Xi Jinping, the secretary-general of the Chinese Communist Party, stated that he and Russian President Vladamir Putin mutually agree that a comprehensive strategic partnership between Moscow and Beijing remains a “top priority of their foreign policy.”
China particularly agrees with Putin’s proposal on enhancing cooperation in sectors such as the economy and bilateral trade. China was Russia’s top trade partner in the first ten months of 2012, with bilateral trade volume reaching $73.6 billion. The nations set a goal of lifting bilateral trade to 100 billion by 2015 and 200 billion by 2020.
A Nutrition Transition
China and Russia are both undergoing a “nutrition transition,” a combination of entering world markets and producing more consumer goods. A common result is a slow transition into a “western” diet, placing the population at risk for unfamiliar non-communicable diseases, such as obesity, food insecurity and alcoholism. China and Russia were forced to enact a multitude of government-based prevention strategies, but like many nations in transition, prevention came after these issues made their mark.
Fighting the Same Battles
Both nations have a long history with alcohol and smoking. In 2006, a new law in China set the legal drinking age to 18, though alcohol continues to be advertised on T.V. Russia continues to push for a tax hike on vodka, and recently re-defined beer as “alcohol” instead of “food” – thus limiting its availability in certain stores.
The prevalence of smoking among adult men in both nations is staggering. In 2009, smoking was prevalent among 60.2% of adult Russian men and 52.9% of Chinese men, compared to 21.5% of American men. Russia has proposed a tax hike on cigarettes, while China has turned to consumer education, detailed in a plan published in December 2012.
Fast food corporations have infiltrated both nations. KFC alone currently holds 4,000 restaurants in China and aiming for a total of 300 restaurants in Russia by 2015. Nonetheless, China continues to deal with the additional issues of food safety.
Car ownership has increased sedentary behavior in both nations. During the World Expo in Shanghai, officials eased traffic congestion by installing more bike lanes, expanding bike share programs, and adopting an odd-even license plate regulation. However, Russia has yet to provide concrete initiatives in the area of physical activity.
The Next 10 Years
A partnership between two nations – both undergoing a nutrition transition – may call for a unique and practical learning opportunity. Given their government structure, revolving around central planning, China and Russia may be more inclined to trade ideas and adopt favorable initiatives for issues such as substance abuse (alcohol and smoking), food safety, and sedentary behavior.
China and Russia have both hinted at re-balancing their economy and limiting dependency on foreign resources. Russia and China, once two of the largest buyers of U.S. meat, are now beginning to limit their purchases. Vladamir Putin is concerned with U.S. food safety regulations, while China temporarily slowed down meat imports from the U.S. due to price hikes after the drought in 2012. It seems logical that China will take advantage of Russia’s land to source meat, dairy, and soy within the next few years. A Russian-Chinese vegetable processing plant was scheduled to open in Russia’s Veliky Novgorod Region in late 2008.
Many people in China and Russia didn’t see 2013 as a turning point. The year before, Vladimir Putin was re-elected as Russian president, in office since 1999, and China’s Communist Party announced the selection of their country’s seven new – slightly more traditional – leaders.
A partnership opens new doors. The possibilities are endless. We wait.