A senior Chinese diplomat will visit Moscow next week amid rising tensions on the global stage, after the United States announced fresh sanctions against Russia, and Beijing and Washington remain locked in a trade war.
Yang Jiechi, a member of China’s Communist Party Politburo, will be in Russia from Tuesday to Friday to take part in the latest round of the China-Russia strategic security consultation, China’s foreign ministry said on Thursday.
He will co-chair the meeting with Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council, Xinhua reported.
Patrushev said earlier that Yang – a former state councillor in charge of China’s foreign policy – was also expected to meet President Vladimir Putin during his four-day trip, Russian news agency TASS reported.
Yang’s visit comes at a time when both Beijing and Moscow are seeking closer ties as a hedge against US President Donald Trump’s unconventional and aggressive approach on trade and global affairs.
His trip was announced just hours before Washington said it would impose extensive new sanctions against Moscow, including bans on a wide range of exports, by the end of the month as punishment for the alleged nerve agent attack on former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Britain in March. Moscow has denied responsibility for the attack.
The trip also comes at a time when China and the US are embroiled in an escalating trade war. In the latest round of tit-for-tat moves, Beijing on Wednesday unveiled a list of US$16 billion worth of American goods it plans to hit with tariffs after Washington said overnight it would impose 25 per cent tariffs on an equivalent value of Chinese exports.
Beijing and Moscow have enhanced their cooperation in recent years, both bilaterally and on multilateral platforms, in what some observers have suggested is a united effort to change the global order now dominated by the West.
After Chinese President Xi Jinping consolidated his leadership position with the removal of a two-term limit on the presidency and Putin won re-election in March, “the basic building blocks for future cooperation on security issues are somewhat more solid”, said Elina Sinkkonen, a senior research fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.
“Such language, together with the US sanctions on Russia and trade issues with China certainly influence top level calculations in Moscow and Beijing,” she said.
Alex Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Centre, said the two neighbours had also seen their interests becoming increasingly overlapped in areas ranging from security in Central Asia to the future of Afghanistan, Africa and North Korea.
“Both countries want to keep each other in the loop, explain their intentions and cooperate when possible”, he said.
However, shared concerns about the Trump administration, which named both China and Russia as chief adversaries in its latest national security strategy, were also expected to be high on the agenda during Yang’s Moscow trip.
“The growth of the Pentagon’s budget, and development of a global missile defence system is a joint challenge, and Russia and China are looking for ways to pool resources to address it,” Gabuev said.
Li Xing, a Sino-Russian affairs expert at Beijing Normal University, said the two countries might seek to strengthen their ties in the face of rising pressure from the US.
“The sanctions and trade conflicts could be the external drivers to push deeper cooperation between China and Russia as the two countries have been steadily pushing forward the strategic partnership,” he said.
Sinkkonen agreed, saying that both sides may seek further cooperation in the future, on joint military production or even cybersecurity, although such plans were only at a very early stage.
Despite the closer ties, Gabuev said that Russia, with its significantly smaller economy, was unlikely to be able to provide much support to Beijing in its trade war with Washington.
“China, however, could provide a lot of resources to help some Russian companies withstand the American sanctions,” he said.
“In economic terms, the Sino-Russian partnership is mutually beneficial, but increasingly asymmetrical, with Beijing holding a much stronger hand.”