China’s new Vice President, Wang Qishan, begins his new role by strengthening ties with Russia.
This week, the St. Petersburg International Economic summit will be taking place, at which Wang will be in attendance.
The visit aims to coordinate China-Russian policy both in economic and political cooperation, as both nations field the ‘America First’ policy of American President Donald Trump.
The South China Morning Post reports:
Chinese Vice-President Wang Qishan heads to Russia this week on his maiden overseas trip since assuming his new foreign policy role, with Beijing looking to hedge bets as it tussles with Washington over trade and geopolitics.
According to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Wang, the former Communist Party anti-graft tsar and one of President Xi Jinping’s most trusted allies, will attend the annual St Petersburg International Economic Forum, which starts on Thursday, and visit Belarus.
Observers said the six-day trip, Wang’s international debut as vice-president, was of geopolitical importance, with Beijing and Moscow seeking closer ties to hedge against US President Donald Trump’s unconventional and aggressive approach on trade and global affairs.
Wang’s trip comes ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s scheduled attendance of the annual summit of the Beijing-led Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in Qingdao and an official visit to China next month.
It also comes just days after Wang made his first appearance last week at the inaugural meeting of the top decision-making Central Foreign Affairs Commission, headed by Xi himself.
Wang, who defied party convention to assume the vice-presidency in March, is widely believed to have a prominent role to play in Xi’s ambitious global strategy for the country.
There has been speculation that Wang may be given the job of dealing with China’s complex love-hate relationship with the United States, with his first trip to Washington planned in late June or July.
Li Xing, a Russia expert at Beijing Normal University, said this week’s trip would yet again confirm that Wang, a seasoned troubleshooter in economic and diplomatic affairs, might continue to be a heavy-lifter in China’s foreign relations.
Pang Zhongying, a Beijing-based international affairs expert, said it was no coincidence that Beijing chose Russia as Wang’s first foreign stop. In another highly symbolic move, Xi chose Russia as his first overseas destination in 2013 just months after taking power.
“It will not only showcase Wang’s unique, important role in China’s foreign policy in Xi’s era, but also highlight the importance of Sino-Russian relations in Xi’s overall global diplomacy in the midst of growing uncertainties and rivalry with Washington,” Pang said.
Trade tensions between China and the US have eased since the weekend when Vice-Premier Liu He wrapped up a trip to Washington with a pledge to substantially increase agricultural and energy imports to help narrow a record bilateral trade gap.
“But the structural problems with the US and Trump’s repeated threats of an all-out trade war remain unsolved, and the prospects for US-China relations look rather grim,” Pang said.
Li agreed, saying Beijing and Washington were strategic competitors with differences that went beyond specific bilateral issues.
He said China wanted to hedge against potential risks and secure Xi’s goal of putting China on the world’s centre-stage. “Against such a backdrop, it is easy to understand why China wants to develop better ties with major powers, especially Russia,” Li said.
Tensions with the US and other Western countries have driven Beijing’s push in recent years for closer ties with Moscow, which has largely been isolated internationally over its military intervention in Ukraine and Syria.
Xi and Putin, who will also attend the St Petersburg event, have maintained frequent exchanges, including mutual visits within weeks last year.
But observers also cautioned that Beijing, which might not see eye to eye with Moscow on many geopolitical issues, should be careful not to be seen as siding too closely with Russia.
“Wang, a party veteran with global vision and diplomatic skills, will use the trip to try to align with Putin on important issues such as North Korea, the Iran nuclear deal as well as their relations with the US,” Pang said.
“But China must be aware that getting too close to Russia may stoke concerns in the West and alienate many Western countries. At the end of the day, a declining Russia is not the ultimate solution for China to counterbalance the US and its allies.”
This meeting comes about immediately following talks with the Trump administration about his trade tariffs, which were levied over allegations of Chinese economic aggression and ‘bad business practices’ which allegedly pose a threat to American security interests, as well as additional punitive rounds of tariffs responding to China’s countermeasures.
Washington has become somewhat unreliable and unpredictable since Trump’s accession to the White House, as he has withdrawn America’s commitment to numerous multilateral agreements, defied international law, and violated trade regulations of the WTO, while ignoring the findings of the OPCW and IAEA, ignored the please of his allies, threatened allies with sanctions for complying with international law and standing by their commitments, levied harsh economic sanctions on multiple nations, launched military strikes over an unverified tweet from a dubious source, as well as his accusations and successive rounds of tariffs against China.
It makes sense that China would be interested in deepening ties with its next door neighbor and economic partner, Russia, especially given that both nations possess similar regional interests, as well as that of combatting the ever extensive influence and extraterritoriality of America’s law and presence. While the China-America politico-economic conflict has simmered down a notch with these recent talks, China and Russia are on a mission to develop a unified front against Trump’s ‘America First’ foreign policy, which views the interests of just about every other nation on planet earth as ‘dispensable’.