West’s smears on China-Russia cooperation in Arctic myopic, unwise: Russian minister
Published: Jun 07, 2024 07:37 PM
Aleksey Chekunkov, the Minister of the Development of the Russian Far East and Arctic Photo: Courtesy of Chekunkov

Aleksey Chekunkov, the Minister of the Development of the Russian Far East and Arctic Photo: Courtesy of Chekunkov

Editor's Note:

The 27th St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) is taking place from June 5 to 8 in St. Petersburg, the second-largest city in Russia, with a particular focus on China-Russia cooperation. During this year's event, reporter Xia Wenxin, representing the Global Times (GT) which is a 2024 SPIEF's media partner, sat down for a conversation with Aleksey Chekunkov (Chekunkov), the Minister of the Development of the Russian Far East and Arctic, discussing the future development of Russia's Far East region, China's role in it as well as the West's attacks on the two countries' cooperation in the Arctic.

GT: President Vladimir Putin has just completed his visit to China in May. This year also marks the 75th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between China and Russia. How do you view the development of China-Russia relations over the past 75 years and its future direction?

Chekunkov: I had the honor of participating in numerous visits by President Putin to China and the visits by President Xi Jinping to Russia. And I have to say that we live now at the apex of our relations. And it is best illustrated by the unique relationship that our leaders have developed. Both Russia and China are great countries with a long history and great people and traditions. In this challenging time of change with various threats, geopolitical tensions and even confrontation, strong leadership is as important as ever. President Putin and President Xi are displaying this leadership. In my 20-year engagement with China, I could see the development of genuinely brotherly and sisterly relations. I believe that our two countries are destined to live together, to work together, to overcome challenges together, and to contribute to peaceful, harmonious development for all mankind.

GT: What new opportunities does the strengthening of China-Russia relations bring to the Far East region? What do you think is the significance of strengthening local cooperation between China and Russia in promoting bilateral ties?

Chekunkov: The Chinese Northeast and the Russian Far East are neighboring regions. We share more than 4,000 kilometers of land border, which gives us great opportunities to develop mutual tourism, trade and investment. It's not only my dream, but it's our actual goal to increase to develop this relationship, so that as many Chinese as possible can visit Russia, see the unique nature and tourist spots, and benefit from unique trade and investment opportunities, and vice versa.

I know that the Russian people who live in the Far East enjoy going to China. We see our cooperation in new bridges that we built - the road bridge between Blagoveshchensk and Heihe and the railroad bridge between Nizhneleninskoye and Tongjiang. A very important agreement was signed during this visit in the presence of President Putin and President Xi. Our ministry signed an agreement to jointly develop the Bolshoy Ussuriysky Island, the western part of what you call Heixiazi Island.

So I believe this new frontier passage could greatly increase bilateral and regional cooperation. But it's also people to people. The most important thing is for people to come, to visit, to see which creates the unique relationship of a true warm friendship.

The Far East is where Russia and China are actually touching each other. So I believe this is where we hold our hands together. I believe these are the hands of true friends or even brothers and sisters. I hope and I believe it will stay this way forever.

GT: Looking at the Northeast China-Russia Far East cooperation, and the Northeast China-Lake Baikal region cooperation, which areas have the greater prospects?

Chekunkov: No.1, we have to continue developing what already exists and what already is a very significant part of our cooperation, which is energy. Besides traditional hydrocarbon energy, we have a lot of renewable energy potential. The Russian Far East has more than 80 percent underdeveloped hydro-energy potential. We have sun, wind and even atomic nuclear energy potential to jointly develop in the Far East to support both the Russian economy and the Chinese economy.

Second is construction, infrastructure, and even the building of new cities. We are developing our Far Eastern cities. President Putin launched a major program of renovation of Far Eastern cities. And in some places, we are expanding cities even building new satellite cities. We will welcome Chinese participants in those major projects to develop cities and infrastructure.

And third is transport and logistics. We can jointly develop new transport corridors. We can jointly develop new ports. We can jointly work on developing the Northern Sea Route in the Arctic.

Fourth is food and clean agriculture. I know that China already developed a taste for Russian seafood from the Far East and the North, importing lots of soybeans from Russia. I believe we can develop this area to produce a lot of clean meat and other products, because the Russian Far East is a very ecologically clean area that produces not only clean but very tasty food.

The final area is science and technology. Both our countries possess unique competence in the most important technologies of today, but also of the future, which are space exploration, nuclear energy and even quantum computations. I believe these topics will be the most important priorities in our bilateral cooperation.

GT: Could you provide an overview of the current state of China-Russia cooperation in the Arctic region?

Chekunkov: Yes, we have agreed to coordinate and jointly work on developing the Northern Sea Route as a new major transport corridor between Asia and Europe. It is 40 percent shorter than the traditional corridor via Suez Channel. It is also much safer. We know that the Middle East now is not a quiet place. Unfortunately, it has various threats and risks to navigation that the Northern Sea Route does not have.

We realize that the Northern Sea Route still represents significant challenges when navigating during winter. Because of ice, obviously, for which we develop, we are developing the strongest ice-breaking fleet that the world has. We are ready to put this fleet to use for all international customers, including the Chinese ones to facilitate transit, moving goods, container ships, and cargo ships between Europe and Asia.

Already this past year, a Chinese company NewNew Shipping Line has performed several round trips on the Northern Sea Route. This proves that the Northern Sea Route can work. Our aim now is to increase the frequency and the tonnage of the transit route so that the cargo volume of the Northern Sea Route continues increasing. And I believe that by combining Chinese navigational and technological capabilities, and by combining our traditional ice-breaking fleet and Russian ports, we can achieve significant progress in growing the volume of cargo shipped by a Northern Sea Route.

GT: China-Russia cooperation in the Arctic has been interpreted as a "threat" by some Westerners, who portray the Arctic as "a new front in the competition between great powers." What do you think about such voices?

Chekunkov: I regret such a myopic and unwise move by the West, specifically by the US and NATO. The Arctic is where climate change is happening the fastest, which means that the Arctic requires preparation by all of humanity, requires joint efforts to slow down climate change and to develop solutions to the benefit of all humanity.

When any one side is trying to politicize the Arctic, trying to put pressure and spread geopolitical pressure in the Arctic, it harms all of humanity. I am certain the Russian Federation, alongside the People's Republic of China, will always stand for peaceful relationships in the Arctic to oppose militarization. At the same time, we are strong in the Arctic. We will always keep the Arctic safe. We will not let any opposing or unlawful forces militarize the Arctic or jeopardize its security.