At the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping will pay a state visit to Russia from March 20-22. In a joint written interview with Global Times reporters Fan Anqi and Xing Xiaojing, Chinese Ambassador to Russia Zhang Hanhui noted that after 2013, President Xi once again made Russia the first stop of his overseas visit after being elected as Chinese president, which fully reflected the profound personal friendship between Xi and Putin, and the great importance he attaches to China-Russia relations in the new era. President Xi's state visit to Russia is a milestone for China-Russia relations in the new era, which will inject strong impetus into bilateral relations and lead the sustained development of bilateral ties at a high level.
GT: The China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era has made considerable progress in the past year. President Xi and President Putin have maintained close communication, held multiple video meetings or phone calls, and attended the Beijing Winter Olympics and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. President Xi is about to visit Russia soon. How do you evaluate the leading role of the interaction between the two heads of state in the long-term and stable development of China-Russia relations?
Zhang: The heads of state of China and Russia maintain close interactions and exchange views on bilateral cooperation and major international issues. This is the compass and anchor of the development of bilateral relations. Since 2013, President Xi has met President Putin 40 times and reached a series of important strategic consensuses on promoting and upgrading China-Russia relations, maintaining regional security and stability and building a global community of shared future.
Over the past decade, China-Russia relations have entered a new era with bilateral cooperation achieving new results and strategic coordination reaching a new level. After 2013, President Xi once again made Russia the first stop of his overseas visit after being elected as Chinese president, which fully reflected the profound personal friendship between Xi and Putin, and the great importance he attaches to China-Russia relations in the new era.
President Xi's state visit to Russia this time is a milestone for China-Russia relations in the new era. It will inject a strong impetus into bilateral relations and lead the sustained development of bilateral ties at a high level.
GT: 2022 was an extraordinary year. China-Russia relations have maintained a healthy momentum of development, especially in economic and trade cooperation. The bilateral trade volume between China and Russia has increased by 29.3 percent in the past year, reaching a record $190.271 billion, just a step to the $200 billion target set by the two heads of state. China has also been the largest trading partner of Russia for 13 years. It has not been easy for China and Russia to achieve such fruitful results in economic and trade cooperation under the combined influence of the impact of the epidemic and the unstable international situation. How do you comment on the current economic and trade cooperation between the two countries? What is your vision for the realization of the $200 billion bilateral trade target?
Zhang: In the face of multiple challenges brought by COVID-19, the complex evolution of the international situation, and weak global economic recovery, China-Russia economic and trade cooperation has gone against the trend and hit a record high in 2022, achieving dazzling results and showing strong resilience and great potential.
Firstly, bilateral trade has experienced rapid growth. In 2022, the cargo trade between the two countries set a historical record of $190.27 billion, and Russia continued to be China's ninth largest trading partner. The service trade in the fields of transportation logistics, financial services, and project contracting has also maintained good development.
Secondly, the two countries' cooperation fields have continued to expand. In 2022, China's export of mechanical and electrical products to Russia increased by 9 percent, high-tech products increased by 51 percent, and automobiles and parts increased by 45 percent year-on-year. The "cornerstone" role of energy in bilateral trade has been further highlighted. Russia is China's main source of imports in oil, natural gas, and coal. The trade volume of agricultural products between the two countries has increased by 43 percent, with Russian flour, beef and ice cream widely favored by Chinese consumers.
The proportion of local currency settlement continues to grow as more and more companies tend to use RMB and ruble to sign contracts. The trade volume of the two currencies surged in the Moscow Exchange and Russian banks carry out a great deal of RMB business. New growth points such as 5G, cross-border e-commerce, digital economy, biomedicine, and green and low-carbon have been made.
Thirdly, regional cooperation has been deepening. China-Russia cooperation mechanisms including the "Northeast and Far East" and the "Yangtze River and Volga River" are operating efficiently, with their cooperation scope constantly expanding. More than 100 sister cities have been established. Local governments and enterprises have actively participated in exhibitions such as the China International Import Expo, the Canton Fair, the Eastern Economic Forum, and the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum to fully meet the needs and release the potential of cooperation.
Following the opening of the Blagoveshchensk-Heihe highway bridge, Tongjiang cross-river railway bridge and other boundary rivers bridging the two countries, cross-border logistics and transportation channels have been further expanded. Since China optimized its COVID-19 epidemic response, customs clearance at the ports of the two countries has gradually returned to pre-epidemic mode, effectively ensuring the two countries' smooth flow of personnel and goods.
