On November 16-17, 2023, Shanghai hosted a Russian-Chinese conference of the Valdai Discussion Club and the Centre for Russian Studies at East China Normal University, titled “Crisis and Global Transformation: China and Russia Facing the Challenges of a Changing World Order”.
The forum brought together representatives of the two countries’ leading think tanks. The Russian delegation at the conference in Shanghai included: Leonid Grigoriev, Academic Supervisor of the Department of World Economy at the National Research University Higher School of Economics; Vasily Kashin, Director of the Centre for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the National Research University Higher School of Economics; Alexey Kupriyanov, Head of the Centre for the Indian Ocean Region of IMEMO RAS; Victoria Panova, Vice-Rector of the National Research University Higher School of Economics, Sherpa of the Russian Federation in the Women’s Twenty (W20); Dmitry Stefanovich, Researcher at the Center for International Security at IMEMO RAS;Andrey Bystritskiy, Chairman of the Board of the Foundation for the Development and Support of the Valdai Discussion Club; Timofei Bordachev, Programme Director of the Valdai Discussion Club and others.
From the Chinese side, the conference was attended by: Feng Shaolei, Director of the Centre for Russian Studies at East China Normal University; Chen Bo, Director of the Chinese Academy of International Studies; Chen Dongxiao, Director of the Shanghai Academy of International Studies; Ding Xiaoxing, Director of the Institute of Eurasian Studies at the Chinese Academy of Modern International Relations and others.
The first day of the conference included three sessions. Opening the event, rector of East China Normal University Qian Xuhong noted that the world is now at new historical crossroads, providing an occasion to discuss the organisation of the emerging world order.
Andrey Bystritskiy, Chairman of the Board of the Foundation for Development and Support of the Valdai Discussion Club, emphasised that intense and creative thinking is now required from the expert community in weighing the changes taking place in the world so that we may pave the way forward. The creative feature of such meetings is very important in bringing about a world where it will be easier for people to live, Bystritskiy added.
Continuing the theme of creativity, Chen Hao, Advisor to the Department of Europe and Central Asia at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, noted that Russia and China have strengthened their mutual trust and support each other’s interests. Moscow and Beijing have created an example of high-quality interaction, supported by economic cooperation. Trade turnover in 2022 amounted to $190 billion, which is 29% more year-on-year, and national currencies are used in about 90 percent of cross-border payments. According to the Chinese diplomat, conflicts in the world now occur not because of contradictions between liberal and authoritarian regimes, but due to attempts to retain the elusive leadership of a weakening world hegemon. Russia and China, in turn, support a world order based on the supremacy of international law and adhere to multipolarity and multilateralism. The diplomat added that Russia and China, standing back to back, will strengthen international cooperation and support justice.
The first session was dedicated to the political dialogue between Russia and China in the new conditions and was open to the media. Relations between countries have reached unprecedented heights. Without exaggeration, they can be called the best in history and there are several reasons for this. Igor Morgulov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to the People’s Republic of China, named five main reasons.
First, our countries have the same long-term national interests, and they are aimed at creating favourable conditions for internal development and the struggle to build a world on the principles of equality and mutual respect.
Second, Moscow and Beijing have finally resolved their border issue. Territorial disputes hinder the development of relations, but our countries have managed to turn this page, and now the Russian-Chinese border has become a border of peace, friendship and neighbourliness. Third, the world majority, which includes Russia and China, advocates a more equitable distribution of global benefits and the consistent democratisation of the modern world. Fourth, both countries adhere to the good old principle of non-interference in each other’s affairs. We respect each other’s choice of path for internal development. The relationship is devoid of ideological baggage, which makes it a healthy one. Finally, we must not forget that political cooperation is grounded in material needs. Russia has moved from 11th to 6th place in the list of China’s main economic partners, ahead of some of the world’s key economies.
Morgulov expressed confidence that trade turnover this year will exceed $200 billion. This is not only thanks to the rapid development of cooperation in the energy sector, where an effective alliance has long been formed, but also thanks to mutual work in aircraft and transport engineering, the space industry, agriculture and other areas.
Our relations can’t be called a military-political alliance, but their depth exceeds traditional bloc forms of interaction. Our relations are successfully being tested by the current turbulent period of international life and have confirmed their insusceptibility to external conditions, the diplomat emphasised, adding that Moscow and Beijing actively support each other on international platforms, including the UN, SCO and BRICS. It is not surprising that our countries occupy the same or very close positions. Beijing takes a very balanced approach in assessing the events taking place in Ukraine, the ambassador noted.
Zhou Li, former deputy head of the international relations department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, spoke in unison with the Russian diplomat. In his opinion, Moscow and Beijing are moving forward, but without alliance or confrontation. Relations between the countries are developing and, as has been emphasised more than once, they are not directed against any third party and are not subject to outside influence. Zhou Li said that the American containment of Russia and China should be recognised as a long-term policy and affects a wide range of industries, from weapons to agriculture. We must oppose the US attempts to impose its principles and “rules” on the world. We need to implement the Belt and Road strategy and strengthen the stability of the Eurasian continent, strengthening arms control and cyberspace. Additionally, Moscow and Beijing should strengthen the integration of their economies. This, the politician believes, lies on the surface.
