Eurasia’s Great Projects: Assets and Liabilities

Eurasia is a key area today to understand where Russia is re-emerging as a global power, and China is testing – through its belt and road projects – its global capacities. Two grand scale-projects, Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and One Belt One Road (OBOR), are central to their likely success but are also where Russia and China will be tested by many challenges.

I would like to propose three points that may be a good starter to show both economic potential and complexity of OBOR/EAEU coexistence in the Eurasian space.

First is that China is presenting its One Belt One Road project to the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) as focused entirely on economics (by creating transportation corridors that will open new space for regional economic development). Thus, OBOR will – along this line – benefit the EAEU (and Russia as its dominant partner). It seems that the official Chinese position is to deliberately present OBOR in purely economic terms and undervalue existing regional security threats that may destabilize the region in order to leave those concerns for Russia and EAEU member states as well as to the existing security-oriented organizations (such as the SCO/CSTO for instance). Thus, China frames its narrative as “we provide the capital, and you provide the secure environment for it to work”. Such a “minimalist” approach to Chinese security within the EAEU may not be sustained in the medium and long-term perspective, and China will have to take more active and direct role not only as “capital” but also as a security provider.

Our second point is that within the EAEU, Russia is the most robust promoter of OBOR – as it provides potentially crucial infrastructural support for the EAEU (in the absence of Russia’s financial capacity to do so at the moment). By securing capital from China on behalf of the EAEU, Russia creates additional legitimization of its role as the key regional broker as well as the strengthening of EAEU economic viability. To us, both Russia and China are structuring OBOR/EAEU relations cautiously and rationally, taking into account both opportunities (such as Chinese capital/technological capacity and Russia’s presence in the region) and limitations (such as the EAEU’s real economic capacity and intra-EAEU tensions). However, both China and Russia seem to underestimate multiple security threats that may undermine both projects (OBOR/EAEU). What is emerging in this region (as we argue with Richard Sakwa in the upcoming volume) [1] is a complex, multidimensional and multilevel collage of Eurasian security challenges that includes at least three security dimensions: internal/domestic, regional and global.

Thirdly, we argue that multiple security threats in the region (such as, for instance, trans-border terrorism, internal political instability, increased trafficking due to relaxed border regime, ethnic tensions, water distribution conflicts) may soon force both China and EAEU members to either include these issues to be directly addressed in both projects simultaneously (OBOR/EAEU) or – alternatively – common security interests of OBOR cum EAEU will have to have a special representation in SCO/CSTO (that will mean potential inclusion of China in CSTO).

It seems that sooner rather than later both China and Russia will start to devise new approaches to secure both projects (OBOR/EAEU) from being derailed by multiple security threats. It can be done in at least two ways:

1.            OBOR/EAEU will include security as part of their mandate; China has already made some concrete steps in this direction as pointed recently by James Dorsey. [2]

2.            OBOR/EAEU will enhance their security cooperation within the existing mechanism (via SCO).

Since at stake is one of the most ambitious projects sponsored by China and Russia, they will likely focus more than previously on security threats and involve in that process the EAEU member states.

[1] EURASIA ON THE EDGE: MANAGING COMPLEXITY Edited by Piotr Dutkiewicz, Richard Sakwa and Fyodor Lukyanov with Richard Burchill and Timofei Bordachev

[2] James Dorsey, Securing Xinjiang: China adds security component to Belt and Road initiative. 24 July 2018

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