Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Moscow Edges Away from Support for China’s Silk Road Project

Paul Goble


            Staunton, January 20 – Apparently as a result of budgetary stringencies and its recognition that China’s silk road strategy will further undermine Russia’s role in Central  Asia, Moscow has announced that it will not take part in the financing of the project thus leaving Beijing in complete control of the effort.


            Despite its earlier statements, Moscow will not take part in the word of the Asian Bank of Infrastructure Investments that is being set up by China as an alternative to US and Japanese banking systems and that will fund Beijing’s “silk road” transportation plans in Central Asia, “Nezavisimaya gazeta” reports today (ng.ru/economics/2015-01-20/4_china.html).


            Indeed, according to the Moscow paper’s Alina Terekhova, Russian experts say that Moscow’s reluctance to get involved in the bank reflects its concerns that the Chinese project will undermine Russia’s position in Central Asia and Vladimir Putin’s plans for an expanded Eurasian Economic Union.

            Moscow was never entirely enthusiastic about the Chinese “silk road” project, but it did express interest in the bank precisely because that institution is directed against the West and because some in the Russian expert community felt that it could help Russia as well as China in the Far East and Central Asia.


            But Terekhova says that now “many experts have concluded that Russia’s integration plans for the former Soviet space can be competitors to the Chinese conception of a new silk road,” a change from last May when Moscow officially recognized and welcomed Chinese involvement in the post-Soviet states.


            According to the “Nezavisimaya gazeta” journalist, the Russian government has not closed the door to working with the bank or support for the Chinese project. But moving forward will be difficult, as Beijing has made clear that it believes that the silk road “must bypass Russia with the exception of the Crimean ports – and that is a separate diplomatic problem.”


            Consequently, she says, Moscow is unlikely to get involved again anytime soon, and Beijing may be quite satisfied with that: it gives China a more or less unimpeded set of possibilities. But if China moves forward, that will diminish the importance of Russia’s Trans-Siberian railroad and its northern sea route as transportation networks.


            Nonetheless, Russia’s economic situation is sufficiently problematic that some Moscow experts believe Moscow will ultimately go along with Beijing because the new bank could help finance the modernization of Russian infrastructure as well and thus help Russia to interact with the expanding economies of Asia and the Pacific rim.

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