Norms and Values
Fundamentals of Modern Russian-Chinese Cooperation. In Memoriam of Jiang Zemin

The memory of Jiang Zemin as a politician and a person who managed to melt the ice of mutual distrust, and even enmity between Russia and China and transform it into a firm course of friendship and cooperation, will remain in our hearts, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Oleg Barabanov.

On November 30, 2022, Jiang Zemin, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China from 1989-2002 and President of the People’s Republic of China from 1993-2003, passed away. For Russia, remembering him is important because the foundations of partnership and cooperation between Russia and China in the modern era are directly connected with the name Jiang Zemin.

Yes, it is clear that the normalisation of relations between Moscow and Beijing took place earlier, under Deng Xiaoping and Gorbachev. It is enough to recall Gorbachev’s visit to China in 1989 during the dramatic days of the Tiananmen Square protests. But these agreements did not gain traction, at least due to the fact that China was not among the priorities either for Gorbachev or the Soviet Union in the last two years of its existence. The real development of bilateral relations began with the destruction of the old stereotypes which had underscored hostility and suspicion, during the era of Jiang Zemin. The cordiality which replaced them can largely be credited to him.

Jiang Zemin’s approach was also determined by his personal biography. In his youth, even before the deterioration of Soviet-Chinese relations, he trained in the USSR at the Stalin Automobile Plant (which would later become the Likhachev Plant, ZIL). Jiang understood our country, knew the Russian language, and loved to sing Russian songs. This image largely had a great positive impact on the transformation of public opinion in Russia towards China in the 1990s. He gave TV pictures from bilateral summits a much-needed warmth and humanity.

It is no secret that the extremely tense and conflicting relations between the USSR and China had a serious impact on the perception of China and the Chinese in Russia. Fear, mistrust, and at the same time snobbish arrogance towards the Chinese of the late Mao era were very common in the Soviet Union. This was especially acute in the regions of Siberia and the Far East, which were close to the Chinese border. Therefore, it would not be a great exaggeration to say that Sinophobia, both official and popular, was quite strong in the late USSR. In any case, in our opinion, it was much stronger than Americanophobia. America and the West as a whole were political opponents of the Soviet Union, but popular sentiment regarding them in the Brezhnev era and during perestroika in the USSR was determined by the principle “forbidden fruit is sweet.” This was not the case with China in those days. And therefore, it is quite natural that such Sinophobia could not disappear overnight, just because Gorbachev said that now we were friends. To overcome it, extremely serious and difficult work was required to transform the image of China in Russia. The success of this can largely be accredited to Jiang Zemin.
Russia, China and Central Asia. Some Aspects of Geopolitical Jealousy
On May 14-15, the third Russia-Kazakhstan forum was held in Nur-Sultan. Over the course of the two days, the Valdai Club, in partnership with the Kazakhstan Council on Foreign Relations, held five sessions with the participation of experts from the two countries. It turned out to be extensive, interesting and fruitful.
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The same, in fairness, must be said in relation to the image of Russia in China. There, too, were the same negative feelings, the same fear, the same distrust. Here, too, Jiang Zemin’s firm course made it possible to transform public sentiment.

In addition to bilateral cooperation between Russia and China, it is also important to create, on the basis of their new relations, an international institutional environment in Eurasia that ensures security and stability in the region. The role of Jiang Zemin in all this is extremely great. In 1996, under his chairmanship, the first summit of the Shanghai Five was held, which brought together the leaders of China, Russia and several of the post-Soviet states of Central Asia: Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. This initiative has become an important milestone in building trust between participating countries. Five years later, in 2001, also under the chairmanship of Jiang Zemin at the next summit, the Shanghai Five was transformed into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

Since that time, the SCO has become a key element in the system of international security and cooperation in Greater Eurasia. It later went on to include new member states: India and Pakistan. The process of the SCO’s expansion is still ongoing. The organisation has become an important factor driving stability in the region as well as an effective platform for building confidence and harmonizing interests. Of course, the path to the current status of the SCO from the first Shanghai summit in 1996 was a long one. But the vector of its development was set just then, due to the great merit of Jiang Zemin.
Eurasia and Asia
SCO Facing a New Challenge
Rashid Alimov
Partnership, cooperation for co-prosperity, has been the cornerstone of interaction within the Organisation. In the current conditions of the SCO, it is important not only to preserve this principle, but also to give it additional strength and energy, to move from extensive to intensive development. The current moment requires just such an approach, writes Rashid Alimov, SCO Secretary-General in 2016–2018.
Expert Opinions



Special attention should be paid to the development in the Jiang era of direct cross-border ties between Russia and China, between the Russian Far East and the northeast PRC. While it is customary for Moscow to treat cross-border trade between the inhabitants of the two countries with poorly concealed snobbery, first, in the conditions of post-Soviet economic devastation, it sometimes became the only means of survival for many residents of the Far East. Second, it opened the gates to a new world for the Russian Far East residents, allowing them to better understand and appreciate the life of China. Without this, no fruitful cooperation would have been possible.

Jiang Zemin earlier, in the 1980s, was one of the active supporters of the policy of reforms in China. In those years, he held responsible positions in the state committees for export and import, for the regulation of foreign investment, and was the Minister of the Electronics Industry of the PRC. He made a great contribution to the development of free economic zones in the South of China. After Russia opened up, Jiang sought to implement the concept that China in its economic development and cross-border relations should rely on “two wings”: one southern — around Shenzhen and Hong Kong, which returned to China under Jiang, and the second — northern, just along the border with Russia. It is quite clear that the Russian wing did not become a second Hong Kong, but this is not Jiang Zemin’s fault. This question should be addressed primarily to us, the Russians. Still, the inertia of fear of Chinese investment as an echo of that former “Chinese threat” persisted in Russia, in my opinion, until February 2022.

Finally, it is also important that for the Soviet generations of Russians, who are sometimes justly annoyed by the semi-official course of vilifying socialism and social justice in Soviet Russia, the example of Jiang Zemin shows that an effective socialist state can be quite effective. Socialism by no means died with the fall of Soviet power in Russia. The PRC, both in the era of Jiang and today, shows that socialism is quite competitive in the 21st century. The “Three Represents” course put forward by Jiang Zemin made it possible to seriously expand and modernise the social base in the socialist state, to harmoniously integrate market principles into the socialist economy. Looking at the legacy of Jiang Zemin, one can say that the problem was not socialism or Marxism, but our own typical Russian mistakes.
The Russians still remember what Boris Yeltsin once said in Beijing: “I woke up and I feel that I am with friends.” The memory of Jiang Zemin as a politician and a person who managed to melt the ice of mutual distrust, and even enmity between Russia and China and transform it into a firm course of friendship and cooperation, will therefore remain in our hearts.
Socialism with Chinese Characteristics: What Lies Ahead?
Hu Angang
Delegates of the 19th congress of the Communist Party of China have approved amendments to the party constitution, which include political thoughts of the Chinese President Xi Jinping. According to experts, this elevates him to the rank of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. The difference is that the name of the current leader is included in the constitution during his lifetime.
Expert Opinions
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.