With both Russia and China having rising tensions with the West, the two countries have now opened the first cross-border bridge (Blagoveshchensk-Heihe bridge) across the Amur River (Heilongjiang River in China), connecting the two countries from Russia’s Blagoveshchensk City and China’s Heihe City. This new bridge not only connects the two countries physically but is also evidence that Russia and China are strengthening their ties amid Russia’s economic isolation from the international market.
The Russians were not at all hiding the fact that the bridge was more than just infrastructure. According to Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Presidential Envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District Yury Trutnev, the Blagoveshchensk-Heihe bridge between Russia and China has a “special symbolic meaning” in the current political climate concerning Russia, China, and the US, calling it a “fragmented world.”
“In today’s fragmented world, the Blagoveshchensk-Heihe bridge between Russia and China has a special, symbolic meaning. It will become yet another line of friendship, connecting the peoples of Russia and China. The construction began in 2016, with thousands of people from both China and Russia taking part and working 24/7,” Trutnev stated.
“By expanding the border infrastructure, we are creating favorable conditions for developing the economy of both countries, for jointly using various advantages, and we are helping improve the life of citizens of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China,” he added.
In fact, it was such a big deal for the Russians and Chinese that the opening ceremony for the cross-border bridge was televised in Moscow, Vladivostok, Beijing, Blagoveshchensk, and Heihe.
Pleasantries between the two countries were also exchanged, with the Governor of Heilongjiang Province, Hua Changsheng, announcing the launch of the bridge and the launch of the traffic on the bridge using the Russian language. Several top Russian and Chinese government officials would attend the opening ceremony online, such as Vice Premier of the PRC State Council Hu Chunhua, Minister of Transport Vitaly Savelyev, and Minister for the Development of the Russian Far East and Arctic Alexei Chekunkov.
Construction on the bridge had started in 2016 and was reported to be about 3540 feet long (1080 meters) with a price tag of $334 million (19 billion Russian rubles). The bridge was reported to be built through a joint Russian-Chinese concession company, where each country built one-half of each side of the bridge.
After the cross-country bridge was launched, some Russian trucks (claimed to be running on environmentally friendly fuel) were the first to cross the bridge carrying soybean oil from Russia’s Amur Region to China. Beijing would then send their own trucks across the bridge, carrying car tires and components for electrical equipment.
According to Hu, the bridge was evidence that Russia and China are ready and confident to further intensify bilateral practical interaction that boosted cooperation between the two countries. This indicates that both Russia and China will be cooperating more in economic terms. Nothing was discussed related to their military cooperation activities in the future.
“This bridge crossing is an important transport infrastructure project, to which the leaders of our states have paid special attention,” Hu stated.
The Chinese side is ready, jointly with the Russian side, to use the opportunities afforded by the launch of the bridge, constantly facilitate transport interconnections, and provide higher-quality logistical services for the movement of personnel and the strengthening of trade ties. I am confident that together we will turn the Heihe-Blagoveshchensk bridge into a bridge of friendship, a bridge of cooperation, and a bridge of co-development,” he added.
According to Russian officials, the bridge will facilitate economic gains for both countries as it cuts costs and time involving foreign trade cargos and unnecessary bureaucratic red tape. Russian Minister of Transport Vitaly Savelyev stated it was “an important step forward in promoting and strengthening Russian-Chinese economic cooperation.” This bridge also comes at a time when Russia is struggling to export its products abroad and import needed goods to its country due to Russia being cut from the SWIFT international payment system.
It was revealed during the ceremony that more bridge access areas and industrial sites for joint Russia-China production would be undertaken along with a widescale cross-border economic cooperation zone to facilitate more Russia-China trade as part of their comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination.
While they claim that the bridge would cut transportation costs, the average fee for a car ride across the Blagoveshchensk-Heihe bridge was reportedly around $150 (8,700 Russian rubles). While we’re unsure if this fee applies to transport trucks carrying goods to deliver in either country, this high toll fee is a sign that the traffic on this bridge will likely be only commercial trucks as we don’t see civilian vehicles spending $150 just to cross a bridge unless if it were for something extraordinarily special.
Once enemies during the Cold War, it seems that Moscow and Beijing are completely turning a new leaf amidst a common enemy – the United States. Both countries have been aggressive toward the United States, with the Americans being the top foreign backer of Ukraine in the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war, sending billions worth of economic and military assistance to counter the Russian advance in the east.
The US and China have also recently traded shots against each other during the Shangri-La Dialogue held in Singapore, where Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin blasted China for being aggressive and coercive with its territorial claims in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait where the Chinese Armed Forces had been extremely active.
“In the East China Sea, the PRC’s expanding fishing fleet is sparking tensions with its neighbors. In the South China Sea, the PRC is using outposts on man-made islands bristling with advanced weaponry to advance its illegal maritime claims,” Austin said.
“You know, Indo-Pacific countries shouldn’t face political intimidation, economic coercion, or harassment by maritime militias. So the Department of Defense will maintain our active presence across the Indo-Pacific. We will continue to support the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal ruling. And we will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows. And we’ll do this right alongside our partners.”
Chinese Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe would go on to deny the accusations of the US and accused the US of being a “bully” under the guise of multilateralism and that it was hijacking the Indo-Pacific for its own interests in the region. The general would then go on to assert their usual rhetoric of claiming Taiwan and that they would “fight at all costs. And we will fight to the very end,” referring to if anybody were to interfere with their plans with Taiwan.
It looks like the “limitless” partnership between Russia and China is starting to pick up steam. SOFREP reported way back on March 8th that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping met during the Beijing Winter Olympics when the Russians were shelling Ukraine. It was in this meeting that they affirmed their “their strong mutual support for the protection of their core interests,” that their friendship had “no limits,” and that there were no “forbidden” areas of cooperation. Further cooperation between the two countries is expected to increase as tensions rise in Ukraine and the Indo-Pacific, with no signs of slowing down anytime soon.