Russia and China are continuing to deepen their ties in spite of the West’s efforts to curb Russian energy dominance. Instead of encouraging a move away from Russian oil and natural gas, the U.S. and European sanctions have instead provided a cheap energy supply for the Asian market, for countries that are open to maintaining their relations with Russia, such as China and India.
Last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping had a three-day state visit to Moscow, following successful discussions over the strengthening of the relationship between the two states. China and Russia have been gradually deepening their defence and trade ties over the last decade, and the recent introduction of sanctions on Russian energy from the West is now presenting China with an opportunity to boost trade relations with the superpower.
Analysts are now suggesting that it may not be only trade that is improved, with the potential for Russia and China to boost their geopolitical, economic, and military connections. The two powers have often agreed on geopolitical goals, such as putting restrictions on NATO’s military power and encouraging a more multi-polar world. In addition, neither state has tried to hide its distrust of the West, having worked hard to establish their own allegiances and supply chains with non-Western countries.
Alicja Bachulska, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, stated “If you look at the trajectory of China-Russia relations within the last decade, bilateral ties between the two countries have really developed tremendously.” Bachulska added “It’s basically about certain strategic interests, that are very close to both Beijing and Moscow at this point… For both Russia and China, the main interest is to weaken the U.S.-led international order, that’s their primary goal, long term and short term.”
The possibility of strengthening Russia’s relationship with China is important to Putin who has burned bridges with many of the world’s other leading powers. The meeting comes following news that the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin for alleged war crimes against Ukraine during the conflict. While China has avoided stating its support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it has not condemned it either, leaving the door open for its relationship with Putin.
In January and February, Russia raced ahead of Saudi Arabia as China’s biggest crude supplier. China has been eager to buy Russian oil at discounted prices, with its imports rising by 23.8 percent year over year to a total of 1.94 million bpd. And now Russia hopes to increase its gas exports to China, a topic that was discussed by the two country leaders in a week China referred to as a “journey of friendship.” Russia, until recently the world’s biggest exporter of gas, has seen its exports fall dramatically over the last year, since its conflict with Ukraine. This is largely due to sanctions imposed by several countries around the globe. It now hopes to boost its gas shipments to China, but this would require the construction of new pipelines going east. Meanwhile, Xi emphasised his support for the deepening of energy ties between China and Russia, so long as it maintains international energy security and supply chains. While Russia has faced extensive sanctions from the West, China has not been able to avoid western restrictions either. Since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. imposed new export controls on microelectronics to China, as well as adding 110 new Chinese enterprises to its partial exports sanctions list.The U.S. has long considered Russia and China as the key strategic adversaries, and the worsening of its relationships with each state has driven the U.S. to strengthen its regional energy security and establish new supply chains with allied countries. This action has driven China to look for ways to improve its relationship with Russia, as well as foster new partnerships across Asia.
China continues to rely heavily on several countries worldwide for the import of its raw materials, as well as continuing to depend on foreign export markets to drive its economic growth. However, Xi has introduced several policies to encourage economic diversification and ensure stability. He has stimulated domestic consumption to help drive down dependence on foreign exports and hopes to boost the trade of raw materials with Moscow to reduce its reliance on other powers. And this plan appears to be working, with trade between the two states increasing by a third in 2022 to $190 billion.
As well as the potential benefits of deepening its ties with Russia, China could benefit from seeing the situation between the West and Russia play out. Partnering with Russia will allow Xi to understand how Putin responds to heavy Western sanctions and allow him to study its survival experience. China’s contribution to Russia’s economy could also help keep Western attention focused on Russia rather than itself, as an adversary.
As China and Russia deepen their geopolitical and economic ties, the rest of the world – particularly the West – is feeling increasingly threatened by the new power bloc. Working together, the two states could build strong supply chains and provide one another with the energy and other resources needed to ensure economic growth, even without the help of the West. Whether this improved relationship between China and Russia will change the U.S. and Europe’s approach to sanctions on the two powers is still unknown, but the race to diversify Western energy sources and supply chains suggests that the region is preparing itself for whatever may come.
By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com
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