BEIJING -- China on Monday (March 7) said the friendship between Beijing and Moscow was still "rock solid" amid surging exports and despite international condemnation of Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
China has refused to condemn its close ally Moscow after touting a "no limits" strategic partnership between the two countries last month.
"The friendship between the two peoples is rock solid, and both sides' future co-operation prospects are very vast," Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at a press briefing during the Chinese leadership's annual political congress in Beijing.
The foreign minister described the China-Russia relationship as "the world's most crucial bilateral relationship", which "is conducive to world peace, stability and development".
The economic partnership, though, is profoundly unequal. In 2020, China's GDP was almost 10 times larger than Russia's, according to the World Bank -- more than $14.7 trillion compared to less than $1.5 trillion.
Gazprom and banks turn to China
Running out of trading partners as sanctions bite, large Russian corporations are now forced to rely on China.
This month, Russian gas giant Gazprom said it had signed a contract to design a pipeline to China, taking a step towards a new supply agreement that could ease Russia's reliance on European buyers.
And Russian banks said Sunday they planned to issue cards using China's UnionPay system after Visa and Mastercard moved to suspend operations amid unprecedented sanctions on Moscow.
Wang said their informal alliance would "not brook interference by third parties", in a warning to the United States and its Western allies who in recent days have lobbied China to play a more active role in mediating the conflict.
Australia's prime minister has called Russia's invasion of Ukraine "a moment of choice for China", pressing China to shape the actions of its Russian ally and to prove that Beijing is committed to global peace.
"No country would have a greater impact right now on Russia's violent aggression towards Ukraine than China," Scott Morrison told a think-tank, the Lowy Institute.
Analysts have speculated whether Russia's invasion would embolden China to take similar military action towards the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own territory.
Chinese exports in January and February rose a combined 16.3% on surging global demand and a spike in trade with Russia in the run-up to the war in Ukraine, according to Chinese customs data released on Monday.
The growth rate exceeded economists' expectations of a 15.7% gain from a year earlier.
Exports to Russia rose 41% compared to the same period in the previous year.
Exports to Russia grew at the fastest rate among China's major trading partners in January and February, outpacing trade with the European Union and the United States.
Russia was also the second biggest source of imports for China, which buys energy products from its neighbour.
Trade with China has served as a lifeline for Russia, which had already faced Western sanctions over its 2014 seizure of the Crimea region from Ukraine.
Moscow's international isolation has deepened following its invasion of Ukraine that began late last month.
China has been Russia's largest trading partner for more than a decade, according to Chinese Commerce Ministry data.
Beijing approved Russian wheat imports just hours before the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine.