China’s top diplomat heads to Russia as ties reach ‘best level in history’

China’s leading diplomat will travel to Russia on Monday for security talks, the latest sign of deepening ties between Beijing and Moscow amid heightened uncertainty from the coronavirus pandemic.

Yang Jiechi, who leads China’s central committee for foreign affairs, will be in Russia till Wednesday for a strategic and security consultation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Sunday. Yang will also visit Croatia and Slovenia before returning to China.

The announcement was made as both countries place greater emphasis on bilateral relations in a period where US dominance of geopolitics has receded and coronavirus has stoked global upheaval.

It was also made just days after Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, the presidents of China and Russia, attended the video-link launch of a nuclear energy project. The deal, which was signed in 2018, entails Russia helping China build four nuclear reactors.

Putin said at the launch on Wednesday that ties between the neighbours, had reached “the best level in history”, reiterating comments from Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, in March.

China and Russia have “firmly supported each other” in the face of the pandemic, Xi said, and spoke of a “comprehensive strategic partnership of co-ordination for a new era”.

The comments add to recent emphasis on closer ties in the build-up to the 20th anniversary of the signing of a treaty between the two countries aimed at bolstering co-operation 

Last year, in a phone call with Putin, Xi highlighted the need for closer relations with Russia given the “turbulence” caused by the coronavirus pandemic and said the 2001 treaty had established the concept of building a new type of international relations, according to state media. 

Coronavirus has created foreign policy opportunities elsewhere for both countries, which have offered vaccines to low and middle-income countries. In China, new cases of coronavirus have remained low since the middle of last year, while its economy has recovered far faster than other big countries.

A closer relationship between China and Russia contrasts with their ties with the US. President Joe Biden has vowed to confront China on human rights, intellectual property and economic policy and labelled the country America’s most serious competitor. The US president has also imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia for “harmful foreign activities”.

The nuclear deal was launched as China seeks to reduce its reliance on coal, of which it is by far the world’s biggest consumer, to meet new energy targets that include reducing net carbon emissions to zero by 2060.

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