As in the first Belt & Road Forum (BRF) in 2017, President Putin was a Guest of Honour at the second BRF in Beijing (April 25-27). He paid the customary tributes to the vision of President Xi Jinping and reaffirmed his line that the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) rhymes with Russia’s concept of a Greater Eurasian Partnership. In reality, Russia has not seen a harmonization of the two concepts. In 2017, he had suggested linking of the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) with the Eurasian Economic Union (EaEU). In part, the objective was to have SREB projects routed through EaEU, rather than decided bilaterally with no Russian input into them. In practice, BRI projects so far have all been bilateral. Also, most China-Europe connectivity projects have taken a southern route through Central Asia and the Caucasus, and not through Russia. President Putin said at BRF that Russia is modernizing the Trans-Siberian Railway and the Baikal–Amur Mainline, connecting its Far East to western Russia, raising their capacity 1.5-fold. China has as yet shown no inclination to promote BRI projects using this route.
At his BRF interventions and in an interview to People’s Daily, President Putin said practical cooperation between the Eurasian Economic Commission and the Chinese government should be put on solid footing, through a Joint Commission to review initiatives to couple the EAEU with BRI. His Greater Eurasian project, he pointed out, has an even broader agenda: “to integrate integration frameworks” – promoting closer alignment of various bilateral and multilateral integration processes currently underway in Eurasia. In this context, he mentioned the International North–South Transport Corridor (INSTC), establishing transportation links from South Asia through Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia to Europe, which would create considerable growth of cargo traffic. Though out of tune with the hitherto BRI approach, these ideas meshed with the total makeover of BRI, which President Xi Jinping announced at BRF – a consultative, inclusive, multilateral BRI, open to external collaborations. The INSTC has duly been included as one of the 283 “deliverables” from BRF, as put out by Chinese MFA.
There was naturally a bilateral meeting between Presidents Putin and Xi Jinping, at which the depth of strategic partnership was extolled. President Putin received an honorary doctorate from Tsinghua University, the alma mater of President Xi Jinping, who attended the ceremony. In a media interview, President Putin declared that Russia-China relations are “the best they have been in their entire history” and are important for international and regional security and stability. Military and military-technical cooperation attest to a high level of trust. Cooperation on security, counter-terrorism and organised crime is making rapid headway. Mutual trade reached a record $108 billion in 2018. 1.7 million Chinese tourists visited Russia in 2018.
April 30, 2019