Illustration: Peter C. Espina/GT
Eurasia is an area of geostrategic importance for China's One Belt and One Road (B&R) initiative. Meanwhile cooperation between China and the Eurasian countries along the Silk Road has long been influenced by Sino-Russian relations.
In May 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the Joint Statement on Cooperation of Connection between the Silk Road Economic Belt and Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), which was seen as a boost for the B&R initiative in the Eurasian region. Nevertheless, long-lasting obstacles for both countries' visions for Eurasia remain in terms of facilities connectivity, unimpeded trade and financial integration. Quite a number of commentaries attribute the slow progress to the stalled development in the Sino-Russian strategic partnership.
In the past, the Chinese and Russian governments put forward a lot of economic projects to create an environment conducive to the development of bilateral relations, but a considerable number of the projects failed to proceed. Cooperation on connecting the two countries' Silk Road and EEU plans still follow the same pattern: many projects that were announced during the 2015 cooperation signing have seen no substantial progress. The popular view is that deep-rooted doubt and suspicion between the two nations has made it hard for the Sino-Russian relationship to jump out of the old pattern. If China wants to push forward the B&R initiative in Eurasia, a key priority is to enhance mutual trust between China and Russia.
Strengthened mutual trust between the two countries is an important foundation for the promotion of the B&R initiative in the Eurasian region. A lack of mutual trust will not only make it difficult for China and Russia to maintain a high-level bilateral relationship, but will also impede cooperation between China and other Eurasian countries along the Silk Road. Moreover, at the current stage, both sides need to accept and recognize the various levels of cooperation, rather than just seek cooperation in theory.
The two countries' interests in the B&R initiative and EEU strategies are partially competitive and alternative. The complicated interdependent relationship between China and Russia means that they cannot exclude each other from their respective regional economic cooperation plans, underlining the necessity of working together. Yet, given the competitive interests, there will be certain irreconcilable conflicts when it comes to connecting the Silk Road and EEU programs, and the differences in understanding and implementing the two may further complicate the situation. Therefore the two countries should not confuse good intentions with reality in blindly pursuing an all-round cooperation. Both China and Russia need to get rid of the eagerness for a quick success. Instead they should strive to find new cooperation opportunities through consultation and negotiation, promote common interests for both parties and explore cooperation potential rather than hurry to launch projects.
It is also an important part of Sino-Russian cooperation that each party be allowed to design and implement different policies in accordance with their own interests. The connection of the Silk Road and EEU plans should adhere to the principle of seeking common ground while respecting differences. Due to the divergence of interests between the two plans, their connection should not be based on an integration of the two but in allowing for different development paths while seeking common interests and reducing conflicts. China and Russia should tolerate each other's non-cooperative policies under the premise of respecting each other's main interests.
At present, Sino-Russian relations are at a new juncture. The connection of the B&R and EEU plans could become the driving force for the development of a bilateral relationship, or it could hinder and delay a warming of relations. Therefore, a rational understanding as well as enhanced mutual trust are important factors for the development of a relationship.
There is no need for the two countries to rush for quick results in connecting the B&R and EEU plans. Practical cooperation based on specific conditions will be conducive not only to both countries' visions for Eurasia, but also in strengthening mutual trust. A blind pursuit of cooperation like the high-profile projects that came to an end with no results, or a zero tolerance of the other party's legitimate concerns and safeguarding of their interests, will only damage the chance of an improvement of mutual trust and will make cooperation-seeking a negative energy in Sino-Russian relations.
The author is an assistant researcher at the Center for Russia and Central Asia Studies, Fudan University. firstname.lastname@example.org