Sino-Russian Relations Under Scrutiny as Xi Meets Putin in Russia

By Frank Fang
Frank Fang
Frank Fang
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers news in China and Taiwan. He holds a Master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.
June 6, 2019 Updated: June 7, 2019

The level of cooperation and trust between China and Russia is once again under close scrutiny, as Chinese leader Xi Jinping arrived in Russia for a three-day visit.

On June 5, Xi arrived in Kremlin for his eighth visit to Russia since he took the helm of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 2012.

Amid growing trade tensions with the United States, Xi appeared especially keen to build economic ties with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

“President Putin is one of my closest friends and a great colleague. This is the best reflection of the high level of bilateral relations and close strategic cooperation between China and Russia,” Xi said to the media following talks, according to statements published on the Kremlin’s website.

Xi added that he and Putin agreed to integrate Beijing’s foreign policy of “One Belt, One Road” initiative with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), an EU-like international body consisting of five members: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia.

Beijing established One Belt, One Road (OBOR, also known as Belt and Road) in 2013 to build up geopolitical influence via investments across Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America.

“We would develop our comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation in this new era and raise our bilateral relations to a new and higher level,” Xi stated.

Putin also spoke well of their relationship, saying that they “maintain close contact” and regularly “talk on the sidelines of international events.”


According to Russian news agency TASS, around 30 intergovernmental and commercial agreements between the two countries were signed during Xi’s visit. One involved Russia’s natural gas producer Novatek, which inked a liquefied natural gas (LNG) deal with China’s state-run oil company Sinopec.

Meanwhile, Chinese internet giant Alibaba inked a deal with three Russian companies—Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), mobile phone operator MegaFon, and internet company—to establish an e-commerce joint venture in Russia, according to TASS.

The two leaders also attended the launch of a Chinese car factory south of Moscow.

And despite warnings by western governments of the security risks associated with Chinese tech giant Huawei, the country’s biggest mobile operator MTS signed a deal with Huawei to develop Russia’s 5G network on June 6, according to Russian media.


Some analysts believe the Sino-Russia relationship is not as rosy as the two heads of state describe.

Despite the “public bromance between Putin and Xi…tangible results remain frustratingly difficult to realize in the economic sphere,” according to a June 6 analysis published in the online magazine The Diplomat by its editor-in-chief  Shannon Tiezzi.

The article explained that the minimal use of words such as “economy” and trade” in the two leaders’ public statements indicated that the two sides had divergent views on trade cooperation.

According to Tiezzi, Xi gave a “tacit admission” that China’s relationship with Russia is weakest when it comes to economic ties, when he told the Russian media in a June 5 interview that the two countries “need to work closely to seek greater synergy between our development strategies [and] deeper convergence of our development interests.”

“Ultimately, the potential for China-Russia trade remains hamstrung by both sides’ heavy-handed political interference in economic affairs,” Tiezzi concluded.

Michael Collins, Deputy Assistant Director of East Asia and Pacific Mission Center at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), also explained that Russia and China are “not allies,” while speaking at a panel held at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in March.

“The Russia-China relationship is more of…strategic solidarity and convenience over mutual interests,” Collins explained.

But it was clear that Beijing sought to lean on Russia economically as trade negotiations have deteriorated with its biggest trading partner, the United States.

Recently, multiple Russian media reported on comments made by He Zhenwei, secretary general of the China Overseas Development Association (CODA), about how Chinese small and medium-sized companies are considering the possibility of moving production to Russia due to the trade war—as made-in-China goods destined for the U.S. market will now be slapped with U.S. tariffs.

While CODA describes itself as a nonprofit on its website, its current and past leaders have had ties with the CCP, including its current chairman Hu Weiping, who retired a post at China’s National Development and Reform Commission, an agency under the State Council.

He added that Chinese goods produced in Russia could then be sold in the United States and Europe.

Xi, along with about 1,000 Chinese officials and business executives, were expected to attend the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, an annual event for Russia’s economic sector, which opened on June 6 and lasts for three days.

Frank Fang
Frank Fang
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers news in China and Taiwan. He holds a Master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.