Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with Chinese media, Moscow, March 22, 2021
Question: This year Russia and China will mark 20 years of the Treaty of Good-Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation. It is rumoured that they have agreed to extend the treaty and to give it a new substance based on realities of a new era. What are these new realities? China believes that Russian-Chinese cooperation has no limits, restricted areas or reservations for development. Do you agree with this? What are your expectations when it comes to the further development of Russian-Chinese ties?
Sergey Lavrov: Our leaders and people regard relations between the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation as the best ever in the history of our bilateral ties. I believe that it is a well-deserved and substantiated description. In a large measure, our relations have reached this unprecedented level thanks to the Treaty of Good-Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation, which President of Russia Vladimir |Putin and President of China Jiang Zemin signed in Moscow on July 16, 2001. It is a truly historical document. It provided a political foundation and the legal framework for the development of a new kind of relations between our countries, relations of comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation. Right now, these relations are entering a new era.
Dynamic cooperation, which has been a distinctive feature of our relations over a period of the past 20 years, shows that the Treaty has passed the test of time and that the obligations it seals are being honoured. I would like to remind you that our obligation is to pass friendship between our nations over to the next generation. It is a unique legal formula which I have never seen anywhere else, only in relations between Russia and China. It is an obligation to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of each other, an affirmation of the absence of territorial complaints and mutual resolve to make the border between Russia and China a line of eternal peace and friendship. It is a very unusual formula for an official document. It is an indication of a truly unique nature of our relations. This form of interaction between Russia and China is absolutely free of any ideological limits. It has an intrinsic value that is not vulnerable to any short-term considerations and is not spearheaded against any other country. Our leaders have pointed this out on numerous occasions.
Since we are going to be marking 20 years of the Treaty on July 16, we will prepare a special document, a joint statement by our leaders dedicated to this event. It will reflect an additional feature our relations acquired during the past 20 years. On February 28, 2022, it will be 20 years since the Treaty came into effect. It was signed on July 16, 2001 and ratified on February 28, 2002. We believe that on the 20th anniversary of the Treaty’s enforcement it will be automatically extended for another five years in accordance with Article 25.
We regard the new era of Russian-Chinese relations, which you have mentioned, primarily in the context of the broader situation on the international stage. It is undergoing a very deep transformation and the strengthening of the new centres of economic growth, financial might and political influence. Regrettably, the objective trend for a rise of a truly multipolar democratic world is being hindered by some Western countries led by the United States, which would like to preserve their domination of the global economy and international politics at all costs and to force their will and their demands on each and all. In response to this, Russia and China are promoting a constructive unification agenda. We want the architecture of international relations to be fair, democratic, capable of ensuring stability and based on broad interaction of states and their integration associations, just as we are doing together with our Chinese friends by promoting integration in Eurasia.
China is a truly strategic partner and a like-minded country for us. Our cooperation on the international stage is having a stabilising effect on the global and regional situation. Russia believes that our dialogue with China based on trust and mutual respect should provide an example for other countries, including those that are trying to develop ties with Russia and China on different principles that are not based on equality. This is not acceptable to us or our Chinese friends. We will continue developing our foreign policy constructively and flexibly, showing readiness for compromise but exclusively on the basis of mutual respect and a balance of interests.
Question: 2020 and 2021 were announced as Years of Science, Technology and Innovation between China and Russia. What results have already been achieved in regard to the cross years? What is the significance of such major events?
Sergey Lavrov: Russia and China began holding cross years in 2006. I believe this tradition reflects the quality of relations between Russia and China and, if anything, evokes appreciation from all impartial and objective observers. In 2006, the Russian and Chinese governments announced the Year of Russia in China, and then the Year of China in Russia. This was followed by the years of the Russian and Chinese languages, the years of youth exchanges, years of tourism and other major cross year projects. They are certainly significant because, first of all, each of the cross years includes dozens, and sometimes even hundreds of events that really contribute to cementing our relations in various fields. They provide intensive direct contacts between people, thereby significantly strengthening the foundation of our friendship and enriching the palette of our relations. Let me stress that it also strengthens the public basis for the Russian-Chinese partnership. These events help implement the provisions of the Treaty of Good-Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation, and pass on the traditions of our friendship to younger generations.
