New vision for enhanced engagement in Eurasia


Elisabeth Hellenbroich

On the occasion of celebrating the 72nd  anniversary of the founding of the Peoples Republic of China, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent greetings to Chinese President Xi Jinping, in which he emphasized the role of China in solving urgent global problems. In his message the President stressed that relations between the two states are expanding on the basis of “a comprehensive partnership and strategic interaction”, based on the “Treaty of Good Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation” which marks its 20th anniversary this year and provides a highly effective framework for bilateral ties. “I am confident that through our joint efforts we will continue to enhance Russian-Chinese cooperation in a wide range of fields. This fully meets the interests of our nations and contributes to greater security and stability on the regional and global level.”  Putin pointed to Chinas impressive economic, social and scientific discoveries and its active involvement in solving urgent global question.

According to the Russian Ministry of Economic Development, trade turnover between Russia and China has grown by a third since January this year. “By the end of this year, there is the chance to reach a historical maximum in trade turnover with China,” the head of the ministry Maxim Reshetnikov  stated September 29th at a meeting of the Russian- Chinese subcommittee on trade and economic cooperation. He praised the steady confidence Chinese companies have put in the Russian market, which was demonstrated by a prolonged economic activity and the launch of new projects even in midst of the Covid- 19 pandemics. The ministry plans to send four of its representatives to China, in order to work in the Russian trade mission and promote cooperation with emphasis on the digital economy and sustainable development. Among the issues discussed at the meeting were the restoration of supplies of Russian fish products to China, ensuring uninterrupted export cargoes crossing the Russian- Chinese border by land and expanding cooperation in agricultural trade. “We are interested in the implementation of new large projects – a first Russian-Chinese insurance company, the construction of additional capacities of the terminal for receiving and transshipment of liquefied petroleum gas and propylene in Manchuria,” Rechethnikov said.

At the end of 500 years of Western dominance

On 30th of September a fascinating conference took place under the title “The West and China”- a dialogue and cooperation between the twentieth and twenty first century”. The conference was organized by the Italian Luigi Sturzo Institute and the Catholic University of Milan. The conference was opened with an official greeting from Italian Foreign Minister di Luigi Maio, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, as well as a speech by the deputy head of the Chinese Embassy in Italy, Mrs. Zheng Xuan. Several speeches were given by historians from Western Europe and China. What was striking at the conference, which the author had the chance to follow online, was the constructive spirit and openness towards dialogue, which was particularly expressed by the Italian side.  Since beginning of this year Italy is chairing the G-20 and will lead the G-20 heads of state conference in Rome by the end of October, where it is potentially possible that US President Biden and the Chinese President will meet, to discuss steps of possible de-escalation. Also Afghanistan will be an important issue. It is thanks to Italy’s very responsibly acting Prime Minister Mario Draghi, that constructive proposals for solving the Afghan crisis on the G 20 level have been launched by Italy.  Italy has been and is in contrast to many EU countries, open for dialogue and cooperation with Russia and China. This is largely due to Italy’s rich culture – its tradition in statecraft  and foresightedness, that goes back for example to the Marco Polo’s travels to China in the 13th century and the important contribution made by Jesuit Marco Ricci who worked in China and translated Chinese scientific works during the 16th century.  An example for the constructive approach towards Russia and China was reflected in the speech by Agostino Giovagnoli, Professor at the Milan Catholic University, whose speech was summarized in the Catholic Daily “Avvenire” under the title “But there is no cold war between the West and China.” (Sept 30th)

Giovangnoli expressed concern about today’s narrative that speaks about a “New Cold war between China and the West.” As he underlined, “these narratives don’t always reflect reality:  Recalling the old Cold War, the narrative of a new Cold War removes the complexity of the world and reduces it to a division between only two blocks; it makes the future of peoples depend on the clash between two blocks. He referred to a book by the Scottish/ American historian Niall Ferguson who stated on his book “The West and the rise and decline of civilization” (2011), that historically we see the end of an epoch: “We are living through the conclusion of five hundred years of Western dominance,” which goes together with the rise of Asia. According to Giovagnoli, the “new Cold War is unlikely to lead to a new American hegemony. As has been said there is no longer any global Western system that lasted five centuries, in the final phase of which the United States played effectively a hegemonic role.

