Putin tries on the «Belt». What to expect from the Russian President’s visit to China
On April 25-27, Beijing hosts the second international forum «One belt – one road», which was attended by presidents and heads of government of 37 countries, including Vladimir Putin, as well as IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. As two years ago, they were all invited to China to, as the organizers expect, approve further plans to expand global Chinese influence on geopolitics and trade.
On Friday, April 26, a solemn opening ceremony of the forum was held in Beijing, after which world leaders communicate with each other all day in different composition, and a General meeting and closing ceremony are scheduled for April 27. Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who delivered the opening speech, heads all the events and prepares the final statement for the end of the summit.»One belt – one road» is an abbreviated name for the double concept of the «Silk Road economic belt and the Sea silk road of the XXI century», which the President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping spoke about for the first time in 2013, immediately after his coming to power. Three routes of the silk road Economic belt: North – from China through Central Asia and Russia to Northern Europe, Central – from China through Central Asia to the Middle East and the Mediterranean sea, and South – from China to Southeast Asia and the Indian ocean. The sea silk road of the XXI century assumes routes from the Chinese ports to the Indian ocean and further to Europe, and also to all regions of the Pacific ocean. According to Beijing’s plans, for this purpose, it is necessary to create new and improve old trade routes, industrial parks, economic and transport corridors that will connect more than 150 States.
How important is the presence of the Russian President at the second belt and road forum in Beijing for both the inviting party and Putin himself?
– Rather, for the Chinese side, his visit is more important, because it is very important for China to show the rest of the world that Russia is in line with Chinese policy. Russia is not part of the Chinese belt and road initiative, and the Russian position, in this case, is very simple and, in my opinion, logical: Yes, Moscow supports this idea, considers it very useful for the development of world trade and new relations in General, but the Russian Federation cannot be only one part of the project led by China. After all, Russia has its own integration project, the Eurasian Economic Union. To a certain extent, they can complement or contradict each other. Therefore, it is important for China to show that Russia still supports it and that it is a very important partner. Because other world economic powers, first of all, the USA and India, rather oppose the initiative «One belt – one road». And European countries (not the whole EU, namely individually) still do not have the same geopolitical weight as Russia.
Russia has its own integration project, the Eurasian Economic Union
For Vladimir Putin, this is also an important point to state what plans Russia has. Because today we clearly see only this Chinese global integration plan. It may not be fully formulated and thought out, but it attracts more and more States of the world and, in addition, several dozen major international economic and social organizations that also participate in it. There is, on the one hand, a major project, and on the other – this project even, strictly speaking, there is no organization. It is rather a movement, or, as China calls it, an initiative of global reconstruction of the entire economic and then, probably, political world. Russia has not yet entered the world arena with any of its global plans. All Russian plans are strictly national. Even if they are connected with the «turn to the East», as the Kremlin likes to emphasize, they are still not international plans, but plans for the development of the national economy. So for Putin, this forum is a good platform to say what Russia thinks about this new economic order, whether it is necessary or not, and how Russia intends to participate in it.
For some political attacks, the Russian President will now be able to use Beijing? Two years ago, at the first such event, he made a notable speech in which he criticized all Western concepts of the world order and at the same time questioned all the global intentions of China. Now, on the eve of the visit, he gave an interview to «people’s daily», in which he said that they say, everyone needs not only to trade but also to promote mutual investments, implement joint projects, etc. This sounds very vague and standard-vague.
– To understand in which direction Russian foreign policy will develop at all, we must first determine what we have now. Russia is in a difficult situation because it does not have any new international partners. And those friends and allies with whom Moscow seeks to expand cooperation — all countries with, to put it mildly, a strange reputation. Like Venezuela. Pay attention to the final statement after just held talks between Putin and Kim Jong-un – the Russian President said that «we must act within the framework of international norms». That is, in fact, it was his attack on us sanctions policy against the DPRK. It is obvious that Putin skillfully uses any international tribune to click on a nose of all who don’t understand «a special role of Russia in this world».But this does not increase the number of international partners in the Kremlin. Moreover, any international partnership cannot be reduced to the development of trade relations alone. Let me draw your attention, for example, to the fact that China today trades with its formal opponents, the US or Japan, in much larger volumes than with Russia, which is formally absolutely friendly to it. Putin’s problem is that Russia, in my opinion, has not yet clearly formulated, and what configuration of the world does it want to get? Criticizing all the others, the Kremlin should understand that the next question will be: «What do you propose?»
Criticizing all the others, the Kremlin should understand that the next question will be: «What do you propose?»
– After the Second world war, the United States suggested Europe’s «Marshall Plan». The concept of «Belt and road» is now compared by some. What are the similarities and differences, and more?