The current cross year project, the Years of Science, Technology and Innovation Cooperation, are being held in 2020-2021 under an agreement between the President of Russia Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping. They were launched in August 2020 during a ceremony attended and chaired by the deputy prime ministers of our two countries.
The importance of building up exchanges in the high-tech sphere can hardly be overestimated today. As for the cross year project, the plan provides for more than 1,000 events in such fields as robotics, materials science, biotechnology, information technology, artificial intelligence, mathematics, physics, ecology, medicine, and also history, linguistics, culture, and sociology – a variety of fields covering almost all the more or less significant areas that determine the level of development of a modern state.
Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus infection, most of the cross year events have to be held via videoconferencing. More than 500 events took place last year, mostly online. About 500 more events are planned for this year. I hope that the coronavirus infection will recede and that we will be able to hold some important meetings with in-person participation.
The cross year plan includes a number of events and conferences to exchange experience in fighting the novel coronavirus infection. We maintain very close interaction, which began with the very first reports on the new virus. Mutual assistance was started right away. We began helping our Chinese friends, and then they helped the Russian Federation. Let me emphasise this once again – this is an example to follow for any and all countries building relationships with each other.
Question: The United States and its allies have been meddling in the domestic affairs of other countries with increasing regularity. Washington has been ratcheting up groundless sanctions. Only just recently, we heard disrespectful lexical constructs coming from President Biden. Given the circumstances, how can modern diplomacy respond to these steps coming from the West?
Sergey Lavrov: This is an important matter. I consider sanctions to be the main tool used in the international arena not just by the United States, but the entire West. As a matter of fact, they have largely lost the skill of classical diplomacy. Diplomacy is about relations between people, the ability to listen to each other, to hear one another and to strike a balance between competing interests. These are exactly the values that Russia and China are promoting in diplomacy.
Whenever a diplomatic or a political dialogue turns to the language of ultimatums, and partners are expected to “acknowledge their mistakes” or comply with demands, the whole thing stops being diplomacy. Whenever our Western partners, who are already using these methods, get politely rebuffed, they impose sanctions.
Unfortunately, it is these manners that have taken root in the United States. It all started with President Obama and lasted during President Trump’s four years in office. We are witnessing the same “instincts” in the new US administration. Nothing good will ever come of sanctions which we can see in the case of the EU which followed the same path and imposed sanctions on Russia under a far-fetched pretext, accusing us of things that have never been proved. Not a single piece of evidence has ever been provided, either.
You are aware that European businesses are disgruntled with their losses at a time when other countries are taking their niches in the Russian market. These countries are thinking about their national and economic interests. They have a desire to support their businesses rather than punish someone for something. Punishing anyone in the modern international arena is, by and large, a faulty approach and using it in relations with Russia or China is plainly imprudent.
Poor countries and developing economies have been hit by the sanctions particularly hard, since the pandemic has seriously undermined the states’ ability to ensure normal living conditions for their citizens. It is no coincidence that UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres and, after him, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, came up with a proposal to freeze the sanctions and to make exemptions for essential supplies that the people need to have access to during the pandemic.
Our Western colleagues fully ignored this initiative, just as they ignored President Putin’s proposal, which he put forward during the G20 summit held via videoconference in the spring of 2020, to create green corridors in international trade which would be free from sanctions and other artificial barriers. In conjunction with the People's Republic of China and many other like-minded countries, we keep raising this subject at international platforms, including the UN, which has adopted many resolutions that render illegal unilateral economic and other sanctions imposed in circumvention of the UN Security Council, especially the extraterritorial restrictions.
When the United States withdrew from the Iranian nuclear deal, which it is now trying to bring back to life, it not only stopped complying with its commitments, but told other countries not to fulfill the UN Security Council resolution. The West bit the bullet and resigned: “What can we do, this is up to the United States. Of course, it would be better if they continued to implement the Iranian nuclear deal resolution, but this is how things are.” This is not how things are. This represents a gross violation of international law and a demonstration of the state's glaring incapacity to negotiate. I hope the US administration, which said it wants to rejoin the nuclear deal, will follow through with its plan.
