Since Xi was elected to his first term in 2013, he and Putin have met at least 40 times and exchanged many telephone calls and official letters. For the Russian president, his Chinese counterpart is arguably the most-met head of state, other than the leader of neighbouring Belarus, which is part of a union of Russia.
The attendance of Xi and Putin at the forum not only highlights that it is a high-profile event that will set the global development agenda for decades, but also that there is a high level of trust between China and Russia.
When it comes to promoting free trade, Russia and China see eye to eye and it is likely that this will emerge as one of the key themes of this year’s forum as well, with the Belt and Road Initiative serving as the best illustration that cooperation, rather than politically motivated hectoring and economic restrictions, is the way forward in international relations.
Other areas of strong mutual economic interest include chemicals, fertilisers, infrastructure, construction and agriculture. One recent development is the emergence of China as a leading exporter of automobiles and auto parts to Russia.
With trade restrictions in the wake of the Ukraine crisis coming from Europe and the United States, Russian companies and consumers are increasingly shifting their focus to China, which has become a key beneficiary of Russia’s rearrangement of its trade and supply routes.
Russia and China are forming an economic interdependence and it is strategically important to make sure this relationship is balanced and constructive to guarantee a stable and beneficial cooperation that is free from geopolitical and ideological considerations. Both leaders have repeatedly stated their preference for this pragmatic and ideology-free approach to foreign relations and this is something the Belt and Road Initiative has been promoting from day one.
Given the challenges and the geopolitical context, it may be too optimistic to expect any “breakthrough” results from Putin’s visit to China. Yet the very fact that the two countries are maintaining effective dialogue at the highest level shows that both sides are eager to maintain and further develop their friendly ties.
Mikhail Karpov is a PhD candidate of historical sciences at the Moscow State University’s Institute of Asian and African Studies. He is also an associate professor at the School of Asian Studies at the Russian Higher School of Economics
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