Expert Opinions The Eastern Perspective
Regionalization in Eurasia: Competition or Complementarity?

The idea of regional integration has acquired seemingly new impetus with China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union, and the Indo-Pacific idea championed initially by Japan and taken over by the US and endorsed by Australia, India and Indonesia among others, says C. Raja Mohan, Director of the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore, in an interview with valdaiclub.com as part of the Valdai Club’s Eastern Perspective project. But there are problems on all fronts.

As global institutions experience an acute crisis, regionalization is becoming a trend worldwide. Regional trade arrangements are becoming more and more widespread, regional development banks are becoming more active. What is the dynamics of regionalization in Eurasia? What are differences between such processes in different regions?

There is no doubt that global economic institutions are undergoing a profound crisis. The weakening of the World Trade Organisation, however, has not necessarily led to the strengthening of the regional institutions. The focus, instead, is on bilateral agreements between major powers. US President Donald Trump, for example, has simultaneously attacked the WTO as well as regional trading arrangements such as NAFTA, TPP and the EU. President Trump is compelling all its major trading partners to negotiate bilaterally with the US. Although most of them, including China, EU, Japan and India, prefer multilateral arrangements, the size of US economy and the scale of interdependence with the US, they have all agreed to engage bilaterally with Washington.

What are the similarities and differences between such projects of Eurasian integration as the Belt and Road Initiative, the Eurasian Economic Union and Indo-Pacific community? Are they competing with each other or can they coexist harmoniously?

The idea of regional integration has acquired seemingly new impetus with China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union, and the Indo-Pacific idea championed initially by Japan and taken over by the US and endorsed by Australia, India and Indonesia among others. But there are problems on all fronts. Although the BRI began as a dramatic initiative from the Chinese President Xi Jinping, there has been a big push back from the US among others. Questions about the geopolitcal motivations of BRI, its environmental sustainability and financial transparency have been reinforced by suspicions from its key neighbours like India and Japan. Meanwhile the Indo-Pacific community and the Eurasian Economic Union are yet to emerge as significant forces in their own right. Substantive consultations among major powers and modernisation of the global economic institutions will be needed turn the possibilities into reality.

Can Eurasia be organized around some common rules? What model of improving connectivity in Eurasia can best contribute to increasing prosperity of its countries?

Eurasia will definitely need common rules to ensure stability and prosperity. To get there, a big obstacle must be overcome – the current drift towards great power rivalry and fears of regional hegemony by one power or another.

What regional institutions are the most efficient? How to develop interaction between regional and global institutions for development of Eurasia?

The European Union remains the most successful regional institution. But the EU itself is facing challenges, not just from Brexit, but from many quarters across Europe that resent the hegemony of Berlin and Brussels. The ASEAN, which has done well over the last five decades, is now struggling to come terms with the renewed tensions between US and China and deepening imbalance between Beijing and its neighbours.

What perspectives does Eurasian integration open for Russia taking into consideration its geographical position?

Russia’s unique geography spanning across Europe and Asia gives it a powerful role in the integration of Eurasia. To succeed, though, Moscow needs reduction of the intensity of current great power rivalry and a restoration of the collective faith in the region about the virtues of economic globalisation and trans-border connectivity.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.