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Russia's "Asian Drift", or Its Pivot to the East?

Russia is making a U-turn towards the East


This article originally appeared at Valdai Club


The Financial Times liberally interpreted a recent statement on Russian-Chinese relations by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi so as to indicate that Russia had been forced to continue its “economic shift towards Asia and away from Western Europe” because of sanctions. This is only partly true. Really, Russia is making a U-turn towards the East.

<figcaption>Russia and China continue to demonstrate their commitment to a win-win strategy and a readiness to cooperate in all spheres to serve their national interests, rather than “target any third party.” | Fo Guang Shan Monastery in Kaohsiung City</figcaption>
Russia and China continue to demonstrate their commitment to a win-win strategy and a readiness to cooperate in all spheres to serve their national interests, rather than “target any third party.” | Fo Guang Shan Monastery in Kaohsiung City


Russia and China continue to demonstrate their commitment to a win-win strategy and a readiness to cooperate in all spheres to serve their national interests, rather than “target any third party.” At the same time, there is no substantiation for the Western fear of a nascent Russian-Chinese military and political alliance.


Russia has started turning more rapidly towards the East in accordance with its balanced strategy as a Eurasian power based on the need for large-scale cooperation with the Asian-Pacific countries in the development of Eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East. The anti-Russian sanctions adopted by the West over Ukraine and Crimea have only reaffirmed the correctness of this strategy.


This is why the Chinese foreign minister said that “practical cooperation between China and Russia (…) seeks win-win results and has enormous internal impetus and room for expansion.”  This is absolutely true. Russian-Chinese relations are shifting from traditional spheres of trade and economic cooperation – the power and defense industries – to projects in innovation, investment, finance and banking, as well as high technology. They are working on a long-haul wide-body plane, high-speed trains and nuclear power industry.


At the same time, energy production, processing and transportation remain a vital element of bilateral cooperation. Wang Yi mentioned China’s readiness to begin full-scale construction of an eastern natural gas pipeline and to sign an agreement on the western route of delivering gas from Russia in 2015.


Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich said at the Krasnoyarsk Economic Forum in late February that there were no political obstacles to selling China controlling stakes in key oil and gas projects in Russia. “If there is a request [from China], we will seriously consider it. And I see no political obstacles at the moment,” Dvorkovich said. This unprecedented decision would give Chinese investors more privileges compared to their Western colleagues, and could be also applied to large Russian-Chinese projects in other areas.


Russia is involved in a number of multilateral negotiations and dialogues on regional economic integration and free trade areas in the Asian-Pacific Region. Russia and China have formulated a joint initiative on creating a new regional security system. However, Russia should definitely increase its contribution to multilateral regional security and cooperation mechanisms.


This would help Russia protect and promote its interests in the Asia Pacific Region and occupy a place that would be adequate to its capabilities and competitive advantages. Of great importance in this respect would be China’s support and cooperative assistance. Russia has supported China’s initiative on the BRICS Development Bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Silk Road Foundation. These international financial mechanisms will boost infrastructure projects and the implementation of vital bilateral investment projects.


This year, Russia and China plan to sign an agreement on cooperation in creating a New Silk Road Economic Belt. This is an open platform designed to integrate and promote the implementation of the current Russian-Chinese cooperation projects and to give new meaning to such regional cooperation mechanisms as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, BRICS and the Eurasian Economic Union. As a side effect, this initiative would help increase Russian-Chinese trade to $200 billion by the end of 2020. China and Russia can and must use this opportunity, harmonizing their development programs to promote mutual development and prosperity.


Relations between Russia and China are currently influenced by the conflict in Ukraine. The Chinese media and online sources are actively discussing China’s possible assistance to Russia in this complex situation. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told journalists after the third session of the 12th National People’s Congress that China respects Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and hopes that the situation around Ukraine and Crimea will be solved through dialogue, negotiations and consultations.


The Western media speculated that this could run contrary to Russia’s stance that the issue of Crimea had been settled once and for all. In fact, China’s policy on this issue is reasonable, balanced and based on a striving for justice and mutually advantageous results for all parties. China’s policy of compromise and dialogue on this issue amounts to the renunciation of sanctions and arms deliveries to the conflict area.


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