The Eurasian Economic Union and the Silk Road Economic Belt: Opportunities for Russia
This article considers the opportunities for Russia presented by the launch of China’s Silk Road Economic Belt initiative. This initiative is a comprehensive project for the rapid development of Central Asian countries, and not limited only to trans- port and logistics to guarantee the supply of Chinese goods to Europe. It is also China’s response to economic and political processes both within the country and in the Asia-Pacific region: the economic slowdown and transformation of its social and economic model, diverging income levels, the growing presence of the United States in Asia, and the new divisions of labour within the region. The Silk Road initiative is based on China’s intention to create strong regional value chains, to outsource labour-intensive and environmentally harmful production, to foster the development of northwest China including securing political stability in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, and to guarantee the use of Chinese construction firms’ capac- ity. Goods transit is a secondary priority and justified not by commercial benefits from using land routes, but by the need to diversify export risks, arising due to the deteriorating military and political situation in the South China Sea. The 2015 Joint Statement on Cooperation on the Construction of Joint Eurasian Economic Union and the Silk Road Economic Belt projects resolves the issue of allegedly competitive goals of these complementary projects. The Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) provides an institutional base for cooperation while the Silk Road initiative provide investments for their development. Russia may benefit from participating in the Silk Road initiative. First, it would help integrate its transportation system into the region’s logistics network and provide additional opportunities for transit and associated logistical services as well as access to growing regional markets. Second, the Silk Road initiative offers opportunities to strengthen industrial co- operation among neighbouring countries to develop new economic clusters. Third, the EEU and the Silk Road may become the basis for more ambitious cooperation in greater Eurasia, which may transform into a new centre of economic develop- ment at the global level.