The Sino-Russian entente in Eurasia

M.K. Bhadrakumar May 10, 2015 2:55 PM (UTC+8)
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The presence of the Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Victory Day parade in Moscow on May 9 signifies a significant step forward in the strategic partnership between the two big powers. The Chinese media underscored this in no small measure. The following quotes from the dispatches by Xinhua news agency bring out the flavor of what unfolded in Moscow over the weekend:

  • Xi’s presence in Moscow “demonstrates China’s determination to safeguard the post-WWII world order.”
  • “Xi’s presence and the unprecedented participation of Chinese soldiers in the parade delivered a clear message: China and Russia are seeing eye to eye on upholding the post-war international order and safeguarding world peace.”
  • The Red Square parade “is meant to showcase Russia’s great power and unyielding will in front of Western pressure and its determination against attempts at rewriting history and challenging the postwar order.”
  • “The parade is not only a military show but a diplomatic event.”

The joint statement signed by Putin and Xi after their talks in the Kremlin on Friday reflects similar views on the major international issues such as Syria, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea. The portion relating to Ukraine says the two powers urge relevant parties to formulate a comprehensive, balanced and sustainable political solution that takes into full consideration the reasonable interests of all parties concerned.” Beijing has shown a high degree of understanding for Moscow’s core concerns in the Ukraine crisis. [Emphasis added.]

In substantive terms, a second joint statement – again, signed by Putin and Xi) – on the co-relation between the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union [EAEU] and the China-led Silk Road Economic Belt initiatives stands out as a historic document that elevates the Sino-Russian partnership to unprecedented heights both at a practical level and in political terms.

China has formally stated in the joint statement for the first time its support for the integration processes Russia hopes to develop within the EAEU framework. Two, Moscow and Beijing have agreed to set up a dialogue mechanism for the integration (“docking”) of China’s Belt and Road initiative and Russia’s EAEU project. Three, China will begin talks with the EAEU in an economic and trade cooperation deal.

Indeed, the joint statement contains a big political statement to the effect that the two powers will cooperate in the stable development and regional economic integration of the Eurasian region as a whole and in an endeavor to “safeguard peace and stability on the Eurasian landmass.” (Xinhua)

In sum, the two big powers are committed to coordinating their policies with regard to the vast space encompassing the territories of the former Soviet Union stretching from Central Europe eastward to the Asia-Pacific. This scale of strategic partnership and coordination has no precedent in the history of Sino-Russian relations.

Specifically, eight measures have been identified in the economic sphere to boost regional cooperation, which includes, amongst others, an agreement to “study long-term objective of establishing a free trade zone between China and the EAEU”.

All-in-all, China’s fulsome endorsement of the EAEU and its participation in the Russia-led project (which is closely identified with Putin’s leadership) constitutes a rebuff to the United States which had opposed the project tooth and nail and dubbed it as “a move to re-Sovietize the region.”

Clearly, Tte cold blast of western propaganda against the EAEU failed to impress China. The prophets of doom have fallen on their face. China’s integration with the EAEU means in effect that a real engine of growth is being hooked to the Russian project. In reality, China is the key to the future of the EAEU. Significantly, Xi has combined his visit to Moscow with a tour of Belarus and Kazakhstan, the two other founder members of the EAEU.

From the Chinese viewpoint, Moscow is now completely on board as regards its Belt and Road Initiative. This is vital for the implementation of the Silk Routes via Russia and Central Asia. Xi can draw satisfaction that it is Mission Accomplished. To be sure, his “business agenda” this week has been to push forward the realization of the Belt and Road Initiative enhancing interconnectivity with Eastern, Central and Western Europe.

China’s embrace of the EAEU increases the possibility of its cooperation with the European Union [EU] – given enough political will, of course, in Brussels. In the ongoing battle for influence and power in Eurasia, Moscow’s hands have been strengthened with China’s support for the EAEU.

On the other hand, China’s presence will also nudge he EAEU to take a pragmatic approach to economic issues. The bottom line is that the EU can no longer simply dismiss this Russia-led integration project. Exploratory efforts may have to begin at some point to identify where the interests of the two unions overlap and Brussels needs to ponder over potential forms of cooperation.

Without doubt, Washington will pull all stops to try to stop such a process of constructive engagement between Brussels and Moscow from advancing. Conceivably, therefore, this process with immense strategic overtones will likely be a long, slow process.

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M.K. Bhadrakumar
MK Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes the “Indian Punchline” blog and has written regularly for the Asia Times since 2001.
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