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Relations between China and its Neighbors after COVID-19: Russia

Since the beginning of this year, the COVID-19 global pandemic has caused catastrophic losses to countries around the world, and it has also profoundly affected the development of the global political and economic structure. For China, the pandemic not only has exerted influence on public safety, health and economic and social development, but also reshaped the surrounding environment to a large extent. To this end, the Institute of Area Studies, Peking University (PKUIAS), held a series of New Buds salons on the theme of “Relations between China and its Neighbors after COVID-19,” inviting young scholars in related fields at home and abroad to discuss this topic. The salon themed “Relations between China and its Neighbors after COVID-19: Russia” was successfully concluded on July 23. Six young researchers from China and Russia were invited to make presentations at the salon. Guan Guihai, associate professor of PKU's School of International Studies, and Shi Yue, assistant professor from PKU's School of Foreign Languages, made comments. Zhuang Shiqi, a postdoctoral fellow of PKUIAS, moderated the salon.

Natalia Demina, a postgraduate student in the School of Politics and Law at Communication University of China, opined that the epidemic has caused great losses to multiple trade fields between China and Russia, including oil, gas, electronic products and tourism, which has had a profound impact on the economic ties between the two countries. Considering the development of the epidemic and the political pressure from Western countries, China and Russia have showed the intent to enhance their cooperation. Both heads of state have expressed a positive attitude in the phone calls to each other. Despite its impact on China–Russia economic ties, the epidemic did not damage the two countries' political cooperation, an important foundation for China–Russia economic connection, Demina said.

Song Jiaxin, a PhD student at PKUIAS, expressed her belief that, since the outbreak of the epidemic in Russia, China has shared its experience in using traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to fight the epidemic, and sent medical experts to aid Russia. TCM has attracted much attention in Russia. Despite the high acceptance of TCM among Russian people, the development of TCM had met obstacles due to the lack of a legitimate access to Russia. Taking the chance of the anti-epidemic cooperation, China should proactively promote “TCM diplomacy” with Russia, Song said.

Zhuang Shiqi, a postdoctoral fellow of PKUIAS, introduced the situation of Chinese students studying in Russia amid the epidemic. He expressed his belief that in recent years Chinese students have continued to be enthusiastic about studying in Russia. The numbers of Chinese students studying in China have both helped to break Chinese people's stereotypes of Russia to a large extent, and decreased Russian people's unfamiliarity with China. After the epidemic broke out, Chinese students studying in Russia met a lot of difficulties, and their situation did not improve until Chinese government took of series of effective measures. In the post-epidemic era, Chinese students' enthusiasm to study in Russia is not expected to cool, but there are two questions worthy of attention. First, the epidemic’s blow to economy of both countries will definitely influence overseas students' employment in China. Second, with the birth rate of Russia’s population increasing, Russian college admission rules will be possibly adjusted in the future, Zhuang said.

Zou Wenhui, a PhD student at PKUIAS, expressed her belief that since Putin came to power, Russia has pushed forward a “strong state – strong society” governance conception in various aspects. It not only emphasizes social participation in the governance order, but also insists on the state's leading status in governance and the construction of the rule of law. Meticulous and in-depth grass-root management is needed amid the epidemic in that the epidemic, which is characterized by long lingering contagiousness, is fundamentally different from traditional crises, such as political power crisis, economic and financial crisis, and civil war crisis. In response to the public health crisis caused by the epidemic, ineffectiveness and chaos were seen when the “strong state – strong society” structure was implemented in the grass-root communities of epidemic prevention and governance. This is an important reason why Russia's epidemic prevention met with bottlenecks, Zou said.

Tan Xuechao, a PhD student in the Department of History, PKU, opined that the mutual humanitarian assistance between the Chinese and Russian governments during the epidemic has been not just out of practical considerations, but has deeper historical roots and is based on national conditions. The two sides have a basic consensus on core principles and positions. The epidemic crisis has impacted and tested both China and Russia to varying degrees. However, these setbacks and challenges have been also organically combined with historical reasons and the current real environment, creating a special environment and opportunity for China–Russia diplomatic cooperation and the strengthening of the two countries' comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination. It has been given greater practical significance in confronting the group of Western countries led by the US in politics and other fields as well as their attempt to use the epidemic crisis to contain and provoke China and Russia, Tan said.

Zhang Junyi, a PhD student at Lomonosov Moscow State University, made a presentation focusing on the key areas and prospects of China–Russia scientific and technological cooperation. He expressed his belief that in-depth scientific and technological cooperation in the long run will focus on heavy industry and defense industry, which are relatively weak in China. China has been faced with many disadvantages in maintaining and building national capabilities under the conditions of the Cold War, while Russia has extensive experience in fully organizing and using domestic resources to maintain and build national capabilities. Seen from a long-term perspective, China–Russia scientific and technological cooperation not only has huge potential, but will inevitably change from pure “technical cooperation” to “system cooperation,” giving full play to the expertise of the two countries in various fields, Zhang said.

Guan Guihai and Shi Yue commented on the presentations of the six speakers, and made suggestions for improvement. The two commenters said that Sino-Russian research involved many historical and practical issues. When conducting research on historical issues, it is necessary to emphasize the critical importance of the sources of the research materials. All facts and data must have credible sources; and when conducting research on real problems, one should avoid wasting time on seemingly popular but less researchable issues. In addition, it is necessary to sharpen the expressive ability of academic language and improve one's overall academic quality, they said.

The presenters also had online exchanges with the nearly 100 audience members, who came from different universities and institutions. Future online seminars in the New Buds salon series “Relations between China and its Neighbors after COVID-19” will focus on the development of relations between China and South Korea, Central Asia and other countries and regions.