Putin’s wholehearted defense of China’s belt and road

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Puts him at serious odds with India’s Prime Minister Modi

By Andrew Korybko

The Russian leader’s wholehearted defense of China’s Belt
& Road Initiative at last week’s yearly forum on this global series of mega
projects stands in stark contrast to the position of India’s Prime Minister,
thus reinforcing the notion that Putin and Modi are at serious odds with one
another when it comes to BRI irrespective of their Great Powers’ mutually
beneficial and highly lucrative transactional relationship with one another.

Indian intransigence

President Putin’s press conference at last week’s Belt &
Road Initiative (BRI) Forum in Beijing was a well-articulated master class in
defense of this global series of mega projects that has come under increasingly
sharp criticism from China’s geopolitical rivals. One of the most outspoken
countries vehemently opposed to BRI is India because of its maximalist approach
to the Kashmir Conflict by which it claims the entirety of the global pivot
state of Pakistan’s Gilgit – Baltistan region through which the Silk Road’s
flagship investment of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) traverses.

India is also tacitly opposed to BRI in principle because it
understands that this is the vehicle for the Chinese-driven Multipolar World
Order to spread across the planet, a scenario that decision makers in New Delhi
deeply fear because they’re afraid that it’ll relegate their country to
becoming “junior partner” of the People’s Republic. This in turn has made them
all the more receptive to the US’ manipulatively tantalizing promises that a
military-strategic partnership with America is the best way to promote India’s
21st-century interests, an emerging development which is actually destabilizing
Eurasia to Washington’s divide-and-rule gain.

Russian reservations

That explains why Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister called out
the US for using India to “contain” China at the end of last year and also why
Foreign Minister Lavrov said that his country regards the “Indo-Pacific Region”
nomenclature that New Delhi is as fond of as an “artificially imposed”
pro-American concept. Furthermore, awareness of these two interconnected policy
positions by Russia allows one to better understand the “balancing” modalities
of Moscow’s “Return to South Asia“, which is the diversification of this Great
Power’s previous regional strategic dependence on India and its recent embrace
of Pakistan as described in detail by Valdai Club programme director Oleg
Barabanov in his visionary piece earlier this year about “Russia and the Search
for Balance Between India and Pakistan“.

Despite the dynamics of Russia and India gradually moving
closer to one another’s geopolitical adversaries of the US and China &
Pakistan respectively, the Russian-Indian Strategic Partnership is still
mutually beneficial and highly lucrative for both even if it’s become mostly
transactional in recent years as a result of these developments.

BRI might break the Russian-Indian bond

Still, both Great Powers’ polar opposite approaches to BRI
are a serious cause for concern since they hold with it the possibility that
this growing strategic divergence will inevitably lead to the worsening of
their relations in the future, especially in the event that India decides to
politicize what might by then be Russia’s de-facto participation in its South
Asian component through N-CPEC+.

After all, President Putin declared during his keynote speech
at last week’s event that Russia will merge its Eurasian Economic Union
integration platform with China’s much larger BRI one, with the unstated
implication being that Moscow will ultimately cooperate in some capacity or
another with BRI’s flagship investment of CPEC, thus leading to a “strategic
security dilemma” with its decades-long Indian partner that is obsessively
opposed to that project. It might only a matter of time before this fault line
provokes problems in the Russian-Indian Strategic Partnership, especially after
President Putin’s wholehearted defense of BRI last week put him at serious odds
with Modi.

Putin is a true believer in BRI

To accentuate that point, the analysis will close with a
republication of President Putin’s enthusiastically supportive remarks on BRI
that he made in response to a loaded question doubting its benefits for Russia,
proving that the Russian President is a true believer in everything that BRI
stands for and that he’s therefore bound to clash with the Indian Prime
Minister whose views on this issue are the complete opposite of his own even if
the two keep their heated disagreements behind closed doors in order to
continue milking their countries’ mutually beneficial and highly lucrative
transactional relationship with one another:

“Question: Good afternoon. The Belt and Road is a very
ambitious project  to the extent that it
raises concerns in some. China is not a country that makes plans only for years
ahead  it makes plans for decades
proceeding not from billions but from trillions of dollars. This leads to the
question, is this China’s project or is it beneficial for other participants?
Is it beneficial for Russia? Vladimir Putin: China is a vast country. I have
mentioned that according to open sources and IMF data, China is the world’s top
economy as regards purchasing power parity. It is considerably lower per capita
than, say, in the United States, but the volume is higher. Therefore, of
course, China has plans for its development, and they are immense and
ambitious; when China implements anything it uses a highly pragmatic approach
to achieve its tasks.

China is our strategic partner; this is obvious from all
indicators and parameters. China is Russia’s top trading partner. Our aim in
2018 was to reach the volume of $100 billion, and we exceed that, at $108
billion. And we have good prospects for development. When the country’s
leadership and President Xi Jinping formulate these plans and set development
tasks for themselves and for the country 
this is a very pragmatic approach. Just like us or any other country,
they are governed by their national interests. This is normal.

China implements this in a civilised and delicate way, making
sure proposals for common development meet the interests of the vast majority
of international participants, if not all. Generally speaking, China has
offered nothing new; what it is doing is actually making attempts to reaffirm
the principles set out by the World Trade Organisation and the International
Monetary Fund, and many of our colleagues are mentioning this backstage like
they did at the last meeting. What is China’s goal? Stability.

What is the reason for this? China’s economy is immense, and
the domestic market is growing. But today, what China produces is basically
oriented towards foreign markets. Of course, domestic consumption will
gradually increase with the overall growth of people’s incomes. Today China is
interested in pushing its products to foreign markets, which is a natural
aspiration for any country. For example, the Swedish economy is almost entirely
focused on exports, and the same applies to the German economy. China simply
has more products to offer. So how should China respond when it faces certain
restrictions and attempts by some countries to stop its development? What
should China do? It must strengthen the fundamental tenets of global economic
relations, and create conditions for promoting its products. How can this be
done? By developing transport infrastructure, port facilities, air, rail and
motor transport, and building roads.

This is exactly what China is doing. This was how it all
started, but later it became obvious both in terms of China’s growth and for us
as well, that this would not be enough. We needed to strengthen the fundamental
tenets of international economic relations. Is Russia interested in this? Of
course, it is. Considering the high volume of trade and the fact that it is
growing, we are certainly interested in benefiting from the transit potential
of the Trans-Siberian Railway and Baikal-Amur Mainline, and we intend to invest
heavily in them, as well as in motor transport and roads. We have earmarked
trillions of rubles for infrastructure development. Why are we doing this? In
order to make effective use of our country’s transit potential and to be able
to engage in mutual import and export operations.

China acts in a highly civilised manner. For many years, we
have been raising the issue of the need to increase the share of engineering
goods in our trade. This is now beginning to materialise, which is attributable
among other things to the position adopted by China’s leadership. I am very
grateful to President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang for their
consistent efforts to improve China’s trade patterns with Russia. Does this
meet our interests? Absolutely. I think that this initiative has a very bright
future ahead of it, since almost all of us are interested in this, as I have
already said. No one wants to face any restrictions, no one wants any trade
wars, maybe with the exception of those who are behind these processes. In any
case, an overwhelming majority, nearly 100 percent strongly believe that these
restrictions and wars undermine the global economy and its development. As
strange as it may sound, the global economy as a whole needs the liberal values
that China currently champions.

It is for this reason that I believe that this initiative
will develop further, which can also be explained by Chinese philosophy: they
advance with extreme caution and not only seek to take into consideration the
interests of their partners, but actually do so in their political and
practical activities. The world has a very positive view of these developments.”

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