On October 22, 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin took part, via videoconference, in the final plenary session of the 17th annual meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club. During the Q&A session, Putin answered two questions on China – one from Zhao Huasheng, renowned professor of the Center for Russian and Central Asian Studies at the prestigious Fudan University in Shanghai, and the other from Yan Xuetong, one of China's leading experts on that country's foreign policy and dean of the Institute of International Relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
Prof. Zhao Huasheng asked Putin how a world crisis could be turned into an opportunity for Sino-Russian relations. Putin answered that Russian-Chinese relations had reached already an unprecedented level, stating: "I am not even mentioning the term 'specially privileged' relations, etc. What matters is not the name but the quality of these ties. As for the quality, we treat each other with deep trust; we have established durable, stable, and, most importantly, effective ties across the board."
Prof. Yan Xuetong, for his part, asked whether it was possible to conceive of a China-Russia military alliance. Putin replied that he does not rule out such a possibility, adding that there is no doubt that cooperation between Russia and China is boosting the defense potential of the Chinese People's Army, which is in the interest of both countries. He also stressed that China and Russia will have to face new threats together, such as a possible U.S. deployment of medium- and short-range missiles in the Asia-Pacific region.
It is worth noting that on October 1, Putin sent greetings to Chinese President Xi Jinping for the 71st anniversary of the People's Republic of China. In his message, he pointed out that Russia attaches great importance to the two countries' comprehensive partnership and strategic collaboration, noting: "This certainly meets the fundamental interests of the Russian and Chinese people, and is consonant with the importance of strengthening security and stability throughout the world."
Commenting on Putin's greetings to Xi, the Russian media outlet Regnum.ru wrote that although Russia and China do not have as yet a strategic partnership agreement, their cooperation in all areas, from military to cultural, has sharply risen in recent years. In 2018, the trade turnover between the two countries reached a record volume of $107 billion.
However, Regnum.ru stressed that some Russian experts are concerned about China's possible seizure of Russian natural resources, including the purchase of forests in Siberia, the Urals, and the Far East, and development and pollution of Lake Baikal. Although the Chinese have good relations with Russia at the state level, their commercial banks actually support anti-Russia sanctions.
Below is the transcript of Putin's answers to the questions from Prof. Zhao Huasheng and Prof. Yan Xuetong at the 17th annual meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club:
In June 2019, Russian President Putin visited Chinese President Xi to wish him a happy birthday, bringing him Russian ice cream. (Source: Kremlin.ru, June 14-15, 2019)
Russia-China Relations Have Reached An Unprecedented Level
Zhao Huasheng: "Good afternoon, Mr. President."
Vladimir Putin: "Good afternoon."
Zhao Huasheng: "Thank you very much for this great opportunity.
"This year's theme at this Valdai Club session is The Lessons of the Pandemic and the New Agenda: How to Turn a World Crisis into an Opportunity for the World. I will paraphrase this: how can we turn a world crisis into an opportunity for Sino-Russian relations?
"The world is rapidly changing now. Given these conditions, how do you think Sino-Russian relations should develop? I am referring to political and economic ties and regional and international cooperation. What new approaches can be expected? Thank you."
Vladimir Putin: "I would give a very brief answer to the question on how to further develop Sino-Russian relations: the same way we have been doing it and are doing it now. Russian-Chinese relations have reached an unprecedented level.
"I am not even mentioning the term 'specially privileged' relations, etc. What matters is not the name but the quality of these ties. As for the quality, we treat each other with deep trust; we have established durable, stable, and most importantly, effective ties across the board.
"My friend – and I have every reason to call him a friend –President of the People's Republic of China Xi Jinping and I continuously consult each other on what and how things need to be done based on what has already been achieved, but we always find a way to move forward.
"You know that we are working together in aviation and nuclear power engineering, as I have just mentioned, and further developing trade ties. Last year, our trade was over 111 billion. This is far from the highest figure that we can achieve. We will certainly achieve more.
"We are developing infrastructure, building bridges that unite us in the literal meaning of the word. We are developing humanitarian ties and seeking implementation rather than simply planning large projects in the areas where we supplement each other effectively, including energy.
"China is a big shareholder in a number of large Russian projects on gas production, and later, on liquefaction (LNG). Where are these projects carried out? Not on the border with China but in the north of the Russian Federation. We work together in a variety of other areas. And, as we have said many times, there is no doubt that international cooperation is a very important factor in stabilizing world affairs; this is absolutely obvious.
"To say nothing of our military and defense industry cooperation. We have traditionally maintained relations in this area on a significant scale. I am not only talking about buying and selling, I also mean the sharing of technologies. We hope to maintain this working relationship with our Chinese friends – a friendly relationship based on mutual respect, oriented toward achieving the best results for the people of both China and Russia.
"As for Shanghai, it happens to be a sister city of St Petersburg, where I am from. I have been to Shanghai on more than one occasion. It is a magnificent and beautiful city, and I wish the people of Shanghai all the best."
Russia Is Not Ruling Out A Military Alliance Between China And Russia
Fyodor Lukyanov: "Thank you.
"Here is a follow-up question from China to clarify a bit what you just said. Professor Yan Xuetong wants to ask you a very simple and straightforward question: Is it possible to conceive of a military alliance between China and Russia?"
Vladimir Putin: "It is possible to imagine anything. We have always believed that our relations have reached such a level of cooperation and trust that it is not necessary, but it is certainly imaginable, in theory.
"We hold regular joint military exercises – at sea and on land in both China and the Russian Federation – and we share best practices in the build-up of the armed forces. We have achieved a high level of cooperation in the defense industry – I am not only talking about the exchange or the purchase and sale of military products, but the sharing of technologies, which is perhaps most important.
"There are also very sensitive issues here. I will not speak publicly about them now, but our Chinese friends are aware of them. Undoubtedly, cooperation between Russia and China is boosting the defense potential of the Chinese People's Army, which is in the interests of Russia as well as China. Time will tell how it will progress from here. So far, we have not set that goal for ourselves. But, in principle, we are not going to rule it out, either. So, we will see.
"Anyway, we are satisfied with the current state of relations between Russia and China in this area. Unfortunately, we have to confront new threats. For example, the intention stated by our American partners to possibly deploy medium- and short-range missiles in the Asia-Pacific Region, of course, raises alarm, and we undoubtedly will have to take reciprocal steps – this fact is self-evident.
"Of course, before it comes to that, we have to see what if anything is going to happen, what threats it will pose to us, and, depending on that, we will take reciprocal measures to ensure our security."