The world has become too complex to endure forms of unipolar hegemony. Today there is no longer the United State and its European allies on the one side and the Soviet Union on the other, but the US with some allies and the Peoples Republic of China. The main area of conflict no longer concerns Europe, but the Far East (or the Indo -Pacific). There are no longer two radically different and totally separate economic systems, because the protagonists of the new Cold War move in a common world economic system and are interdependent in many sectors. The new Cold War is technological industrial competition and competition concerning different political institutional views. Giovagnioli warned about the danger of a new ideological confrontation. “It is a dangerous road and it could widen the abyss between the peoples. (…) Today dialogue and collaboration are a necessity for the salvation of the planet in fields such as environment and in the field of culture contacts are very positive. Recent events have also shown the importance of finding forms of convergence to manage particularly sensitive international situations such as Afghanistan. Italy is among the countries that are trying to go down this road.”

The Deputy Chinese Ambassador Zheng Xuan (Rome) gave a speech in which she praised that in particular Italy and China are bound by a long cycle of historical dialogue.  Outlining briefly the history of China and its dark periods (Opium wars and foreign Powers occupation of China) she stated that today China has socialism with “Chinese characteristics”, that is based on the desire for peaceful development and mutually beneficial exchange, along the Confucian principles: Harmony in diversity, peaceful coexistence, as well as the sentence ‘don’t do to the others what you don’t want to be done to you!’  In light of the global challenges, the choice is either regression or progress Italy, she emphasized plays a significant role in the dialogue between Occident and Orient -West and East. She also mentioned that both countries in the context of the Belt and Road initiative will continue dialogue.

Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok and Russia’s role for Asia

Looking at Russia from this Italian -Chinese perspective, it becomes clear, that the two countries Russia and China – irrespective of the hysteria expressed in Germany and EU, which groups around of fervent Russia and China bashers – will play a key role in the future world dynamic, both economically and politically.

An illustrative example is the Russian “Eastern Economic Forum” that since 2015 has been taking place annually in the Far Eastern city Vladivostok – attracting thousands of businessmen and leading politicians from several dozens of countries. It plays a key role in bringing East and West closer to each other.  In 2018/19 the Presidents of China and India were attending the EEF. From the very beginning the Far East development has been a “priority” of Russian state policy and one of the elements of “Russia’s pivot to the East”,  is to have more active ties with the Asian economies.

During this year’s Far Eastern Economic Forum (September 2-4th2021), Russian President Vladimir Putin summed up what Russia sees as development “priority” for this vast region. Present at the Forum were foreign guests and senior Russian politicians, along with overseas Ministerial guests and senior politicians from Armenia, Australia, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Finland, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Mongolia, Norway, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.  The Russian President underlined in his speech that “the volume of accumulated foreign direct investment in the Russia Far East has almost doubled in the past six years, reaching up to US$ 80 billion and that industrial growth in the region exceeded the national average. During the same period industrial production in the region has shown a growth rate of around 20%, or twice the national rate. Sixty-eight thousand modern jobs have been created. Global projects in aviation, shipbuilding, chemical industry, gas processing and logistics have been launched in the Far Eastern regions such as the Amur Region, the Khabarovsk Territory and the Primorye Territory.” Putin particularly pointed out that ship building industry which was almost ruined after the Soviet era is experiencing a revival, based on new technologies, with new products in development and excellent long term orders aside the chemical industry and the gas processing industry.  “In the Russia Far East each region has been working on a wide variety of projects. We continue to elevate conventional industries as well- for example developing large ore and methane gas deposits in Chukotka, the Trans Baikal territory and Buryatia.” He further mentioned that Russia plans to create an unprecedented package of benefits and incentives on the Kuril Islands, in addition to establishing a free customs zone on the entire territory of the Kurils.