In any case, the initiatives to remove the illegitimate unilateral sanctions from international life deserve every support. Venezuela has come up with a proposal at the UN to create a coalition against unilateral coercive measures. By the way, the UN has a special rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures who comes up with balanced and objective assessments. This kind of initiative must be encouraged. We must form a broad-based coalition of countries which will oppose this illegal practice.
Concurrently, we must consolidate our independence. The United States has declared limiting the advance of technology in Russia and China as its goal. So, we must reduce our exposure to sanctions by strengthening our technological independence and switching to settlements in national and international currencies other than the dollar. We need to move away from using Western-controlled international payment systems.
The circumstances make us build our economic and social policies to make sure we remain unaffected by our Western partners’ quirks. They are promoting their ideology-driven agenda aimed at preserving their dominance by holding back progress in other countries. Their policies run counter to the objective international developments and, as they used to say at some point, are on the wrong side of history. The historical process will come into its own, no matter what happens.
Question: What do you think about the possibility of “vaccination passports” and the resumption of tourist exchanges between Russia and China and between Asia and Europe?
Sergey Lavrov: It is an important subject. All sides are trying to find ways to resume the normal functioning of countries, nations and citizens at a moment when the coronavirus infection remains a quite serious challenge for many regions in the world. It is in this context that the possibility of introducing so-called vaccination passports is being discussed.
During the G20 summit held in November 2020, President of China Xi Jinping advanced the idea of digital health passports for international travel. We can see that measures towards this are being taken in China. We are analysing China’s experience and other countries’ approaches to this matter, including within the framework of the EU. It is important to thoroughly consider and assess all possible aspects of this initiative based on the principle of voluntary vaccinations and an equal approach, so that any innovations adopted in this or that country are mutually acceptable. Otherwise we will create new dividing lines. It is unacceptable for the existence or absence of such certificates (I would rather not describe them as passports) to infringe on human rights and the rights of travellers. People travel a great deal. This is a fact of life and a new reality of international life. The WHO has not yet presented a final view on the issue of such passports or certificates; it has taken a low-key approach to this matter.
As of now, our experience is only being formulated and boils down to the following. Those who have jabs can request a paper or digital vaccination certificate. The data will be added to the federal register of vaccinated citizens. This document will show that the said person has been vaccinated. We are not considering any other uses for this document. We are analysing all aspects of this initiative.
We maintain large-scale tourist exchanges with China. They have increased considerably during the past years. In 2019, before the pandemic, nearly 2 million Chinese citizens visited Russia. The coronavirus infection has seriously damaged the tourist sector. I am sure that when the epidemiological situation gets back to normal, and we see the trend towards this, we will be able to do everything necessary together to open up the borders without delay and to resume mutual travel, gradually mitigating and eventually lifting all the currently strict coronavirus restrictions.
Question: Many Chinese love Russian literature and arts. They invite our Russian friends to come to China to become better acquainted with the Oriental civilisation. Cultural and educational exchanges between China and Russia have been seriously damaged by the pandemic. Many Chinese students are unable to return to Russia. What practical measures should be taken to revitalise humanitarian exchanges?
Sergey Lavrov: I said in response to your previous question that decisions on lifting lockdown restrictions are needed to resume tourist exchanges. As long as they remain in place, Russian citizens cannot travel to China either. Our foreign ministries are not playing the key role in this sphere, where the first fiddle is played by our countries’ healthcare authorities and governments, the first deputy prime ministers in charge of sanitary matters.
The pandemic has changed all areas of our contacts, including the humanitarian, cultural and educational ones. We are gradually resuming in-person education at our universities. Foreign students are returning as well. The decision in each particular case is taken by the university authorities following consultations with relevant healthcare agencies. Everything depends on the region where the given university is located and the situation in the country from which foreign students come.
Cultural events were last held in a traditional format as long ago as in January 2020. After that, concerts, exhibitions and conferences were held online. This form of interaction is good as well, but it will never replace face-to-face relations. I hope that we will gradually resume normal interaction in this sphere in the near future.
We have coordinated with our Chinese friends a programme of cooperation between our couture ministries in 2020-2023. We tried to take into account the possibility of epidemiological restrictions. We will do our best to hold as many events as possible in the in-person format. The implementation of the programme, which began in 2020, immediately faced these difficulties. We are conducting our cultural and humanitarian contacts online while preparing to resume them in the traditional format.