road Initiative has started dovetailing with the Russia-led Eurasia Economic Union, their strategic collaboration in Eurasia presents new opportunities, Sun said.

Both countries have faced tough challenges in their growth over the past year, underlining "the need to be in the same boat to weather the storm", Sun said.

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