The economic and trade cooperation between China and Russia is expected to reach a new level in 2023. A good start and rapid growth momentum of bilateral trade has been witnessed in the first two months of this year, with the bilateral trade volume reaching $33.69 billion, a year-on-year increase of 25.9 percent. Specifically, China exported $15.04 billion to Russia, an increase of 19.8 percent year-on-year, and imported $18.65 billion from Russia, an increase of 31.3 percent year-on-year. It once again highlights the solid foundation of China-Russian economic and trade cooperation.
China and Russia, as two neighboring countries, enjoy strong political mutual trust, high economic complementarity, and sufficient potential for cooperation. An increasing number of Russian companies have shown strong eagerness to cooperate with China. As China's epidemic prevention and control measures continue to be optimized, economic and trade trips between the two countries have resumed in an orderly manner, and their transportation and logistics advantages will become more apparent.
I believe that China-Russia trade will reach new heights in 2023, and strive to achieve the trade target of $200 billion set by the two heads of state within this year.
GT: Besides economic and trade cooperation, China and Russia also maintain close people-to-people exchanges. The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics-themed exhibition drew positive responses in Russia and the Russian figure skating team has won huge numbers of fans in China, resulting in the deepened and consolidated friendship between people in the two countries. With this in mind, what measures do you think the two countries can take to continue expanding the public opinion foundation? What activities should be carried out in the future to enhance mutual understanding among people in both sides?
Zhang: The relationship between countries lies in the mutual affinity between the people, and the friendship between the people lies in the mutual understanding of their hearts. In the historical process of the development of China-Russian relations, people-to-people and cultural cooperation has always played an important role. China and Russia both have profound cultural backgrounds, and they have a long history and fruitful results of people-to-people and cultural cooperation. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, both official and non-governmental communication channels between the two sides were very smooth.
The session of the China-Russia Committee on Humanities Cooperation is held regularly every year to plan the direction of cooperation and coordinate the work of all parties for people and cultural exchanges. The two countries have successfully organized Year of China, Year of Russia, Year of Language, Year of Tourism, Year of Youth, Year of Media, Year of Local Cooperation and Exchange as well as Year of Science and Technology, which have played an important role in deepening bilateral friendship and mutual understanding.
Despite the impact of COVID-19 over the past three years, which saw communication between the two countries being impeded, the two countries overcame the difficulties and held a series of colorful people and cultural exchanges.
In 2022, the heads of China and Russia met during the Beijing Winter Olympic Games and announced the launch of the 2022-2023 China-Russia Sports Exchange Year. At the same time, they also issued a joint opposition to the politicization of sports, which was of extraordinary significance. Under this framework, China and Russia have jointly organized a series of events, and the direct cooperation between the two countries' sports circles has become closer.
China's national ice hockey team, handball team, snowboarding and other sports teams came to Russia to participate in training while a group of high-level Russian coaches went to China to teach. And the third China-Russia Winter Youth Games was also successfully held in Changchun, Northeast China's Jilin Province.
In the field of culture, the Chinese Embassy in Russia held the ambassador cup Go tournament in 2022 and 2023, and the Happy Chinese New Year Chinese Cultural Temple Fair, which were well received in Russia. The Russian Cultural Festival held by the Russian side in China also attracted widespread attention among Chinese people. This series of activities has laid a solid foundation for further expanding public opinion in the two countries.
With the adjustment of China's epidemic prevention and control measures, various cultural exchange activities between China and Russia are ready to be launched. First of all, at the government level, according to the agreement signed by the cultural departments of China and Russia, the Chinese Culture Festival will be held in Russia this year. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism of China will also hold exhibitions in Russia and send performance groups to Russia for exchanges. The cultural departments of the two countries also plan to discuss and sign the 2024-2027 cultural cooperation plan to guide future cooperation.
At the same time, people in the literary and art circles of the two countries have an urgent desire to carry out exchanges and cooperation. A series of important events will be held in Russia this year, such as the Chekhov International Theatre Festival and the Ural International Music Festival. Many of China's outstanding dance troupes and theaters have received invitations from the organizing committee to participate in the festivals. The Orchestra of the National Centre for the Performing Arts of China plans to perform in Russia this year, and the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra has also arranged a tour to China.
The museums and libraries of the two countries have always maintained close cooperation. This year, the first China-Russia Library Forum will be held to continue deepening the cooperation.
This year, within the framework of the "Sports Exchange Year," a series of sports exchange activities will be held, covering various fields such as mass sports, competitive sports, youth sports, sports research and physical education. Athletes, coaches, and people from all walks of life from the two countries will participate in sports exchanges to learn from each other and make progress together.
