Working paper

How does China fare on the Russian market? Implications for the European Union

China’s economic ties with Russia are deepening. Meanwhile, Europe remains Russia’s largest trading partner, lender and investor. An analysis of China

Publishing date
18 November 2019

This paper was prepared for the seminar ‘Trade relations  between the EU, China and Russia’, co-organised by the delegation of the European Union to Russia and Bruegel with the support of the EU Russia Expert Network on Foreign Policy (EUREN). The seminar was funded by the European Union.

The content of this paper is the sole responsibility of the author and does not represent the official position of the European Union.

The last two decades have seen a very rapid increase in trade and lending between China and Russia. The investment relationship has remained more subdued. China dominates every aspect of the bilateral economic relationship, as a net exporter, net creditor and net investor, despite Russia long being a richer country than China.

China and Russia are increasingly viewed as important political and economic partners, notwithstanding their past differences. However, in terms of trade and investment, economic cooperation between the two countries’ remains less intense than their diplomatic relationship, even though their formal economic interactions can be traced back to the 1700s and both shared a similar economic model, namely central planning, for a good part of the twentieth century.

China has developed very rapidly in economic terms over the past two decades since its accession to the World Trade Organisation. In particular, it has become the largest exporter in the world from a very low base (Figure 1 and Table A1 in the Annex), surpassing Europe. In that context, it is unsurprising that Chinese goods have flooded Russia, eating into the EU’s and the US’s export shares to Russia. Beyond China’s increasing economic weight, the changing global environment, including the sanctions and counter-sanctions between the West and Russia, the US-China trade war and the US-led IndoPacific Strategy, have helped re-orient Russia’s economic relationships towards the east, with China being the largest player.

China has also become increasingly interested in its neighbourhood (and beyond) with its landmark project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Among the large and increasing number of countries that participate in the BRI, Russia occupies an important position as the recipient of the largest amount of Chinese funding, mainly for energy and railway infrastructure. In particular, out of the six corridors China has announced for the BRI, several cross Russia, including the New Eurasian Land Bridge and the China-Mongolia-Russia Corridor. In addition, Russia and China have agreed to jointly build an ‘Ice Silk Road’ along the northern sea route in the Arctic. All in all, Russia has unquestionably become an important partner in China’s massive global infrastructure project plans. Russia has also proposed the concept of a Great Eurasian Partnership, which is seen as a way for the Kremlin to preserve its relationships within its neighbourhood at a time of very rapid increase in Chinese influence (Köstem, 2019).

About the authors

  • Alicia García-Herrero

    Alicia García Herrero is a Senior fellow at Bruegel.

    She is the Chief Economist for Asia Pacific at French investment bank Natixis, based in Hong Kong and is an independent Board Member of AGEAS insurance group. Alicia also serves as a non-resident Senior fellow at the East Asian Institute (EAI) of the National University Singapore (NUS). Alicia is also Adjunct Professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). Finally, Alicia is a Member of the Council of the Focused Ultrasound Foundation (FUF), a Member of the Board of the Center for Asia-Pacific Resilience and Innovation (CAPRI), a member of the Council of Advisors on Economic Affairs to the Spanish Government, a member of the Advisory Board of the Berlin-based Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS) and an advisor to the Hong Kong Monetary Authority’s research arm (HKIMR).

    In previous years, Alicia held the following positions: Chief Economist for Emerging Markets at Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (BBVA), Member of the Asian Research Program at the Bank of International Settlements (BIS), Head of the International Economy Division of the Bank of Spain, Member of the Counsel to the Executive Board of the European Central Bank, Head of Emerging Economies at the Research Department at Banco Santander, and Economist at the International Monetary Fund. As regards her academic career, Alicia has served as visiting Professor at John Hopkins University (SAIS program), China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) and Carlos III University. 

    Alicia holds a PhD in Economics from George Washington University and has published extensively in refereed journals and books (see her publications in ResearchGate, Google Scholar, SSRN or REPEC). Alicia is very active in international media (such as BBC, Bloomberg, CNBC  and CNN) as well as social media (LinkedIn and Twitter). As a recognition of her thought leadership, Alicia was included in the TOP Voices in Economy and Finance by LinkedIn in 2017 and #6 Top Social Media leader by Refinitiv in 2020.

  • Jianwei Xu

    Jianwei Xu is non-resident fellow at Bruegel. He is a senior economist at Natixis, Asia Pacific. He worked as a professor at Beijing Normal University. He was also a guest researcher at China Academy of Social Science and a youth member of the China Finance Forum 40.

    His research mainly focuses on international economics and labor economics. He is particularly interested in topics related to the Chinese economy. He has published many papers in academic journals and also writes policy articles for the media.

    He received his Ph.D. in economics from China Economic Research Center, Peking University in 2011. He was also a visiting student in Stern Business School, New York University, from 2009 to 2010.

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Alessia Amighini, Alicia García-Herrero, Michal Krystyanczuk, Robin Schindowski and Jianwei Xu