According to the Russian studies expert, Putin’s message was a clear response to recent diplomatic efforts in Beijing and Washington to ease strained ties, culminating in last week’s presidential summit between Xi Jinping and Joe Biden in San Francisco.
The Sino-Russian relationship was “truly unique” and had “never reached such a height and quality in the history of our states”, Putin told the St Petersburg International Cultural Forum on Friday.
The two countries had “a very high level of cooperation in all the most important areas”, Putin said. “This year we will almost certainly have 200 billion [US] dollars of trade turnover, and we will certainly go further, and at a fairly rapid pace, changing the quality of our cooperation.”
Putin’s comments appeared directed at the Chinese public, said Wan Qingsong, an associate researcher at East China Normal University’s Centre for Russian Studies in Shanghai.
“Putin was responding to a question from the director of China’s Palace Museum. [His response was] obviously a bit off-topic, and clearly had an element of targeting Chinese public opinion, with Russia believing [Putin’s remarks] would be reported by Chinese media,” Wan said.
He said Putin’s intent to influence global public opinion was “clear” – given his generalisations on overall Russia-China relations at a culture-focused forum.
“With China and the US interacting very closely recently, the public opinion in the world, including China, has made Russia very nervous,” Wan said.
On Wednesday, Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov said China and the US had the right to build on bilateral relations, adding that “every meeting … that involves the world’s two largest economies is important for everyone”.
At their summit, Biden pressed Xi to continue to withhold military support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
While Washington concedes that Beijing has not directly supplied arms to Moscow, trade with China has become increasingly crucial for Russia’s sanctioned economy.
Bilateral trade grew by more than 29 per cent to US$190.3 billion last year, with China also replacing Europe as the biggest buyer of Russian energy products.
Putin also hailed relations with China, telling the belt and road forum that “external factors” that posed “common threats” would “only strengthen Russian-Chinese cooperation”. Meanwhile, Xi highlighted how he and Putin had met 42 times since 2013.