Think Tank
Belt and Road After the Pandemic: What Awaits Eurasia?
List of speakers

On Thursday, May 7, the Valdai Discussion Club held an online conference, titled “Economic Consequences of Coronavirus: The Belt and Road Initiative Amid New World Conditions”  as part of the Valdai Think Tank project. The Valdai Club’s partner was the Centre for Russian Studies at the East China Normal University (Shanghai).

The reality in which we live has been seriously affected by the pandemic, and in light of this, we need to take a fresh look at the international cooperation projects that have been developed in recent years -  first of all, the Belt and Road initiative, said  Timofei Bordachev, programme director of the Valdai Discussion Club and  moderator of the discussion. He emphasised that attention needs to be paid not only to the economic, but also to the political dimension.

In his speech, Feng Shaolei, Director of the Centre for Russian Studies and Director of the Centre for Co-development with Neighbouring Countries at East China Normal University in Shanghai, expressed hope for the development of multi-polarity and the emergence of a civilisation more suited to people's needs. At the same time, he regretted the growing contradictions between the United States and China. He also recalled the long-standing cooperation between Russia and China, called Russia the main partner in the Belt and Road initiative, and added that the partnership with Russia, which had already reached a high level, should continue to develop, in particular in the field of agriculture, which is transforming today into a high-tech industry.

Continuing the line of US-Chinese controversy, Fyodor Lukyanov, research director  at the Valdai Discussion Club, announced the threat of a new Cold War - this time between the US and China - which would be an extremely dangerous prospect for the whole world. Russia would not be its main participant, but it will have to determine its position. “Everyone will have to choose which side they are on - and this is bad,” he added. In particular, this situation threatens the Belt and Road initiative, which the US will continue to perceive as a hostile project.

Qu Wenyi, Professor at the Centre for Russian Studies at East China Normal University, raised the question of how the pandemic affects the development of the Belt and Road initiative in economic terms, and noted that China is now restoring and expanding production capacities. Zhang Yansheng, Senior Research Fellow of the Academic Committee of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), and Principal Researcher of the China Centre for International Economic Exchanges (Beijing), urged the Belt and Road countries to unite in the face of new challenges and risks and identified three key areas of the initiative - innovative development, coordinated development and green development. Wang Gangyi, Senior Fellow at the Academy of Contemporary China and World Studies, in turn, emphasised that while the pandemic limited economic activity that had been part of the initiative, it also provided an impetus for development. According to him, what is happening is a World War, adding that “if one country wins, it is not a victory, but if one country loses, then the whole world will lose".

Turning to the topic of Central Asia, the moderator noted the good neighbourly relations expressed by the countries that are with Russia and China and emphasised that their experience in combating the pandemic could prove very useful. In the framework of this topic, Djoomart Otorbaev, Prime Minister of the Kyrgyz Republic in 2014–2015, called the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) the ideal platform for regional cooperation. In his opinion, a programme should be developed to jointly combat the coronavirus, and it is necessary to organise a teleconference between the heads of state of the SCO on this issue.

Adil Kaukenov, Director of the Centre for Chinese Studies (Kazakhstan), described the measures that have been taken by Kazakhstan to combat the coronavirus and the specifics of the country's approach to international relations in light of the increasing confrontation between the great powers. According to him, Kazakhstan would not want to “be between a rock and a hard place” and turn into a foothold for actions against neighbours and friends, but it seeks to maintain multi-polarity. He also believes that in this sense, the SCO could play a stabilising role in the region.

Alexander Lomanov, Chief Researcher at the Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO), RAS, noted a number of important problems - such as the problem of new, post-pandemic globalisation, possibly led by China, the problems with the new bipolarity, the problem of the correlation between national and global factors in the post-pandemic economy, and the problems stemming from the future of the American concept of an Indo-Pacific sphere.