During the time of 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests, which is also known as the June Fourth Incident, China found an unexpected partner in post-communist Russia. The collapse of Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) or the Soviet Union had financially devastated the Russian arms industry and that led the country to conduct business with China which became Russia's largest arms customer, as it bought Russian jets and missiles system as part of the military modernization.
But now, the Coronavirus pandemic has not only claimed thousands of lives but also caused an economic depression and let China face backlash for the way it handled the Wuhan Coronavirus outbreak. However, Russia was among the few nations that sided with Beijing against its critics and both the countries are looking to each other for support.
In the mid of Coronavirus crisis
The COVID-19 has destroyed China's global reputation and affected its business interests overseas. Meanwhile, the US government continues to blame the Asian country for the outbreak and several European governments have accused China of seeking to exploit the crisis period for political gain as well as of sending them faulty medical equipment. Even recently several African partners have criticized China for reportedly discriminating their citizens in the country.
Japan also stated earlier that it would offer financial incentives for domestic companies to shift their production from China to back home. Even, India has introduced new restrictions on foreign investments to restrict "opportunistic takeovers" of its companies by the China-based buyers.
The emergence of a new ally
In the mid of such crisis, Russia has emerged as an ally to China and a vocal defender at the global stage. The foreign minister of Russia, Sergei Lavrov denounced calls for China to pay compensation for damages caused by the Coronavirus pandemic. Recently he told the media that "The Chinese are trying in every possible way to help other countries and share their experience that they developed in the fight against this evil in China," so it is "absolutely unacceptable" to blame the country for the spread of COVID-19.
Even, the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin slammed the criticism that China did not do enough to contain the virus. He also praised the consistent and effective actions taken by the Chinese government in terms of fighting the deadly virus. Putin mentioned that the crisis served as "further evidence of the special nature of the Russian-Chinese comprehensive strategic partnership."
At the time when other countries have cut the economic ties with Beijing, Kremlin has been in the process of making the link stronger with China. On Wednesday, Russia announced that it was granting permission for the Russian National Welfare Fund to invest in the Chinese yuan and Chinese state bonds. Kremlin is also focusing on new major projects with China, including a new gas pipeline as well as a new railway which will connect the ports of the Arctic and Indian Oceans.
How China can take this new friendship further?
Beijing has decided to buy more oil from Russia after global prices dropped. As per a report by Reuters, China's import of Russian crude oil in March has increased to 31 percent compared to 2019, while the imports from top supplier Saudi Arabia fell 1.6 percent from a year earlier. This move has helped Russian companies to stay in profit margin as the demand in Europe has fallen due to Coronavirus pandemic.
As per Alexey Maslov, director of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Coronavirus crisis has convinced Russia that China is the future. He said, "China is viewed as a country that has not only defeated Coronavirus but is also successfully overcoming economic hardships" and added that "Many are expecting China to begin actively expanding its influence and promoting a new geopolitical model once it deals with its internal challenges."
He also mentioned that China will need a powerful ally like Russia to fulfil its goals in the post-Coronavirus world and Moscow could use this opportunity to gain China's support for its own geopolitical initiative.
The fate of Russia in post Coronavirus world
As per National Interest, Xin Zhang, an expert on Chinese-Russian relations at the East China Normal University in Shanghai said that if the disagreement continues between US and China, then Beijing "will look to Russia and Eurasia as potential destinations for restructuring its industrial production chains."
But a few experts in Moscow believe it is possible that Russia could end up as a loser in the current battle of US vs China. Dmitry Suslov, a professor of international relations at the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Russian capital said that even though earlier Russia received advantage while tension escalated between US and China, this time the result could be different.
He said, "A continued intensification of the US-Chinese confrontation presents Russia with serious challenges because the more serious this showdown becomes, the more pressure there will be on Russia to pick a side, something that it does not want to do."