China’s Xi says trade with Russia expected to hit new records in the coming months

Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke Friday via video at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum’s plenary session, which Russian President Vladimir Putin opened with a speech over an hour long. This picture is from Putin’s visit to Beijing in early February 2022.
Alexei Druzhinin | AFP | Getty Images

BEIJING — Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday emphasized his country’s commitment to trading with Russia, despite Western sanctions against Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

“Today our cooperation between Russia and China [is] rising,” Xi said, according to an official English translation carried by Russian state broadcaster RT. He cited Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Beijing in early February.

“Trade over the first half of this year has been [in the tens of billions of U.S. dollars] and we can expect new records in upcoming months, which is a testament to the great cooperation between our two nations,” Xi said.

The Chinese leader was speaking via video at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum’s plenary session, which Putin opened with a speech over an hour long.

The official Chinese state media readout of Xi’s remarks did not mention “new records” in trade between China and Russia. The readout did call for the removal of trade barriers and greater cooperation with other countries, including Russia.

In both the Chinese readout and RT’s translation, Xi emphasized how China’s economic potential has not changed and talked about the further development of the Belt and Road Initiative.

Trade between China and Russia totaled $65.81 billion in the first five months of this year, up 28.9% from a year ago, according to China customs data. Most of the growth came from Chinese imports from Russia.

Beijing has refused to call Russia’s attack on Ukraine an invasion. After a high-profile meeting between Xi and Putin in early February, a readout said there were “no limits” or “forbidden areas” of cooperation, without mentioning Ukraine.

Earlier this week, Xi said in a phone call with Putin that Kyiv and Moscow “should push for a proper settlement” in the ongoing war in Ukraine, according to a Chinese readout of the call.

“China, they have their national interest in mind,” Putin said Friday following Xi’s remarks, according to RT’s English translation. “But we do not contradict each other.”

He described Russia’s relations with China as “friendly,” but noted that “it doesn’t mean China should play along with us in everything. We don’t need that.”

Xi has not spoken with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February. From Germany to Japan, many countries have joined the U.S. in freezing the assets of Russian oligarchs, restricting access of Russia’s biggest banks to the global financial system, and cutting off Russia from critical technology.

Diverging ‘Davos’ events

The 25th St. Petersburg International Economic Forum runs from Wednesday to Saturday this year. The forum is sometimes called a “Russian Davos.”

In April, at the Boao Forum for Asia — nicknamed the “Asian Davos” — Xi said China proposes a “Global Security Initiative” and called for unity among Asian nations.

In a virtual address to the World Economic Forum’s “The Davos Agenda” in January, Xi said China remained committed to opening up its domestic market and said, “all types of capital are welcome to operate in China in compliance with laws and regulations.”

The Chinese leader did not attend or address an in-person gathering in Davos, Switzerland, in May. Overall attendance by Chinese business leaders was subdued as Beijing maintains tight control of its national borders.

The World Economic Forum barred Russian businessmen and politicians from participating in the event after Moscow invaded Ukraine in late February.

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