What's brewing in China-Russia diplomacy? – Xi and Putin's recent phone call

Over the past few years, ties between China and Russia have been gradually strengthening.

What's brewing in China-Russia diplomacy? – Xi and Putin's recent phone call
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin attend a presentation of a Haval F7 SUV produced at the Haval car plant located in Russian Tula region, at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, June 5, 2019. Maxim Shipenkov/Pool via Reuters/File Photo

The backstory: Over the past few years, ties between China and Russia have been gradually strengthening. For instance, last year, China's President Xi Jinping went on the first foreign trip of his third term to Moscow, while Russian President Vladimir Putin also made a rare visit to Beijing in October. The two nations have formed exclusive economic blocs like BRICS, which counts Brazil, Russia, South Africa, India and China as members and expanded this year to include Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. 

Trade between China and Russia has also been going up, particularly since the Ukraine-Russia conflict began in 2022. In that year alone, trade surged by about 30%, reaching a record US$190 billion. A few things helping boost trade are China buying discounted oil from Russia and Russia relying more on Chinese goods due to Western sanctions.

More recently: In December, President Xi said during a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin that trade between China and Russia went over US$200 billion in the first 11 months of last year. This was more than what Xi and Putin aimed for in 2019. Also, Putin mentioned strong trade ties between the two nations in a recent interview with American journalist Tucker Carlson, which aired last week.

The development: Last week, ahead of Chinese New Year celebrations, Xi and Putin had a phone call to discuss the deepening collaboration between their nations. This comes as they mark 75 years of diplomatic ties this year.

Readouts from the countries have said that during the call, President Xi stressed the significance of China and Russia aligning their strategies and safeguarding their interests against external interference. The Kremlin readout said they discussed the situations in the Middle East and Ukraine and both agreed on finding diplomatic solutions to issues like the Palestinian situation based on international law. But the Chinese readout was broader, saying they addressed "hot-spot issues" without specific mentions. 

Xi and Putin also reportedly praised their trade ties and talked about the need for better coordination in international organizations like BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. They both reportedly see their close relationship as essential for stability in world affairs.

Key comments:

"We have withstood many trials and tribulations together. Looking to the future, China-Russia relations face new development opportunities," said Xi to Putin during their call, according to China's Foreign Ministry.

"Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping specifically stressed that close Russia-China interaction is an important stabilizing factor in world affairs," said the Kremlin readout.

"Our trade is well-balanced, mutually complementary in high-tech, energy, scientific research and development," said Vladimir Putin during his interview with Tucker Carlson.