“Akademik Lomonosov power unit” – a floating thermonuclear power plant

In terms of the “Russian Far East Transport Corridors” (including the Baikal Amur Mainline and Trans-Siberian railway) he stated that “We will be developing the potential of the Far East as a critical hub of global transport corridors, based on a modern materials and technology base with account taken for the most stringent environmental standards, including increasing the “Northern Sea Route’s capacities”.  Putin noted that in the past 10 years, “the volume of cargo transport along the Northern Sea Route has increased by an order of magnitude …While in 1986 a little over 7 Mio tones were shipped, last year it was 33 Mio tones and by 2024 this figure should be 80 Mio tons.” Putin also pointed to the need for “reliable and environmentally friendly energy sources, including autonomous ones (that) are vital for the Far East with its vast territory and remote towns.  Such projects are already being implemented: “A floating thermonuclear thermal power plant, the ‘Akademik Lomonosov power unit’, is already operating in Chukotka; the Toreskaya solar power plant with a capacity of 90 MW was launched in Buryatia: methanol plants are planned in Nakhodka and the Amur region and methanol can be used not only as raw material for chemical production but also as next generation fuel, primarily for sea- borne shipping.”  According to the Russian President “the Far East offers the opportunity to create a powerful industrial cluster to produce green hydrogen and ammonia.” And the demand for these products will steadily grow for decades especially in the Asia-Pacific region.” Similarly the Sakhalin Region will become a site for a pilot projects that will allow us to work out issues of regulating the emission and absorption of greenhouse gases on a region wide scale. Also the Arctic has a huge impact on global climate, and he spoke about the need to speed up the national permafrost monitoring system – especially since Russia chairs the Arctic council.

There was a separate panel that was devoted to the subject “Development of the Far East and the Arctic.” The Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Juri Trudnew gave an expert evaluation, underlining that the Russian President has identified the Far East as priority for the 21rst century; he spoke about the GDP growth rate which since 2013 has doubled. Investment in capabilities is 39% higher than the average. And that 478 new enterprises were created with priority zones. He emphasized that “we have great opportunity to create clean energy, and in terms of Trade relations he mentioned agricultural products and fish exports which helped us to find new markets.”

At the same panel also former Australian Minister- President Kevin Rudd, who is very close to the Valdai Discussion club and in sharp contrast to the present acting Prime Minister Scott Morrison gave an excellent speech, emphasizing  the need to build bridges to countries of Asia: He spoke about the geopolitical differences between the USA and China , the US and Russia and stated very clearly that in terms of Russia and the West, he clearly was very much in favor of a strategic dialogue and for the prospect for economic cooperation. He urged that since the Arctic the Polar Ice is melting, more attention should be given to climate change and urged that there must be “a peaceful and collaborative effort in the Arctic.”

In a speech given by Alexej Chekunkov, Minister for the Far East development, the Minister spoke about the Far East Arctic and climate change. He emphasized that “the climate is changing in the Arctic – it’s getting warmer and we face events that didn’t occur in the past.” According to him the development of the Far East and the Arctic is priority for this century and emphasized that the development of the Far East is the greatest opportunity for the development of Russia. “We can have millions of agricultural lands – there are great Bio resources and fisheries in the Far East and Northern Russia Sea Food (Aqua Culture), as well as tourism.”

Extremely interesting was also a statement given by the Deputy CEO of Rosatom and head of the “Northern Sea Route” who stated that since “Ivan the Terrible” (15th century) ideas were developed, concerning the use of the Northern Sea Route (today a shipping lane between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean along the Russian coast of Siberia and the Far East crossing five arctic seas. E.H.)  “Today thanks to new technologies and vessels we transport 30 Mio ton of cargo. We talk of oil, coal products.  We need to ensure the Northern Sea Route access to the Northern Pacific markets and Japan, and by 2030 there should be the transport of goods to the Northern Pacific Ocean,” Vycheslav Ruksha stated. He made specific mention of the electricity supply, which comes from a special atomic energy power station, namely the “floating nuclear power station in Piwek (which was constructed by Rosatom and went on line in 2019). He concluded that Rosatom is ready to provide for any challenge and ensure connections between the European and Asians ports.


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