– More differences. First, China offers a very flexible, step-by-step policy under this scheme: China is still investing in different countries, but at the same time, so far, at least, does not require partners to follow any other model than the economic one. First of all, Beijing has not yet formally got into the policy of any States – although I think that in any case, it will be its next step. Secondly, today China is developing «One belt – one road» along several trajectories. Chinese leaders themselves usually call them «transport corridors», although it is not only about transport. For example, one of such well-known, rapidly developing corridors is China – Afghanistan – Pakistan. There is a very long Eurasian corridor, and so on. That is where China sends money.
But there is one feature. China does not invest in everything. Its strategic objective, in my opinion, is not so much to support the economies of other countries to their own benefit, but through such a policy to tear off a piece of fatter, especially in the areas of transportation, mining, and especially in terms of the development of new technologies. As a matter of fact, this is what causes criticism of the concept of «One belt – one road» – its opponents say that China rather climb into the economy of another country, and not support it. But at the same time, it is necessary to pay tribute, many States, especially, for example, in Central Europe, with great pleasure speak about the Chinese help. Because Beijing, by investing, is paving new ways there, intensifying trade and interaction between neighboring countries, especially those that alone do not have enough funds for, say, the development of their independent role. China offers its services to promote their goods and so on.
But it is not very clear yet, and Beijing itself does not speak about this anywhere (and this is also a noticeable difference from the «Marshall Plan»): what, in fact, will be the further development of this entire configuration? Will the world have to accept Chinese cultural values unequivocally? How many countries would give loans and investments? That is, China, in my opinion, keeps many countries in a strange ambiguity, in the fog. And in many ways, perhaps, this is not because Beijing has conceived this way, but because Beijing itself does not really understand how the situation will continue to develop. Suffice it to recall how sharply the US struck China in the last year, almost thwarting many plans to promote Chinese technologies in the world. Therefore, I think that, of course, the People’s Republic of China is fighting now for itself and for its future – but many countries so far, and so will continue, at least for the next 5-10 years, will be grateful to China. But the next generation of politicians, who will come to power in these countries, will be forced to think about how to pay with China and how to get out of this credit and investment cooperation.– On the eve of the current second forum in Beijing, Fortune magazine published a large article by the Chinese Ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, in which he sharply condemned the White House for his criticism of this Chinese concept. Because, Yes, Washington has repeatedly called the «Belt and road» a debt trap, a threat to the world economy, and even a threat to the environment. And he gave a lot of concrete examples of how Beijing lures and almost destroys small States – from Ecuador, where the Chinese almost cut down half of the relic Equatorial forests, to Kenya, which they allegedly turned into one big dump.
– Two points should be noted here. First, criticism from Washington against Beijing will now always sound, regardless of what China is actually doing. In itself, China’s expansion always evokes the standard so-called «Chinese alarmism» in the West, even if nothing has happened yet. So it was historically, it is now. The second very important point – about any serious economic consequences, about «debt traps» and other similar today to speak still strange because in itself the plan «a Belt and a way» really if not to take theoretical preparation for it, develops at most, probably, three years. Damage to wildlife and environmental degradation – it happens. But, to be honest, in fact, not because one China is so bad, but because local authorities in many countries are corrupt and incompetent, and simply, without thinking or looking, give at the mercy of the Chinese, and maybe any other country, their natural resources, national parks and so on. That is, there is no need to blame the Chinese alone.
I want to draw your attention to an important point. In Russia and in the whole world, especially in some countries, the level of Chinese expertise is not very high. That is, there are almost no people who can conduct a long-term analysis of his actions, taking into account both China’s previous experience and subsequent development. Any person who is at least a little familiar with the economic and political history of China will tell you that China has almost always supported any neighboring countries in Asia, invested in them sometimes more money than received benefits – but at the same time demanded, this is an important point, loyalty to China as such, to Chinese ideas, Chinese values. And many countries went for it, realizing that just money does not fall from the sky. Today the world has changed dramatically, it is quite different than even 30 years ago, not to mention any 17th century. And the economy is now its main, key component. So while we do not see a serious examination and calculations, how, due to what many countries, for example, same Central Europe, some small Montenegro, or the Czech Republic, taking into account the latest news, will return these loans, as a result, they will be able to control their national sector of the economy. Therefore, today there is more and more «Chinese alarmism».
Many countries, accusing China of creating traps, somehow try to ignore the fact that they themselves take his money, no one forces them
But the world, in my opinion, is not really frightened by China, but by its own history, in which, by the way, the US once acted in the same way, a few decades ago, driving countries into a credit trap. Remember the history of Latin America in the 19th and 20th centuries. Many countries, frankly speaking, accusing China, somehow try to ignore the fact that they themselves take his money, no one forces them, perhaps they drive themselves into a loop – and then, trying to write off debts, begin to blame for all the sins of the United States, then China, by the way, the deceased Soviet Union, In fact, the situation is sometimes much thinner and more complex than it might seem at first glance, – recalls Alexei Maslov.