Russia’s trade with China continues to grow despite the precipitous collapse in the value of the Russian ruble and the unprecedented Western economic sanctions imposed on Russia last year following Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. Indeed, China’s economic importance to Moscow has increased as Russia’s commercial relations with Europe, the United States and Japan stagnate. Yet the Russia-China economic relationship is imbalanced, with Russia sending mostly natural resources to China and importing mostly Chinese consumer goods. As a result, the two countries will find it difficult to deepen their economic cooperation much further unless it expands to encompass high-value economic sectors, such as arms and civil nuclear technology.
According to the Chinese government, Russia-China trade amounted to $95.3 billion 2014, a 6.8 percent increase over the 2013 figure of $89.2 billion. China imported $41.6 billion worth of Russian goods, a 4.9 percent rise over the previous year, while it exported $53.7 billion worth of goods to Russia in 2014, an 8.2 percent increase over the 2013 level. These figures made China Russia’s leading trading partner, even as Russia ranked only ninth on the list of China’s largest trade partners. Notwithstanding these large figures, some 80 percent of this trade consisted of the exchange of raw materials such as oil, wood and minerals.
Unless major changes occur, Russia could become even more of a one-dimensional resource supplier to China. During the past year, Russian and Chinese representatives have negotiated several major energy deals that could see a surge in Russian oil and gas flowing eastward into China. These include a 2013 contract between Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil firm, and the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), and a May 2014 agreement by Gazprom, Russia’s main natural gas exporter, to supply $400 billion worth of gas to China over a 30-year period. Gazprom is expected to finalize another gas deal with China, using a different pipeline network, sometime this year.