Kazakhstan - Russia - China Triangle: Philosophy and Geometry


Problems of Eurasian integration, regional and international security, as well as the uneasy relations in the Kazakhstan-Russia-China triangle were discussed by Kazakh and Russian experts during the expert forum, which took place on May 19-20 in Astana.

The Kazakh-Russian expert forum was organized by the Foundation for Development and Support of the Valdai Discussion Club, the Parasat Institute of Systemic Studies and the Kazakhstan Council for International Affairs.

During the second session, devoted to the regional development trends in Eurasia, the Kazakh participants emphasized the importance of the Chinese One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative for the development of the republic, spoke about the difficulties of Eurasian integration and the importance of bilateral cooperation. The Russian experts called for the establishment of a multilateral communication format in order to withstand more serious challenges.

The integration processes in Kazakhstan-Russia relations are under intense pressure from political and economic factors, Askar Nursha, Coordinator of Foreign Policy Projects at the Institute of World Economics and Politics under the Foundation of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, said in his speech. However, in his opinion, one should not judge the relations between Russia and Kazakhstan only through the prism of the Eurasian integration. This is just one of the cooperation formats. There are examples of successful cooperation between the two states within the CSTO, SCO, and OSCE.

The bilateral relationship format should be developed more actively, said Askar Nursha, especially since Russia and Central Asia do not have a permanent expert platform for conducting an open dialogue, unlike China, where a "China-Central Asia" forum was created especially for communicating with Central Asia. According to the expert, it is worthwhile to fill this gap.

Nursha also analyzed three models that are proposed to stimulate the Eurasian integration. The first model is the separation of spheres of influence. This is the idea of dividing the spheres of Russia (military security), China (economic cooperation) and Central Asia, but, most likely, this model will not work, the expert assumes. The second model is conjugation. Disadvantages: conjugation is slowly moving forward at the level of multilateral structures. Now this is the sum of bilateral formats. The question is how to combine them into a multilateral conjugation. And the third is the integration within integration.  In the framework of this most successful model, according to the expert, a conjugation is required interaction not only between the EAEU, China and the SCO, but also between the EU and ASEAN. It is about creating a common space and overcoming conflicts of integration projects.

Adil Kaukenov, General Director of the “China Center” International Center for Kazakhstan-China Cooperation, in his turn noted that there are difficulties in the implementation of Kazakhstan's interests in the conjugation of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) projects. There is a part of society that is critical toward the Chinese initiative. However, representatives of industries that are actively involved in working with China, perceive everything differently: one thing when it comes to geopolitics, the other - when business, investments enter the game.

Chinese colleagues insist that OBOR is properly an initiative: they are waiting for a response from other players. According to Kaukenov, Kazakhstan in this respect is not the last one. For example, from all countries of the Eurasian Union, it is Kazakhstan that is most active in the formation of an updated transport infrastructure with the participation of China. What does Kazakhstan expect from the conjugation of the EAEU and OBOR? These expectations are expressed in specific figures: 52% in the production sector, 24 billion dollars of investment, 15,000 new jobs and the participation of at least 80% of Kazakh workers.

Kaukenov also noted the difference in perception of OBOR by Russia and Kazakhstan. Differences are due to the diversity of economies. Russia is a major power, and what is not so important for it is important for Kazakhstan.

Conjugation is not only the development of transport and economic spheres, but also the cultural process (in particular, it is manifested in the fact that most of the young people in Kazakhstan leave to study to China). And this, in Kaukenov's opinion, is a very important point, since without it any other processes will not develop. From this point of view, it is important to understand what the Kazakh-Russian relations will be under the influence of the changes that the OBOR project brings.

Kaukenov said that at the moment Russia and Kazakhstan do not have a common vision for the OBOR project. Moreover, one can even talk about their competition in cooperation with China. Moderator of the session, the Programme director of the Valdai Discussion Club Timofei Bordachev objected that Russia can only welcome cooperation between Kazakhstan and China, since any economic development is the key to increase stability and security in the region.

Alexey Grivach, Deputy Director General for Energy Projects at the National Energy Security Fund, spoke about the "philosophy" and "geometry" of the Kazakhstan-Russia-China triangle.

According to him, in the relations of three countries in the gas sphere there is a philosophy of geopolitics, and the philosophy of the economy, and this is really a "triangle", where relations develop between two segments and have not yet reached  a "conjugation" in a multilateral format. Grivach noted that in the gas sphere the relations between Russia and Kazakhstan are stable, the level of trust is high. China would be interested in colliding gas suppliers to benefit from competition. But multilateral formats are created in order to not extract current benefits, but in order to withstand more serious challenges. And this format still needs to be worked out.

Georgy Toloraya, Executive Director, Russian National Committee on BRICS Research, Director, Center for Asian Strategy at the Institute of Economics, Russian Academy of Sciences, said that complete Eurasian integration is impossible. There are historical reasons, since Eurasia has never been united: there are different religions, traditions, civilizations. Language and spatial barriers prevent the formation of a single space.

China was self-sufficient for millennia. Can it promote such integration, pursuing its own goals, economic interests? OBOR is only a means to achieve them; all projects of China are submitted for this "initiative".

How does Russia participate in the Eurasian integration project? The conjugation became an unexpected moment for Russia: there is no understanding of how the goals of the Russian Federation are consistent with the OBOR. The problem is that the concept of a larger Eurasian partnership does not answer questions about what to do and where to get resources for this. However, Russia can get its interest from the Chinese initiative, Toloraya said. Therefore, undoubtedly, the OBOR project should be supported.