Russian-Chinese Dialogue: Beyond Trade and Infrastructure
Valdai Discussion Club Conference Hall (Bolshaya Tatarskaya 42, Moscow, Russia
List of speakers

Various issues of the Russian-Chinese partnership, including confluence of the two countries’ economic initiatives in Eurasia and their cooperation in the information sphere, were discussed at the joint conference of the Valdai Discussion Club and the China Public Diplomacy Association (CPDA), which was held in Moscow on September 18.

The first session of the conference was devoted to economic cooperation between Russia and China within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative. According to Timofei Bordachev, Programme director of the Valdai Discussion Club, the Russian-Chinese relations are characterized by a high level of political cooperation and trust between the leaders. “In the economic sphere, progress is less visible, but there is movement towards mutual opening of markets, facilitating access to goods,” he said. According to Bordachev, it is important that today the Russian-Chinese dialogue is no longer focused on problems that need to be resolved, but rather on how to make cooperation better: nowadays it is more an exception than a rule.

Zhang Xiyun, former Chinese Ambassador to Ukraine, highly appreciated the quality of bilateral relations, too. According to him, Russia and China are two important strategic partners and Chinese society cannot do without cooperation with Russia.

A special place in the discussion was devoted to the question of confluence of economic initiatives between Russia and China in Eurasia. Zhang Xiyun called cooperation in this area “the beginning of a huge work,” where one of the directions is the interaction between the northeastern provinces of China and the Russian Far East. Bordachev, in turn, said that Russia is interested in the arrival of Chinese investment in the countries of Central Asia to contribute to the emergence of production and the economic development of this strategically important region.

According to Sergei Afontsev, Head of the Economic Theory Department at the Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations, the Belt and Road is the only global cooperation initiative that goes beyond negotiations. It encompasses real economic projects that will work for decades. At the same time, a number of factors hamper full integration of the projects of the EAEU and the Silk Road Economic Belt. First of all, this is the interpretation of the Belt and Road project as a predominantly infrastructural one. “Construction of railways, highways, transportation and logistics centers, pipelines is very important, but this cannot be considered the only component of this initiative,” Afontsev said. “The second barrier is that big and very big projects involving state-owned companies are discussed at the interstate level. These are projects requiring multi-billion investments and decisions at the level of the political leadership. In fact, according to the expert, there are more intersections. Business circles of the two countries are able to identify them no less effectively than government officials, Afontsev said. Moreover, contacts at the regional level and cross-border cooperation play an important role.

According to the scholar, a serious problem of economic exchange between the two countries is the lack of the potential to develop new high-tech products that are in demand on foreign markets. “And this is a real opportunity for the Russian side to provide a solution of the priority task of increasing the share of non-primary products in exports, for the Chinese side – to further expand its export potential through the production of fundamentally new products, customized for specific markets of the EAEU,” he stressed.

According to Afontsev, a breakthrough in the economic interaction between the two countries can be achieved through a change in the structure of trade. Russia is increasing its exports to China. In 2016, its exports increased by 20% compared to the previous year, and in 2017 the forecasted increase is even larger.

Ruan Zongze, Executive Vice President of China Institute of International Studies (CIIS), agreed with Afontsev and noted that in China, the situation of exports is changing for the situation of imports: China is beginning to buy more and is interested in production on the Russian territory. Ruan also called cross-border cooperation an important element of trade and economic relations between the two countries. According to him, it will allow to gain benefits from the confluence not only between the EAEU countries and China, but also between other states of the Asia-Pacific region.

During the second session of the conference the participants discussed the issues of cooperation between Russia and China in joint information policy and fight against the so-called “fake news”. According to Alexei Volin, Deputy Minister of Telecom and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation, Russia's cooperation with China in the field of media has strategic significance. “We do not have such intensive cooperation in the media sphere with any other country in the world,” he stressed. There is cooperation between TV channels, a breakthrough in cooperation in the field of cinema: for the first time Russian films have been included in the quota for foreign films to be released in China.

Bordachev mentioned the launch of the Katyusha TV channel in China, which is due to take place this year. “This is quite a revolutionary event for the Chinese media market,” he said. “The Russian side appreciates it very much that China, which is traditionally attentive to any forms of foreign media on its territory, made an exception for Russia.”

According to Zhou Mingwei, former Director-General of China Foreign Languages Publishing Administration, mass media are the second most important sphere of bilateral relations after trade. Speaking about the problem of citizens’ access to objective information, he stressed that the main problem is the security of content, and it is necessary to create a “platform of trust” between the state and society. According to Zhou, ensuring security of news content requires “counteractions against content that we consider unsafe.”

Alexei Volin noted that the approaches of Russia and China to the information security issues are different. “Each country goes its own way, but sometimes they coincide,” he said. “When the countries have all the same, they have nothing to cooperate on.” It is hardly possible to protect consumers completely from the information products with unsafe content, the deputy minister emphasized: it is more correct to teach people how to think critically, to check information and to doubt it. Chinese participants agreed with Volin and pointed to the importance of raising the level of awareness in society, so that it could understand which information is reliable and which is not.