Silk Road Headlines_21st November, 2018

Among the news items and analyses from this week, an interesting MERICS blog highlights some of the implications of growing Sino-Russian ties for Europe [Why closer Russia-China cooperation poses no direct threat to Europe]. While European observers are right to be concerned about the ongoing rapprochement between Moscow and Beijing and its significance for the future of the ‘Western’ global liberal order, the blog author argues that this, at least in the short-to-medium term, is unlikely to drastically change the way Russia and China interact with Europe.

If Russia’s open disdain for the European project will most likely continue, China’s economically-driven support for EU cohesion will also not waver. Russia is not able to replace Europe’s economic relevance for China, which consists of providing cutting-edge technologies, a place to invest and a key market for Chinese goods, all the more so in light of the raging Sino-American trade war.

Hostilities between Washington and Beijing show no sign of weakening, as was evident at the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting in Port Moresby [Xi and Pence Stake Out Trade Positions in Duelling Speeches at Pacific Rim Forum]. There, US Vice President Pence reiterated recent criticism of China’s geopolitical strategies and attacked the infrastructure and connectivity plans. Rejecting President Xi’s reassurances that China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is not a geopolitical project, Pence urged Asian nations to avoid investment offers from China and to choose instead a ‘better option’ — working with the United States — which, he said, would not saddle them with debt.

Moreover, from a connectivity standpoint, China has no interest in worsening relations between Russia and the EU. Functioning Russian-European relations are relevant for the development of China’s flagship foreign policy project, the BRI. The transit corridors through Russia and Central and Eastern Europe offer the cheapest and fastest way for China to reach Western European markets, and in this light Europe might even expect China to be a stabilising force vis-à-vis Russia, particularly as Beijing’s appeal in Moscow grows.

Francesco S. Montesano