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Diplomacy
Flags of China, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan in one frame

China and Central Asia: a new path to joint development

by Shiri Shiriev

Another important event on the international agenda was the Second Forum of Think Tanks "China + five countries of Central Asia", organized by: the Institute of Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia of the CASS, the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the National Institute for Strategic Studies under the President of the Kyrgyz Republic Republic, Center for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Tajikistan, Institute of International Relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan, Institute for Strategic and Interregional Studies under the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan. The connecting link for all forum participants was the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) with the support of the Institute of Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia of the CASS, the Secretariat of the Council of High-Level Think Tanks of the CASS and the All-China Association for the Study of Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The two-day program of the forum, which was held in a hybrid mode with a central communication platform in Beijing, included speeches of the heads of the above-mentioned structures, diplomatic missions, foreign ministers, the Secretary General of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, who considered the most important issues on the “agenda” dedicated to the search for new ways and formats for joint development. The experts focused on various topical aspects, presenting their vision of how China's relations with each of the states of Central Asia and the region as a whole should develop at the present stage. As for our country, the rector of the Institute of International Relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan, Djumamurad Gurbangeldiyev, spoke about the state and prospects of Turkmen-Chinese cooperation, in particular, noting that the peaceful foreign policy successfully pursued under the leadership of President Serdar Berdimuhamedov, gaining momentum, contributes to the achievement of new frontiers in the system of international relations by Turkmenistan. In the modern era, the whole world respects the legal status of Turkmenistan's neutrality with great respect. Among the priority areas of the peace-loving policy and diplomacy implemented under the leadership of the head of state, a special role is given to relations with the states of the Asia-Pacific region. The People's Republic of China is one of the friendly partner states of Turkmenistan. The Turkmen and Chinese people are connected by historical, spiritual and cultural ties that originate from the depths of centuries. These common historical roots, the bonds of friendship that go deep into history, form the basis of the Turkmen-Chinese interstate cooperation, in which a special place is given to interaction in the scientific and educational sphere. An important role in the formation of new approaches of the parties to topical issues of international relations and cooperation between the states of the region with China is played by the accumulated experience in this area and the First Forum of Experts of Analytical Centers "China + Five Central Asian Countries" held in November 2021. The broad horizons for the development of partnership that are currently opening in accordance with the realities of modernity form new areas of cooperation between Turkmenistan and China. This is clear evidence of the success of our country's foreign policy strategy. The head of the Higher School of Diplomacy of Turkmenistan also focused on the fact that Hero-Arkadag, in his speech at the China + Five Central Asian Countries Summit held in January 2022, emphasized that it is the heads of states of Central Asia who are widely promoting strategically important proposals and initiatives for issues of world politics. In this context, it was emphasized that Central Asia is a region that attracts the attention of the whole world due to its huge natural resources and advantageous geographical location. In the system of international relations, the importance of the Central Asian region is growing due to the presence of large reserves, especially energy resources, favorable geopolitical and geo-economic advantages. At the end of the 20th century, the number of states interested in including the countries of Central Asia in the orbit of cooperation increased. This is confirmed by the fact that in the last 20 years the phrase "Central Asia +" has become widely used in political terminology. And the People's Republic of China, one of the first states that showed interest in this format, has the largest economy in the world, a great influential force in world geopolitics. The head of the Turkmen university, noting the features of the main directions of China's policy, emphasized that the foreign policy of the Celestial Empire, aimed at becoming a developed state of the world and based on ancient Chinese principles, implies the interest of this country in increasing influence in the world through cooperation. In supporting the international initiatives of the Central Asian countries aimed at ensuring peace, security and sustainable development in the region, the political assistance of China, which is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, is very necessary. The states of Central Asia are cooperating in the field of consolidating efforts in the field of security and countering terrorism with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, established at the initiative of China. The speech also noted that the partnership of the countries of Central Asia with the People's Republic of China in the effective implementation of the new philosophy of the Hero-Arkadag "Dialogue is a guarantee of peace" in international life, aimed at eliminating the mutual distrust that has spread today in international relations, was of particular importance. It is no coincidence that energy is the key vector of the partnership between China + the five countries of Central Asia. As you know, a powerful Chinese economy requires a significant part of its energy capacities to be imported from outside. China attaches particular importance to Central Asia in providing its rapidly developing economy with guaranteed energy sources. In this context, a great success of Turkmen and at the same time Chinese diplomacy is the Turkmenistan-China gas pipeline project, built on the initiative of Hero-Arkadag in a very short time - just over two years - has become another clear evidence of Turkmenistan's commitment to the principle of using its energy resources for the benefit of all mankind. The development of the transport sector is also important. If China stands at the origins of the creation of the Great Silk Road, then Turkmenistan is its heart, the driving force. Within the framework of cooperation in the "China + five countries of Central Asia" format, given the new geopolitical, geo-economic reality of the III millennium, great importance is attached to the revival of the Great Silk Road. The project of the Hero-Arkadag "Revival of the Great Silk Road", designed to give a powerful impetus to the economic development of Eurasia, is closely interconnected in its philosophy and geo-economic content with the all-China project "One Belt - One Road". The already implemented and ongoing multilateral transport and transit projects coincide with the interests of the China + five countries of Central Asia interaction format. Continuing the topic related to the “China + five countries of Central Asia” format as a factor of strategic and regional stability, ensuring the sustainable development of friendly states in the new conditions, I would like to recall that at the beginning of the 2000s, many similar platforms for interaction appeared and took shape in the world. Nevertheless, in my opinion, as time and the realities of life have shown, today the China + Five Countries of Central Asia Project is one of the most famous, authoritative, multilateral formats with great prospects for development. And this is natural and logical, since the ties between the peoples of the Central Asian region and China have a long history. In the process of their long communication, a huge and unique experience of interaction, good neighborliness, exchange of knowledge and achievements in all areas of human life was accumulated. The Great Silk Road passed through the territory of Central Asia from China, which, by developing trade relations between countries, already then demonstrated the possibility of maintaining an atmosphere of calm and stability to the world, including in the territory of present-day Central Asia. And today we can say with full confidence that it was the reliance on this outstanding heritage, the continuity of historical destinies, that was embodied when the countries of the region, having gained independence, resumed active all-round relations with the People's Republic of China. Without a doubt, the current cooperation of all the countries of the region has a noticeable constructive impact on the provision of global peace and stability. It is based on the closeness and coincidence of approaches to fundamental issues on the global agenda. Together we stand for equality and justice in international affairs, respect for territorial integrity and non-interference in the affairs of sovereign states, for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, we support the measures taken by the world community to effectively counter international terrorism, extremism and other challenges. Not so long ago, the states of the region celebrated the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations with China. 30 years of mutual trust, friendship and close cooperation have shown that by adhering to the basic principles of mutual respect, good neighborliness, friendship, mutual assistance and mutual benefit, China and the countries of Central Asia have been able to build healthy and effective interstate relations of a new type. Today, the world is undergoing changes not seen in a century. The structure of international politics and economics is undergoing profound changes and needs to be adjusted. Geopolitical conflicts, disordered global governance create new challenges for development both globally and regionally. Under these conditions, the presence of objective mutual interests of the Central Asian countries and China in line with the China + Five Central Asian countries partnership format on a practical basis opens up additional opportunities for increasing the pace of effective cooperation. Using their huge potential, the countries of this alliance set a course for the modernization of the mechanism of mutual cooperation in the format "China + five countries of Central Asia". It from the moment of its appearance as a specific body for the comprehensive rapprochement of the Central Asian countries, has been and remains an important factor in the stable development of the region. Further cooperation within its framework will improve the well-being of the peoples and significantly raise the standard of living. I am sure that all the states of the region, using their authority and established cooperation mechanisms, will be able to make an important joint contribution to establishing a new agenda of peace and trust in international affairs, reducing tension, de-escalating conflicts, moving to dialogue and negotiation methods for resolving disputes and contradictions based on the UN Charter.

