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Visiting a close friend and trading partner

Day two of Russia's Foreign Minister Lavrov's visit to Beijing will likely focus primarily on the war against Ukraine – in which China officially positions itself as neutral, but from which it demonstrably benefits.

By Christoph Kober, ARD Studio Beijing

Even after more than two years of fighting and dying, the word “war” is missing when Russia or China comment on what is happening in Ukraine.

China did not cause the crisis in Ukraine and is not taking sides in it. They have not benefited from this and will not do so, said Mao Ning, spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, on Monday.

China is Russia's most important trading partner

However, the fact that China does not benefit from Russia's war of aggression is demonstrably false. The trade volume between the two sides has doubled in the past two years.

China has become Russia's most important trading partner, explains Li Lifan, an expert on Russia and Central Asia at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. “China exports mainly cars, machinery and consumer goods. Russia has gas and oil pipelines, and there is cooperation in agriculture and forestry. Trade improves relations between the two countries.”

Fear of consequences from China

Both sides proclaimed a limitless friendship two years ago, shortly before Russia's army attacked Ukraine. In this alliance, Russia is the weaker partner and can still capitalize on its ties with China – even beyond trade, says foreign policy expert Jessica Berlin from the Center for European Policy Analysis.

“China also supports Russia diplomatically. China's voice and China's money have power. And many countries – whether at the UN level or otherwise diplomatically or economically – are not ready to say loudly that they oppose Russia's war in Ukraine “says Berlin. The reason is the fear of consequences from China.

Chinese military aid to Russia

And now the communist state and party leadership in Beijing is apparently supporting Russia much more aggressively in its attack on Ukraine. According to media reports, China has provided the Russian army with components for rifles and tanks, rocket fuel and satellite images.

This is one of the reasons why US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned the People's Republic not to go too far during her trip to China in the last few days. “China's companies must not provide material support for Russia's war. I have made that clear,” said Yellen. And added: “If they do do that, there will be significant consequences.”

Warning should not deter China

But foreign policy expert Berlin doubts that this warning will deter China. “The Chinese know full well that the United States cannot afford to antagonize China too much for economic and other diplomatic reasons.”

It seems as if China is currently testing how far its so-called borderless friendship with Russia can actually extend.

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