On July 3, the Valdai Club held a presentation of the tripartite Russian-Kazakhstani-Chinese report titled “Reshaping Eurasian Space: Common Perspectives from China, Russia and Kazakhstan Think Tanks,” during which, the report’s authors and experts discussed issues regarding the development of Eurasian integration.
The main topic of discussion was the result of the first two years of the interlocking of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Silk Road Economic Belt. Naila Almukhamedova, leading expert of the socio-cultural department of the "Parasat" Institute for System Studies noted that since the signing of the agreement on the interlocking of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Silk Road Economic Belt, the mechanisms and format of their engagement have not been made clear.
“There is no precise mechanism for carrying out this integration. There are many ideas and projects, but no concrete methods and approaches on how countries will engage within the framework of these projects. The activities of the Silk Road Foundation and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank are not very clear. Because of that, countries are trying to increase bilateral cooperation, as they do not see real mechanisms,” Almukhamedova said.
Reshaping Eurasian Space: Common Perspectives from China, Russia and Kazakhstan Think Tanks
Russia – China relations have reached a record level. Exchange visits between the countries and gestures of friendship have become the norm. Nevertheless, the great potential for economic and cultural cooperation remains unfulfilled. It manifests itself in protectionism, lack of mutual understanding, and irrational fears of people, being an obstacle for establishing economic and cultural ties on a long-term basis.
Timofei Bordachev, Programme Director of the Valdai Discussion Club, noted that as a scholar of European integration, he would insist on the maximum possible bureaucratization and institutionalization of Eurasian integration.
Member of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy Ivan Safranchuk said that he does not consider the competition of bilateral formats problematic, although the existence of a common idea and its institutionalization would be the best option.
“I don’t see a major problem in the competition of bilateral formats. When the EAEU was being created, there were talks of how there should be competition between participants. Back then, the conversation was about a competition of jurisdictions, each participant of the EAEU must create the most favorable environment for private business. This did not work out, but now there is a competition of bilateral development programs,” Safranchuk said.
One of the reasons for the lack of clarity in developing the interlocking of the EAEU and the SREB, according to Safranchuk, is the flinging between two extremes. On the one hand is the issue of having too large of a geopolitical angle, which subordinates economic issues. On the other hand, there is the fact that numerous issues that must be resolved by bureaucrats and technical experts are decided by heads of state, on the other. At the same time, too deepen ties with China, the EAEU needs a certain level of openness.
Finding a balance between openness on one side and excessive dirigisme and protectionism on the other is one of the main tasks of the EAEU, according to Safranchuk. And it is Kazakhstan that has the ability to determine this balance and decide what is more important, competitiveness or openness.
Also during the discussion, the experts discussed the actions of the opponents of Eurasian integration initiatives that include Russia: the United States and Eastern Europe. Talking about the US, Safranchuk suggested that although it was previously an active opponent of such a configuration, it has now come to terms with it and will undertake active measures to counteract it.
“In the past two years, after Armenia and Kyrgyzstan joined the EAEU, the negativity has remained, but there is no active play by the Americans to derail it and break it up. The United States have come to terms with the EAEU’s existence, and they continue to be skeptical toward it, but the EAEU has time and political space to prove its sustainability. If the EAEU succeeds, the United States will accept it as a reality,” Safranchuk said.
Alexei Bezborodov, general director of the research agency InfraNews, spoke on the issue of Eastern Europe. He noted that although the countries of Eastern Europe are happy with cooperation with China, they are in favor of excluding Russia from various projects, although this is impossible, primarily for geographical reasons. In addition, it is possible that due to the backwardness of the Eastern European port and railway infrastructure, trade routes from China to the EU countries will ultimately pass through the port of St. Petersburg.
Much of the discussion was devoted to the development of the cultural space of Eurasia. Ivan Safranchuk noted that at the moment, it is difficult to talk about the idea of cultural unity in Eurasia, since it did not exist even in the times of the USSR. At the same time, cultural integration is a serious topic, since most countries still do not achieve internal cultural integration. For example, in Kazakhstan and Russia there is much debate about identity the national idea.
The issue of media support for Eurasian integration was also raised. It was noted that at the moment, information on integration is limited to the website of the Eurasian Economic Commission, the press service and business presentations. Another issue is China’s closed information space. Russia and Kazakhstan do not have the opportunity to fully cooperate with China on media support for Eurasian integration.
“Cultural cooperation within the framework of the greater Eurasian space must include the issue of China’s informational openness for Kazakhstan, Russia and other Eurasian partners,” Bordachev concluded.