Russia and China’s Positioning Within The Belt & Road, Shanghai Cooperation Organization & Eurasian Economic Union
Russia and China’s Positioning Within The Belt & Road, Shanghai Cooperation Organization & Eurasian Economic Union by Jeff Schubert Silk Road Briefing
China’s attitude to Russia has fluctuated in an important way over the last few years. While Russia has consistently wanted a formal relationship between the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as the main plank in a Greater Eurasian partnership, China’s initial preference was to distance itself from the EAEU relationship in favour of an expanded economic role for the security orientated Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). But Russia rejected this because it would have meant individual EAEU countries which are also SCO members – for example Kazakhstan — having a status equal to itself in a relationship with China.
China then became less interested in the SCO as a result of the 2015 decision – after much Russian pestering related to its Greater Eurasia concept – to admit India and Pakistan. China agreed to this because it wanted to focus its efforts on the BRI. The BRI’s initial successes, particularly the May 2017 “Forum” which was attended by a large number of world leaders, gave China a boost in confidence and it seemed to increasingly feel that it did not really need the SCO or the EAEU.
In fact, China began to feel that it did not need anyone, including Russia – although Russia’s powerful position in Central Asia (and the energy rich Caspian Sea) meant that there was a logical qualification to any excesses.
However, more recent less clear BRI successes, a general backlash against some of China’s policies (eg Xinjiang, South China Sea), and the increasingly aggressive approach of the US to China – tariffs, foreign investment, Huawei, talk of more missiles aimed at China from bases in the region – led China in mid-2019 to accept more of Russia’s ideas on the nature of a closer relationship.
Speaking at an early June 2019 meeting with Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping said that he and Putin “agreed to continue our work on integrating the BRI with the EAEU. We will support each other in the BRI and the Greater Eurasia partnership”.