China to the rescue of the Russian economy, cautious and interested support

How far is Chinese President Xi Jinping willing to go to support his “old friend” Russian Vladimir Putin, who met during an exceptional one-on-one, Thursday, September 15, in Samarkand, Uzbekistan? The communist leader assured that China “He was willing to work with Russia to assume its role as a great power.” Concretely, this has happened, since the summer, through a very strong trade between the two countries, at a time when international sanctions have affected the Russian economy. But Beijing’s support remains marked by great caution.

China imported 72.9 billion dollars (equivalent in euros) of Russian products, mostly hydrocarbons, between January and August: an increase of 50% compared to the same period in 2021. In another way, “according to Chinese customs, exports to Russia, which were already on an almost vertical curve before the war, continued to increase, and accelerated in July-August.” Souligne François Godement, advisor for Asia at the Montaigne Institute in Paris. Between January and August, they thus increased by 9.4% compared to the same period in 2021, for a total of 44.2 billion dollars. Forget the decline observed in the first weeks of the war in Ukraine: Chinese exports have returned to their level before the Russian invasion of February 24.

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“China is showing pragmatic opportunism. It is providing what it can to keep its close systemic partner afloat, while protecting itself from being exposed to further economic turbulence as its domestic situation is difficult.” summarizes François Chimits, researcher at the Mercator Institute of Chinese Studies in Berlin.

It is in May that bilateral physical and monetary exchanges will accelerate according to François Godement, at a time when Beijing has also radicalized its speech against the United States. “In the Moscow exchange market, ruble-renminbi exchanges [yuan, la devise chinoise] explode, a sign that things are happening commercially, he notices However, the mix of opportunism and caution is a characteristic of the Chinese attitude vis-à-vis the sanctions, which condemns in principle. » In this area, American pressure is strong: when the United States added 25 Chinese companies to its own list of sanctions in June, it placed five electronic goods companies that trade with Russia.

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