As an important cultural promotion institution in Russia, the China Cultural Center in Moscow will gradually resume offline cultural activities this year. In order to celebrate traditional Chinese tea-making skills and related customs being included in the UNESCO Representative List of Human Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2022, the cultural center will hold a comprehensive cultural "tea and the world" event in May this year. Exhibitions, tea art performances, tea culture lectures and other activities will also be held.
In addition, considering many Russian friends have a strong interest in Xizang (Tibetan) culture, the Xizang Cultural Tourism Week will also bring Thangka exhibitions, Tibetan songs and dances, intangible cultural heritage exhibitions and other exciting activities to audiences this year. I believe that these various cultural activities will definitely serve as a bridge to deepen mutual understanding and friendship between the two peoples.
At the end of last year, when Xi held an online meeting with Putin, he emphasized that the two sides need to leverage traditional strengths, further deepen people and cultural exchanges, ensure another successful Year of Sports Exchange, and foster new brands of cultural exchange between the two countries. We will earnestly implement the important consensus reached by the two heads so as to promote exchanges and cooperation between the two countries in the field of people and cultural exchanges to a higher level, especially to further deepen communication between the youth in the two countries to ensure that the concept of China-Russia friendship will be passed on from generation to generation.
GT: 2023 marks the 10th anniversary of the concept of building a global community of shared future and the proposal of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The relationship between China and Russia has become a model of state-to-state cooperation in building a global community of shared future. In your opinion, what roles do China and Russia play on the international stage under the current international situation, and what constructive roles will they play in promoting the building of a global community of shared future? What potential is there for the two countries to explore in jointly implementing the BRI?
Zhang: The world is filled with changes and chaos, with escalating profound changes in the international landscape. The shadow of the pandemic is still lingering. The global deficits of peace, development, security and governance are growing. Human society is confronting unprecedented common challenges. President Xi, with his far-sighted vision, successively put forward a series of major initiatives and proposals, such as building a global community of shared future, jointly building the BRI, common values of humanity, Global Development Initiative, Global Security Initiative, and so on, which, from the perspectives of the world, history, and humanity, provide directions for scientific and effective global governance.
In the past decade, the two initiatives (building a new type of international relations and a global community of shared future) and the BRI have been written into the relevant documents of the UN, the G20, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, BRICS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and other regional organizations many times. The principles of extensive consultation, joint contribution, and shared benefits have become deeply rooted in people's hearts, and its influence has been growing day by day. The construction of the BRI has borne fruit. It has become a popular international public good and a platform for international cooperation. It covers two-thirds of the world's countries and one-third of international organizations. While promoting China's economic development, it has also brought a tangible sense of gain to countries along the route. China will take the opportunity of hosting the third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation to work with relevant parties to achieve even more fruitful results under the BRI framework.
After going through changes and tests in the international landscape, the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era has become increasingly mature and resilient. Russia has become China's most important strategic partner in jointly building the BRI, and China-Russia relations have become a model of state-to-state cooperation in building a global community of shared future. The internal driving force and special value of the cooperation between the two countries continues to be manifested. Under the strategic guidance of President Xi and President Putin, China-Russia relations have continued to develop healthily and steadily, establishing a new paradigm for the relations between major countries and playing an important role in promoting solidarity and cooperation among emerging markets and developing countries.
China and Russia have successfully found a way of interacting with each other as major powers with strategic mutual trust and neighborly friendship. Their relationship never targets a third party, nor is it interfered with by a third party, much less coerced by a third party. As permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and responsible major powers, China and Russia have always firmly maintained the international system with the UN as its core and the international order based on international law, persistently promoted multipolarity and democratization of international relations, always advocated and practiced true multilateralism, opposed any form of unilateralism and bullying behavior, firmly safeguarded their own sovereignty, security and development interests, actively explored development paths that suit their national conditions, promoted the improvement of global governance, and facilitated the political resolution of international and regional hotspot issues, injected more stability and positive energy into the complex international situation, and demonstrated the responsibility of major powers in promoting the building of a global community of shared future.
The more turbulent and unstable the world becomes, the more it is necessary for China-Russia relations to steadily move forward. Faced with a complicated international situation, China is willing to work with Russia to maintain peace, security and development, jointly build a global community of shared future, implement the BRI, promote the leapfrog development of pragmatic cooperation between the two countries, and continuously advance China-Russia relations for a new era. Regardless of how the international situation changes, the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era will inevitably move forward at a higher level.