Valdai Club Shanghai Conference, Session 4: The Silk Road Economic Belt and cooperation in the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union

Participants in the final session, “The Silk Road Economic Belt and cooperation in the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union”, discussed the hidden hazards of the confluence policy and further prospects of cooperation in Eurasia for Russia and China.

One of the crucial external conditions, which impact the vector of confluence of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Silk Road Economic Belt, is the rapidly and irreversibly changing international context. Thus, both Russia and China should be ready to jointly develop scenarios based on today’s conditions in Eurasia.

The issue of whether economy or politics is the primary component of confluence sparked a vivid debate. Participants concluded that the Silk Road Economic Belt is a large-scale initiative encompassing various spheres of interaction, which means that accentuating only one of them would be irrational. It should be noted that the Eurasian Economic Union and the Silk Road Economic Belt originally focused on different missions: creation of common market for the former and infrastructural development for the latter. Since these objectives do not contradict each other, different directions of their implementation can be complementary. Experts stressed the importance of developing uniform standards for both organizations and called to vigorously advance their joint activities.

The idea of tripartite, China-Russia-United States, cooperation was repeatedly mentioned during the session. According to many of the participants, it is the involvement of major nations instead of dividing the activities into bilateral tracks, that can secure the interests of each party. Experts believe that establishment of such partnership is only a matter of time, since it is mutually advantageous for China, the United States, and Russia.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which Russia sees as a platform to implement the confluence policy, was continually mentioned during the session. Participants discussed the possibility of its transformation and development of new levers and mechanisms to conduct negotiations on confluence. The Chinese side was more skeptical about the SCO prospects in the current situation. Experts addressed particular issues related to the economic component of confluence. One of the main difficulties is the low number of small- and medium-scale joint projects to be implemented as part of the confluence, including within the Volga-Yangtze initiative.

If particular business projects begin to be more prominent, it will reduce the risk of confluence remaining only an inter-governmental agreement. A lot of attention was paid to such issues as possible competition between the Eurasian Economic Union and the Silk Road Economic Belt, taxes and other kinds of economic barriers between the organizations, and humanitarian cooperation.

As the two-days discussion was coming to an end, its participants acknowledged the positive trend of transparency and openness of debates on the problems related to the Russian-Chinese relations. According to them, the format of loose expert discussion importantly complements the intergovernmental course. The unique model of bilateral relations between Russia and China is very likely to become an example of successful cooperation of countries with different cultural, historical, and economic backgrounds.