The Russian and Chinese leaders have never missed an opportunity to emphasize the importance of mutual cooperation. On Syrian politics, China has often sided with Russia, which has troops in the war-torn Middle East country. Chinese leader Xi Jinping called Vladimir Putin his “best friend.” In turn, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made a statement that may seem cynical and hypocritical to many. According to him, “Moscow and Beijing are consistent supporters of the formation of a more just, democratic and, therefore, stable polycentric system of the world order.”
However, relations between China and Russia have been limited to tactical cooperation or temporary partnerships of convenience for years, as a senior Biden administration official told. Meanwhile recently interaction between the countries has been transforming “into something more stable and strategic.”
In particular, the official touched upon the military and technical cooperation between Moscow and Beijing, citing examples of modern fighters, hypersonic technologies, radars, nuclear power plants for submarines, night vision equipment, and “battlefield integration systems.”
According to him, briefings on Russian-Chinese relations were held for US President Joe Biden, and the president, having paid attention to this issue when communicating with his advisers, has a “very detailed understanding” of the ties between Moscow and Beijing.
However, in many areas, relations between the two countries are far from being smooth. In recent years, Russia has accused China of stealing its military technology. Moscow is also suspicious of Beijing’s intentions when it comes to energy and other initiatives beyond the Arctic Circle. Both countries may find themselves at odds over India. Russia, India’s main arms supplier, generally maintains a strong relationship with New Delhi. China’s relations with India are tense, with the two countries engaged in border clashes as recently as this year.
As for Russia’s economic relations with China, the latter is much more dominant and dynamic. China is Russia’s main trading partner, but Russia is not even one of Beijing’s top ten trading partners. Therefore it is not worth spending a lot of time trying to destroy their relationship, it will happen on its own, as Beijing meddles into Moscow’s spheres of influence.
The senior official added that any US attempt to capitalize on the differences between Moscow and Beijing must be extremely subtle and cautious. America’s relationship with both countries is already tense enough. The Biden-Putin meeting is a key step towards an exchange of views on China, although it will be one of the many topics on the agenda.