Trade spat puts US, China in strange bedfellows

Written by By By M. Sanjayan, CNN Beijing and Anna Koppel, CNN

As US and Russian President Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin meet to discuss a nuclear arms control treaty that is set to expire next month, ties between the US and China are inching away from parity and toward dysfunction.

First came reports in August that the Trump administration is considering abandoning a deal reached by former US President Barack Obama, in which Moscow agreed to allow Ukraine greater access to its sea ports. This would allow Ukrainian vessels to transit the narrow Kerch Strait separating Russia and Crimea, a source of contention in US-Russia relations.

They were followed by the dramatic arrest of Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former personal lawyer, on Wednesday in New York. The charge — of evading federal income taxes by evading payments to women during the 2016 election campaign — only made headlines hours later when Russian officials announced they would work with US authorities to repatriate the man, who once worked closely with Trump.

US President Donald Trump, left, with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, right, before the bilateral talks at the Presidential Palace in the Estonian capital of Tallinn on October 12, 2018. EPA/GIUSEPPE CACACE/ADRIAN SAXON

Now, as a trade war between China and the US rages on, China and Russia are rallying to the US’s defense and showing their support for each other.

The six-page joint communique issued at the end of last month’s China-Russia border security summit in Beijing indicated that the two countries would enhance economic, military and diplomatic cooperation. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reaffirmed Moscow’s willingness to cooperate with Beijing on countering international terrorism.

At the China-Russia Foreign Ministry annual press briefing on October 23, Wang Yi, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, commented on Russia’s decision to offer assistance to Cohen and emphasized that while the statement was issued on October 11, the two countries were in touch with each other through the week and beyond.

“On October 26 we had a telephone conversation with our Chinese counterparts,” he said. “It is still continuing and positive.”

Adding to the context, a top NATO diplomat says there is no contradiction between Moscow’s withdrawal from Syria and Beijing’s decision to assist Turkey in its recent military offensive against Turkmen-populated areas around the town of Afrin in northern Syria, southwest of Aleppo.

It’s unclear what figure the US State Department has calculated on the value of trade between China and Russia, but a 2015 report from the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission estimated it at $60 billion to $70 billion — a figure that would place US-China bilateral trade ahead of that of Germany and France, putting it above Italy, Portugal and even the UK.

Neither China nor Russia publish trade figures, but even if they did, they’re hard to understand given their sheer size and interconnectedness: The two countries do over $1 trillion in trade with each other every year, according to the World Bank, and have just over $32 trillion in combined GDP.

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