Vasily Kashin, director of the Centre for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, shared a similar point of view. In his opinion, strengthening economic ties is especially important at a time when the United States aims to inflict a strategic defeat on Russia and contain the development of China. However, the United States can no longer solve these problems relying only on its own forces and is using additional levers, primarily its dominant position in many international institutions, and manipulating its central position in the international financial system.
The United States maintains hegemony through control over key links in production chains and in the financial sector. Washington can significantly influence China’s development in strategically important areas, such as electronics. The answer to such activity, Kashin is convinced, can only be in strengthened coordination between our countries. On the one hand, we must strive to minimize the ability of the United States to dictate its rules to other countries, and on the other, we must support the independence of third countries. We need to work to increase the resilience of our economies and innovation systems in conditions where any channel of cooperation with the United States and its allies turns into a source of vulnerability that can lead to the paralysis of entire industries.
We don’t simply need to reach a new level of cooperation and integration between our countries; we must also involve new participants, including within the framework of the SCO and BRICS. We must coordinate foreign policy as much as possible while maintaining autonomy. This will help reduce US hegemony. We need to pay attention to such regions as Latin America, Europe and Africa.
Xing Guangcheng, director of the Institute for the Study of Border Problems of the People’s Republic of China, spoke about strengthening the strategic partnership between Russia and China. In his opinion, it is necessary to discuss what Russia’s pivot to the east is about. Is this a long-term strategy or just a tactic for solving problems with the West? What role can China play in this process? According to Xing Guangcheng, cooperation within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative should be strengthened. If earlier we ignored problems in relations with the West, now we see that the West is dictating its terms. This has prompted us to reconsider our relationships with such partners.
China is creating a favourable environment around itself to strengthen cooperation with its neighbours and attract new countries, but the United States has begun to put pressure on this periphery, thus hoping to restrain the development of the PRC. To confirm his words, the expert recalled the intensification of US activities in the Indo-Pacific region, which undoubtedly complicates the situation around China. Such a policy can be countered by strengthening mutual understanding and cooperation between Moscow and Beijing, Xing Guangcheng believes.
During the debate, experts also raised the issue of the need to strengthen control over nuclear weapons and develop new approaches to the formation of a security system in Europe and Asia. The conflict in Ukraine has demonstrated that the existing deterrence mechanisms have ceased to cope with their tasks. Conflicts cannot be resolved on the battlefield, but only through political and diplomatic methods. Both the vertical and horizontal escalation of tension must be avoided.
The second and third sessions were held in the Chatham House format.
The second session was devoted to multilateral cooperation in Greater Eurasia and the Asia-Pacific region. Participants noted the importance of preserving the multi-structure and multi-civilization system in Eurasia, as well as strengthening the independence of the countries of the continent. This should be achieved through the creation of special financial instruments that are not subject to Western countries’ influence, including a settlement system in national currencies. It is also worth developing cooperation in the humanitarian sphere, experts are convinced. This will help increase trust between different societies, as people will simply know more about each other and better understand their neighbours.
Among the possible directions for developing relations directly between China and Russia, the participants proposed the creation of bilateral special economic zones and the introduction of investment protection mechanisms, the creation of cross-border transport corridors and barrier-free economic space, including within the framework of the SCO and BRICS.
Chinese experts noted that despite the continued export-oriented nature of the Russian economy, Russia should occupy a higher position in the world market. For this, Russia has everything necessary, and the experiences of Australia and Canada were cited as examples of this being done.
The final session of the first day of the conference was devoted to information and communication problems. Participants noted that there is an urgent need to minimise the vulnerability of information and communication technology in all areas from the Internet, in strategic security systems, and at all levels, from possible chips wars to information wars. It is necessary to discuss how our countries perceive external threats and how they plan to respond to them. The need to educate the population in “digital hygiene” skills and create verified information channels was also touched upon.
On the second day of the conference, there was one session devoted to the problems of globalisation and regionalisation. Experts noted that the opposition between globalisation and regionalisation is somewhat far-fetched, since the division into regions is an “invention” of the people themselves. At its core, globalisation began in the Age of Discovery. Globalisation in its current form was formed by Western countries, and as soon as one of the non-Western countries masters the tools of globalisation and begins to receive advantages which are considered too great, it is immediately excluded from global production and economic chains and declared regional. But globalisation and regionalisation are two sides of the same coin. US policies, including the use of economic and financial sanctions, have largely contributed to the current slowdown in globalisation. This has prompted a number of countries to abandon US dollars in international payments in favour of the yuan, as well as redistribute investments in favour of China. Under Western sanctions, Russia and China have managed to maintain economic growth rates, and in Western countries, for example, in Germany, this led to a sharp slowdown in the economy. All these trends only further confirm the theory that the economic centre of the world is shifting to the East, the experts noted.