Sino-Russian Accommodation and Adaptation in Eurasian Regional Order Formation

By Christoffersen, Gaye | Asian Perspective, July-September 2018 | Go to article overview

Sino-Russian Accommodation and Adaptation in Eurasian Regional Order Formation


Christoffersen, Gaye, Asian Perspective


RUSSIA AND CHINA ARE DISCURSIVELY CONSTRUCTING A EURASIAN regional order, defining and redefining its membership, boundaries, and rules. Russian president Vladimir Putin constructs Russia as a Eurasian state at the center of a Eurasian regional bloc. Chinese president Xi Jinping constructs China as a rejuvenated, rising power whose sphere of influence has boundaries that stretch across Central Asia.

Within Central Asia, both countries work out how their separate projects for regional order can be connected in a "regional system" where "the behavior of each [is] a necessary element in the calculations of the other" (Bull 1977, 12). This is best grasped within the framework of the English School and the work of Hedley Bull. China and Russia are able to create order between themselves and within the region through carefully managed interactions that are orderly despite being competitive. Each seeks to establish the concepts and norms that would define the Eurasian region.

One area of disagreement is whether Eurasian projects require the tight integration of China's Northeast (Dongbei) with Russia's Far East (RFE). Chinese analyst Shen Liang argues that Russia can attain its Greater Eurasian Partnership only through further opening up the RFE to Chinese investment and business (Shen 2016). He echoes Beijing's position that integration of China's Northeast with Russia's Far East is a necessary component of linking the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB).

When Beijing announced its Revitalization of the Northeast Industrial Base program in 2003, it assumed the feasibility of economic integration between Dongbei and the RFE. Heilongjiang province in particular views its economic survival as depending on this integration. Some analysts in Moscow, such as Mikhail Titarenko, head of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies, had promoted Dongbei-RFE integration for decades. In 2009 it was made official in the Program of Cooperation between the Far East and Eastern Siberia of the Russian Federation and the Northeast of the People's Republic of China (PRC), 2009 to 2018 (Yang 2015).

The failure to implement the 2009-2018 Sino-Russian agreements for Northeast Chinese-Russian Far East cooperation raised concerns among Chinese businessmen. In 2015, Zhao Huirong complained that Russia had failed to implement more than 200 projects in the 2009 agreement on Dongbei-RFE economic integration, which continued to exist only on paper, ceased functioning before completion, and caused Chinese economic losses. The Chinese are concerned this pattern will be repeated by Russia in the SREB, blocking or delaying projects (Zhao 2015). This caused Chinese businesses to hesitate to invest in the Russian Far East. The Chinese hoped that situating Dongbei-RFE integration in a larger project, the SREB, would give it new momentum.

Russian Far East in the Silk Road Economic Belt

It is odd that Dongbei-RFE integration was folded into the SREB, which has a focus on Central Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, points west of China, while the Russian Far East is to the northeast of China. Many Russians in the RFE adopt a Pacific Russia identity distinct from Putin's promotion of a Eurasian identity.

It is difficult to pinpoint when the Chinese first incorporated Dongbei-RFE integration within the wider SREB. Chinese ambassador to Russia, Li Hui, in February 2015 suggested to a Moscow university audience that the SREB would cover the Chinese side of Dongbei-RFE integration and the Chinese side of oil and gas pipelines. This was before the SREB and Russia's Eurasian Union had formally linked, but it was under intense Russian-Chinese discussion whether they would do so.

In March 2015, at the Boao Forum, the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued an action plan for the SREB and Maritime Silk Road, the Vision and Actions on Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road (Vision and Actions 2015). …

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