Cooperation Along the Eurasian Rim: A Long Way Into the Future

On January 15, New Delhi hosted a session of the Valdai Club titled “From Vladivostok to Chennai: A New Cooperation Arc in the Rising Rimland,” held as part of the annual Raisina Dialogue forum. Organized and moderated by Valdai Club program director Timofei Bordachev, the session was attended by Secretary-General of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and former Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan Vladimir Norov, Indian MP Manish Tewari, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences Sergei Afontsev, and representatives of the expert community from the United States and China.

The participants discussed the majority of important issues related to efforts to consolidate multi-level interstate relations along the rim of the Greater Eurasian space, the main problems involved in implementing national strategies in this region, and the role of multilateral institutions, primarily the SCO as the most representative regional organization in terms of the population numbers of its member countries. The discussion was predictably wide-ranging, given the diversity of views, national interests and strategies of Greater Eurasia countries, including India.

The SCO and the Transformation of Modern Political Processes
Ulugbek Khasanov
The heads of government of the SCO, who met in early November 2019 in Tashkent, adopted a new version of the SCO multilateral trade and economic cooperation programme until 2035. It aims to strengthen the positive dynamics of the member states’ development in such segments as banking and finance, industrial, technological, transport and logistics, scientific and educational, social, information and digital technology.
Expert Opinions

In his opening remarks, the moderator emphasized that the three leading Eurasian powers – Russia, China and India – should advance, at the expert and political level, toward an understanding of the parameters of their collaboration in the name of peace and prosperity for the region as a whole, the more so that the current alignment of forces facilitates precisely cooperation and the strengthening of multilateral cooperation institutions, such as the SCO, which includes India, China and Russia, along with a number of medium-sized and smaller countries.

As it transpired from comments made by the US participant, the United States sees the configuration in Eurasia as rather a balance of forces, and hopes to play a game of its own aimed at allowing neither of the big Eurasian powers to assume a dominant position. By contrast, the other participants saw Eurasia’s future, including its maritime dimension, as a cooperative environment geared to new opportunities for cooperation rather than rivalry. Today, however, the US interpretation of regional relations seems to be increasingly at variance with the most widespread approaches that seek, amid the general global uncertainty, to strengthen regional structures and formats and regard the existing problems as issues that need to be addressed against a generally constructive background of relations rather than as systemic factors of strategic importance. The ensuing exchange of views and Q&A session made it possible to draw a few significant conclusions for regional politics and development.

First, Eurasia’s political diversity and relatively recent experience of modern statehood are factors that confine the countries involved in the discussion on multifaceted cooperation to little more than comparing national agendas and priorities. In effect, Greater Eurasia is quite new as a political region. Historically it was split into Asian countries seeking their post-colonial emancipation and Russia, which was hovering over Eurasia while remaining a European power and an empire. This split made it possible for the US and European strategic planners to see Eurasia as a space for rivalry, where a stake could be put on diverging interests of different players. The classical trick was to oppose the Eurasian Heartland represented by Russia and the Rimland composed of powers gravitating toward the oceanic expanses of the South. Today, this split has just begun to heal, and India’s accession to the SCO is a crucial symbolic and political step on this path. But for the time being, the region’s inability to visualize itself as an integrated community is quite obvious, if comparisons are to be made between it and the Euro-Atlantic area, although a push away from this doomed paradigm has come under way, something that cannot but worry the leading players in the West.

This relates to the operations of multilateral institutions, and Vladimir Norov devoted his remarks to a key organization in this category. The original problem of all multilateral interstate associations in Eurasia is their lack of commitment to addressing whatever goes beyond the narrow regional concerns or local strategies conceived by the member countries. But the modern era is urging them – the SCO in Eurasia in the first place – to discuss global or macro-regional issues and suggest solutions. Nevertheless, they still have a long way to go. At the same time, the SCO Secretary-General’s address has confirmed that his organization is expanding the ambit of its competences. The accession of India, a country with the capacity and ambition to promote large-scale projects, can only facilitate this evolution.

SCO and CICA on the Way to a New World Order
Muratbek Imanaliev
Attempting to design the CICA as a platform like the OSCE for Asia is a great idea, but almost impossible to implement. One of the peculiarities of the situation in Asia is that for this part of the world, there is no single common denominator.
Expert Opinions

Second, India so far lacks a clearly articulated position on the future of the Indo-Pacific Partnership and its participation in Eurasian processes. It seeks to gain economic and political advantages from its involvement in most major formats, but this is concomitant with its emergence as a global power. The constraints inherent in India’s economic and social development are important factors inhibiting its foreign policy activities. In addition, India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has entered upon a complicated and protracted evolution intended to turn it into a nation state. According to observers, the elements and consequences of this process may eventually wreck India’s own stability.

For the time being, therefore, it confines itself to tactical objectives and seeks self-fulfillment in the macro-regional and international arenas. In this sense, India is distinct from the other two key Eurasian powers, Russia and China. Russia has reasserted itself as an international player after a brief failure entailed by the collapse of the USSR and painful economic reforms. China, in turn, has braced up to make a comeback and play its traditional role of a rich center offering small and medium-sized countries the wherewithal for national development programs. India lacks military might and financial capabilities comparable to those of Russia and China, and therefore can only complement them as the third chief Eurasian player. But it takes time to conceptualize this role.

On the whole, India’s vision of the Indo-Pacific space is much different from the US concept. For India, it is a tool for advancing Indian interests that hinge on strengthening ties with economically advanced nations in South and East Asia and the Pacific. Containing China is a second-rate priority.

Third, the international economic situation is favorable for macro-regional cooperation. The gradual crumbling of the global economic governance architecture and the objective processes like production and consumption localization are inevitably strengthening the regional vector of multilateral regulation. What the leading Eurasian powers have to do is to set sail to catch the wind of change, the more so that the increasingly obvious US and European protectionist policies are a great help in this sense.

As in recent years, an important issue was whether China was able to adapt its greater potential to the local environment. The main strategic problem in Eurasia concerns apprehensions felt by small and medium-sized countries that China will inevitably seek domination and they will have to oppose it in an effort to protect their sovereignty. In part, these fears are shared by India. China, for its part, is trying to be more considerate of its regional partners’ feelings and concerns. Russia has an important role to play in this sense as it involves Beijing in multilateral cooperation formats. On the whole, however, the incommensurability of China’s capacities at the regional level remains a difficult and long-term problem.

In summing up, we can say that the agenda of multilateral cooperation in Greater Eurasia and along its rim, where the most important player is India, poses more questions than it provides answers. Yet the most positive fact is that the region, which was a scene of confrontation between outside players just two or three decades ago, is now involved in an active multilateral dialogue. Greater Eurasia and its rim stretching from Chennai in India to Vladivostok in Russia is entering a new, promising era in its development.

India, Russia and the Indo-Pacific
Nivedita Kapoor, Nandan Unnikrishnan
Since its first mention in an official policy document by Australia in 2013, the idea of Indo-Pacific has steadily gained prominence amongst the polity and commentariat in several countries. The concept, which acknowledges the salience of economic and maritime connectivity of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, has more recently acquired a complex political dimension as well.
Expert Opinions
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.