Russia and China sign economic deals despite Western criticism

BEIJING, May 23 (Reuters) – Russia’s prime minister signed deals with China on Wednesday, detailing bilateral ties as the war in Ukraine drags on and ties are at an all-time high.

Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin — the highest-ranking Russian official to visit Beijing since Moscow sent thousands of troops to Ukraine in February 2022 — held talks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and was due to meet President Xi Jinping.

The visit comes after Russia and China reacted furiously to Group of Seven weekend announcements that singled out the two countries on a range of issues, including Ukraine.

As Russia increasingly feels the weight of the war in Ukraine and Western sanctions in its second year, Moscow has leaned on Beijing’s support, feeding China’s oil and gas demand rather than Russia’s.

“Today, relations between Russia and China are at an unprecedentedly high level,” Mishustin told Li in Beijing.

“They mutually respect each other’s interests, the willingness to jointly respond to challenges, which is associated with increased turbulence in the international arena and a pattern of sensational pressure from the collective West,” he said.

“As our Chinese friends say, unity makes it possible to move mountains.”

The MoUs signed include an agreement to deepen investment cooperation in trade services, an agreement to export agricultural products to China and another on sports cooperation.

‘Dear Friend’

Xi visited Russia in March for talks with “dear friend” President Vladimir Putin after pledging a “no-limits” partnership for what Moscow calls “special military action” just ahead of Russia’s 2022 attack on Ukraine.

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Beijing has rejected Western attempts to link its partnership with Moscow to Ukraine, insisting that their relationship does not violate international norms, that China has the right to cooperate with those it chooses, and that their cooperation does not target any third countries.

“China is willing to work with Russia to implement joint cooperation between the two countries, and promoting practical cooperation in various fields can take it to a new level,” Li told Mishustin.

In April, China’s exports to Russia continued to see momentum, rising 153.1% from a year earlier, after doubling in March, according to data from Chinese customs.

Russia’s energy exports to China are expected to rise 40% this year, and the two countries are discussing supplying Russia with technological equipment, the Interfax news agency reported.

Deepening ties with China is a strategic lesson for Moscow, Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev said Monday in talks with Chinese Communist Party Politburo member Chen Wenqing.

Beijing has not openly condemned Russia’s invasion. But since February, Xi has promoted a 12-point peace plan that has drawn skepticism from the West and been greeted with caution by Kiev.

Last week, China’s Special Representative for Eurasian Affairs Li Hui visited Ukraine to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky, kicking off a European tour that Beijing said was an effort to promote peace talks and a political solution to the crisis.

Russian news agency TASS reported that Li Hui plans to visit Russia on Friday.

Reporting by Ryan Wu; Additional reporting by Lydia Kelly and Ethan Wang; Editing by Michael Perry

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