Something's brewing in Central Asia and the West 'needs to take this seriously'

The Russia-China friendship could lead to some interesting changes on the global stage.

And the biggest changes are occurring far away of Washington’s orbit.

Obama xi putinREUTERS/Kim Kyung-HoonU.S. President Barack Obama (L-R), China’s President Xi Jinping and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin during a family photo shoot at the International Convention Center at Yanqi Lake in Beijing, November 11, 2014.

Although the Sino-Russo relationship predates the Ukraine conflict, there’s no question that the crisis shifted Moscow even more towards Beijing.

Over the last year, we saw the two countries sign highly publicized energy deals, conduct joint military exercises, and even generally support each others’ foreign policy adventures.

And this shift has more implications than just short-term deals.

Russia pulling towards China will lead to “expanded” political cooperation in three areas: “cooperation in Central Asia; alternatives to the Bretton Woods institutions; and increased cooperation on domestic political issues,” although the two countries will “likely stop short of a formal military alliance,” according to Alexander Gabuev, a senior associate and chair of Russia in Asia-Pacific Program at Carnegie Moscow Center.

The Beijing-led, Moscow-supported “answers to the Bretton Woods institutions” such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the BRICS Development Bank have already been created.

Furthermore, the decreasing global influence of the US — specifically in Central Asia and the Middle East — leaves room for a new regional economic and political powerhouse in those regions.

“It is in Inner Asia — Afghanistan, Mongolia, and the five post-Soviet states of Central Asia — that is likely to see the most impact from the deepening of Sino-Russia integration,” writes Dmitri Trenin in a paper on the Sino-Russo entente.

“What is likely to emerge is a trade and investment zone covering all of central, northern, and eastern Eurasia. With China as its powerhouse, this area can be called Great Asia — from Shanghai, its business center, to St. Petersburg, its outpost at Europe’s doorstep.”

And we’re already seeing this happen:

  • There’s the high-speed rail link that will eventually connect Moscow to Beijing.
  • The development of the Northern Sea Route shipping lane from Asia to Europe across the Arctic.
  • Putin agreed to give the planned Silk Road Economic belt (a regional trade and transportation plan that has been “Xi’s foreign policy priority since 2013”) the “green light after Xi agreed to include Trans-Siberian and BAM railways in the scheme,” writes Gabuev.
  • There’s the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a political, economic, and military organisation founded in 2001, whose members include China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
  • And Russia may even “finally support the creation of an SCO development bank with registered capital of $US10 billion,” writes Gabuev.

“In lieu of a [Putin’s vision for a] Greater Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok, a Greater Asia from Shanghai to St. Petersburg is in the making,” writes Trenin.

Xi putin russia china kazakhstan afghanistanReuters/Mark Ralston/PoolLeaders (front L-R) Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev, China’s President Xi Jinping, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai.

So what does all of this increased Sino-Russo cooperation and integration mean for the world?

Basically, Russia’s increased economic and political cooperation with China and other non-Western countries will push for a world order that aims to reduce US global dominance, according to Trenin.

The new reality isn’t quite a new eastern bloc, but rather a clear signal that “the epoch of post-communist Russia’s integration with the West is over,” says Trenin.

“The Sino-Russian entente — with its unstated, but transparent goal of reducing US global dominance — is easily the most important result of the Ukraine crisis and the preceding deterioration of Russia-Western relations,” Trenin told Deutsche Welle. “The West needs to take this seriously.”

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