On June 5, 2021, on the sidelines of the 2021 St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Russian President Vladimir Putin held a video conference with the heads of the world's main news agencies. During the conference, He Ping, president and editor-in-chief of the Chinese official news agency Xinhua, asked Putin about China-Russia relations.
According to Xinhua, Putin replied: "Relations between Russia and China have reached unprecedented heights. The two countries have many common interests, and Russia is keen to expand its cooperation with China in a wider range of areas."
The following day, in his prominent Chinese social media blog Niutanqin, journalist Liu Hong, formerly with Xinhua, underlined an element in Putin's comment on Russia-China relations that he perceived as highly significant. He wrote: "[Putin's] response may appear nothing out of the ordinary, but take note of the key word: 'unprecedented.'" He explained: "Since the fall of the Soviet Union, relations between China and Russia have improved. China and Russia appear to have entered a honeymoon period under Putin's rule, with all kinds of close cooperation and leaders meeting every other day, which is truly unprecedented in history."
Below is Liu Hong's blog article, published June 6, 2021:
Russian President Vladimir Putin responds to a question by Xinhua News Agency president and editor-in-chief He Ping. (Source: Xinhua/Huang Jingwen)
Putin: 'Relations Between Russia And China Have Reached Unprecedented Heights'
"How are Russia and China's relations really going? Putin's recent response, particularly one word, is very telling.
"According to Xinhua, Putin had a video conference with the heads of the world's leading news agencies in the early hours of June 5, Beijing time. Responding to a question about Russia-China relations from He Ping, president and editor-in-chief of the Xinhua state news agency, Putin said the following: 'Relations between Russia and China have reached unprecedented heights. The two countries have many common interests, and Russia is keen to expand its cooperation with China in a wider range of areas.'
"His response may appear nothing out of the ordinary, but take note of the key word: 'unprecedented.'
"...Keep in mind that over the past century, China-Russia (USSR) relations have been turbulent, with the two countries once being comrades and brothers, but [later] also crossing swords on the battlefield. Many Chinese, I believe, will never forget that humiliating chapter of their history.
"However, since the fall of the Soviet Union, relations between China and Russia have improved. They appear to have entered a honeymoon period under Putin's rule, with all kinds of close cooperation and leaders meeting every other day. This is truly unprecedented in history.
"It can be said that in recent years, of the leaders of all major countries, the leaders of China and Russia have really hit it off, with the warmest meetings and the best rapport.
"When China hosts major events – not APEC, G20, or other international conferences, but China-led initiatives, such as the  September 3rd Victory Day parade [celebrating Japan's defeat in WWII] and the  Belt and Road summit – Putin will certainly attend in person.
"It is assessed that had it not been for the pandemic, Putin would have surely visited China several times last year and this year.
"But why use the word 'unprecedented'? Putin was clearly not just being polite.
"According to Xinhua, he told He Ping: 'Russia and China have an extensive range of shared interests, which is an important basis for deepening cooperation between the two sides. One of the most important areas of bilateral cooperation is economic cooperation. Bilateral trade between Russia and China has now surpassed US$100 billion for several years, a level that was maintained in 2020 despite the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic. I believe that by 2024, the volume of bilateral trade will have reached the goal of US$200 billion.
"'Russia-China relations are evolving in lockstep with the times, with close cooperation in a variety of fields such as aircraft manufacturing, lunar scientific research, energy, environmental protection, and cultural and people-to-people exchanges. Russia is willing to collaborate with China to strengthen the link between the Eurasian Economic Union and the joint construction of the Belt and Road Initiative.
"'I have no doubt that Russia and China will continue to strengthen international coordination and cooperation in order to protect common interests. Such strategic cooperation between Russia and China will undoubtedly help to maintain global strategic stability.'
"His message is clear:
"1. 'Russia and China have an extensive range of shared interests, which is an important basis for deepening cooperation.' Please note, an 'extensive' range!"
"2. 'Russia-China relations are evolving in lockstep with the times, with close cooperation in a variety of fields.' Please note, 'evolving with the times!'
"3. Putin has no doubt that 'Russia and China will continue to strengthen international coordination and cooperation in order to protect common interests.' Please note, 'no doubt.'
"...[It is worth noting that] recently during a phone call between [Chinese Foreign Minister] Wang Yi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, [Wang Yi said to his Russian counterpart]:
"'Just a few days ago [on June 1st, 2021] at the BRICS meeting of foreign ministers, you spoke out once more on the issue of the COVID-19 pandemic origin tracing and attacked the US and the West for spreading rumors and slandering, which China greatly appreciates. We will also provide the Russian side with full political support in defending its legitimate rights.'
