The China-Russia border city of Heihe where harmony lies | World News

If you want to understand China-Russia relations, the icy border city of Heihe is a good place to start.

It’s a bleak, cold place, even at this time of year.

Its most impressive feature by far is the frozen Heilongjiang River that surrounds it. On the other side is Russia.

It’s a much quieter place than it used to be. COVIDClosed borders and subsequent sanctions-induced economic squeeze on Russia’s economy have largely stifled the formerly booming tourist trade.

Before the pandemic, there was a lot of cross-border activity, with groups of Chinese heading north to experience Siberia and Russians heading in the opposite direction.

China's President Xi Jinping, accompanied by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko, walks past the honor guard and members of the military band during a welcome ceremony upon his arrival at the airport in Moscow, Russia, May 20 March 2023. Kommersant/Anatoliy Zhdanov photo via RUSSIA OUTSIDE REUTERS.  NO COMMERCIAL SALE OR EDITION IN RUSSIA.
Xi Jinping, with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko on arrival in Moscow

Many people who live in border towns travel frequently to shop, do business or socialize.

But despite the drop in traffic, signs of that close relationship are everywhere here, from majestic Russian architecture to Russian shops stocked with vodka, Russian dolls and goods with (Vladimir) Lenin motifs.

Mr. Jia runs a store that sells fake and real fur hats and gloves.

He said friendship is a good friendship. He previously lived in Russia and Russians are his clients and friends.

“They are very nice and straightforward,” he commented with a smile.

That is the prevailing view here, as is his view of the war in Ukraine, the idea that Russia is not entirely at fault.

“Wars must have a reason,” he said after pausing to think.

“Nobody goes to war if they don’t have to. Some things are like having a ticking time bomb next to your pillow, and it won’t be easy to fall asleep.”

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It is an encouraging opinion in ChinaThe true horrors of the war and its perpetrators are largely censored here.

Indeed, China has followed a very careful path throughout the conflict, never publicly condemning or condoning the invasion while insisting that it is the best place to play the role of peacemaker. prize.

But it has quietly provided Russia with finance, technology and diplomatic cover, and the West now fears it could go further.

There are signs of that tacit support everywhere at Heihe and reminders of why China might want to maintain it.

The best example probably runs under our feet – the giant pipelines that bring Russian gas into China.

Heihe is the entry point for the Power of Siberia 1 gas pipeline, and China is now buying more of this gas than ever before, making up for Russia much of the trade it has lost with Europe.

Further to the river, there is also a huge bridge that facilitates the trade in goods that still flows between the two sides.

It is also a reminder that this vast frontier is peaceful. That wasn’t always the case, and the battles ravaged the surrounding communities. Maintaining peace today allows both sides to focus their resources elsewhere.

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Xi Jinping arrives in Moscow

‘No one else wants to be friends with us’

It is at this bridge that we meet Slava, a Russian truck driver who lives just across the river.

He has driven to and from China for many years and speaks with unusual frankness about the position of the Russians.

“There is no one else,” he said of the upcoming help from China. “No one else wants to be friends with us.

“Europe doesn’t want to work with us or be friends, so we have our neighbors to work with. They give us jobs. We give them jobs. That’s it. “

“I hope they don’t send us to war,” he added. “That’s the problem, Ukraine, you know? Ukraine.”

Indeed, while this relationship is no different than a lifeline for Russia, it also offers enormous value to China, far beyond trade.

Crucially, Russia offers China a like-minded ally in what it sees as the reshaping of the world order and its growing power struggle with the United States.

In short, a defeated Russia and a united, victorious West would damage President Xi Jinping’s vision of a rising China.

That’s the bigger picture here, the stalemate is pushing the two neighbors closer together.

China knows Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow says a lot, it’s a big gesture that he has chosen to go no matter what.

China is still on its cautious path, but there is no doubt that its number one interest is China.


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