Bridge built to celebrate Russia-China trade not used by even one vehicle

The alliance between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping has been celebrated with the construction of a bridge linking the Russian and Chinese territory.

The Blagoveshchensk–Heihe Bridge, connecting Russia’s Blagoveshchensk and China’s Heihe, was completed in 2019, with regular traffic starting in June 2022.

This infrastructure, reportedly costing some 18billion ruble (£159,000,000), was meant to symbolise a new era of cross-border trade between Russia and China.

But those patient enough to stay in the area for a while will notice a lack of transit across the bridge, currently open only to freight traffic, with the BBC claiming that “you can observe it for an hour and not see a single vehicle driving in either direction”.

The city of Heihe, home to more than 1.2 million people, is also seemingly experiencing a lack of patronage, despite hopes a closer relationship with Russia would boost trade with the neighbour.

READ MORE: China is Russia’s ‘lifeline’ as Putin relies on Xi to fund war in Ukraine

One large multi-storey shopping centre was closed a few months ago due to a lack of customers, a fate shared by another shopping cluster reportedly been empty for seven years.

Some of the traders who used to have a shop inside the centres now gather in front of the most recently closed and sell goods aimed at Russians.

One woman, exposing her products out of the back of her car, believes the issue is with Russians’ reduced spending power.

She told the British broadcaster: “Business isn’t good. There aren’t enough tourists. After COVID, the borders haven’t been open for long. There aren’t enough Russians coming across. They’re poor and they’re at war.”

Another seller located in a nearby street said her sales have dropped, noting the streets in Heihe are “empty” while they used to be “filled with potential buyers”.

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The most lively area in Heihe when it comes to Russia and China’s trade is the riverboat port, more popular than the new bridge among those moving goods across the border as deemed much cheaper.

Putin is visiting Beijing this week to meet Mr Xi and attend the two-day Belt and Road Forum.

During his second visit abroad since the ICC issued an arrest warrant on him regarding the alleged deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia, Putin will likely try to further strengthen his country’s ties with Beijing and create a broader coalition against the Western world.

Ahead of the forum, to be attended also by Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić, Putin hailed Mr Xi as “steady, calm, pragmatic and reliable – a true world leader”.

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Appearing on China’s state broadcaster CCTV, the Russian leader also praised Mr Xi’s long reign, the result of the abolishment of office term limits, saying: “The temps only show off on the world stage for about five minutes before becoming lost to world history. However, President Xi is another kind of person.”

China became an even more important economic and political partner for Russia following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine – a military move not condemned by Beijing.

In the wake of Western sanctions, Moscow looked at China – as well as India and Turkey – for the sales of its crude oil.

Moscow and Beijing’s trade expanded in many sectors, and China’s overall trade with Russia hit a record high level of £156bn ($190bn) in 2022 – a 30 percent increase when compared to 2021.

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