"During the virtual meeting of foreign ministers of the BRICS countries days earlier, you once again spoke up for China on the issue of coronavirus origin-tracing, and slammed the Western countries led by the U.S. for fabricating lies and slandering. China highly appreciates that and we will also provide full political support for Russia to safeguard its own legitimate rights and interests".
"That phone conversation was held at the ministerial level. There are also presidential-level examples. While the U.S. was pressuring China to join the U.S.-Russia arms control negotiations, Putin mockingly responded:
"'Why is that only China is being targeted for joining and signing the treaty? What about the other nuclear-weapon states (NWS)? France, which just announced another test of a submarine-launched cruise missile system, is also a NWS, as is the UK. There are also other countries that don't have NWS status, but the world knows they have nuclear weapons...'
"To be frank, such truths [i.e., that 'only China is being targeted'] are well known throughout the world, but among foreign leaders, only Putin can state them with authority.
"This is the type of coordination and cooperation that we [China and Russia] have. Of course, as Wang Yi stated, China also provides Russia with full political support.
"Such a relationship is indeed unprecedented."
'China And Russia Do Not Require A Military Alliance – But At The Same Time, No Area For Cooperation Is Off Limits'
"It is also Putin's consistent position that Sino-Russian relations are not regular diplomatic relations.
"Speaking of which, this isn't Putin's first meeting with He Ping...
"I recall that in 2018, He Ping also brought up the issue of Sino-Russian relations [with Putin], prompting Putin to respond emotionally:
"'Bilateral relations are at an all-time high, the China-Russia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Coordination between the two countries is of particular importance, and the parties have developed a plan for pragmatic deepening of cooperation.'
"China-Russia relations are indeed special.
"During a speech at the Valdai Discussion Club last year, someone asked Putin a tricky question: Will Russia and China form a military alliance?
"Putin did not equivocate and provided a straightforward response. 'We don't have to, but it's theoretically conceivable that... future military relations between the two countries could become closer. Time will tell how they develop, but we don't rule it out...'
"This is Putin-style diplomacy at its finest.
"...Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry said [in the daily press conference held on the day after the Valdai Discussion Club meeting]:
"'In recent years, President Putin has again and again commented positively on Russia-China relations at the annual meetings of the Valdai International Discussion Club, reflecting the high level and unique nature of relations between the two countries. There is no limit to the traditional China-Russia friendship, and there is no area for cooperation that is off limits.'
"When viewed together, these two statements appear to be significant.
"China and Russia do not require a military alliance – but at the same time, no area for cooperation is off limits.
"Of course, Chinese journalists aren't the only ones concerned about Russian-Chinese relations.
"During the June 5 video conference, a woman speaking on behalf of the Press Trust of India, asked [Putin], with concern: 'Your Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, is fond of referring to the G4 (the U.S., Japan, Australia, and India) as an Asian version of NATO. Will Russia-China cooperation have an impact on Russia-India relations?'
"Putin answered eloquently, something along these lines: 'While we are not a member of the G4... I believe that the goal of any international partnership should be to make friends, not the other way around!'
"As for the Sino-Indian disputes, Putin's position was also clear. [He said]: 'I am aware that there are some issues between India and China, but issues always exist between neighboring countries. I know the leaders of India and China; they are both very responsible people who respect each other, and I believe they will always find a solution...'
"Putin's words still carry a lot of weight. Especially when it comes to the 'Asian version of NATO,' India should think twice [about its next steps in the Quad, comprising the U.S., Japan, Australia, and India, which Beijing perceives to be a U.S. attempt to build 'an Asian version of NATO' in its backyard]
"...Firstly, as a man who has been involved in international politics for the past 20 years, Vladimir Putin is truly remarkable. When confronted with the world's top journalists, he only needs a table, a chair, a pen, and a few sheets of paper to discuss virtually anything under the sun. Furthermore, I believe that the more Putin speaks, the more eloquent he becomes. Most of what he says is cogent and sharp, and it speaks to the hearts of Chinese people.
"Second, the China-Russia relationship is truly unique and unprecedented. This is possibly what Comrade Wang [Yi] meant when he said that we [Russia and China] stand 'back-to-back.' What exactly is back-to-back? As they say online, it means completely trusting your partner with your defenseless backside, so that when you are wielding your sword and chopping heads in a rain of blood, you don't need to worry about enemies coming from behind...
"Of course, international politics is treacherous, and China and Russia should be cautious!"
 Mp.weixin.qq.com/s/yQg0AGyDnZH9BTH9osyzTg, July 6, 2021.
 A reference to the Sino-Soviet border confrontation (March 2-September 11, 1969), which was the culmination of the ideological and political split between the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China.
 Fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/zxxx_662805/t1881588.shtml, June 5, 2021.
 Fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/xwfw_665399/s2510_665401/t1826262.shtml, October 23, 2020.