Diplomacy
President Xi Jinping with Vladimir Putin

Putin-Xi Summit Reinforces Anti-U.S. Partnership

by Thomas Graham

The meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Moscow helped both give the impression of a united front, but underlying tensions were also discernible. What did the summit achieve for each side?With the pomp of a state visit, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping shined a spotlight on their ­growing strategic alignment, which is aimed at upending the U.S.-led, rules-based international order in favor of a multipolar world. Long on symbolism, short on concrete substance, the summit nevertheless served both leaders’ purposes. Putin welcomed the demonstration that Russia was not, and could not be, isolated on the world stage, as it deepened relations with one of the world’s two superpowers. By showcasing burgeoning commercial ties and unveiling plans to expand them, Putin conveyed confidence that Russia can remain resilient in the face of harsh Western sanctions.      Meanwhile, Xi’s decision to make Moscow his first foreign visit of his third term as president underscored his strong commitment to Russia and to Putin personally. He used the summit to underscore China’s determination to pursue its national interests in defiance of mounting U.S. economic and diplomatic pressure—making the point that China will not abandon its strategic partner in pushing back against U.S. pretensions to global leadership. That was a crucial message for his increasingly nationalistic domestic audience, as well as for the Global South, where the U.S.-led liberal order is under stress. At the same time, Xi subtly let it be known that China is the dominant partner. Putin had little choice but to accept Xi’s proposal that Russia use the yuan, not the ruble, in trade with the Global South to diminish the role of the U.S. dollar in world trade. Xi also gratuitously endorsed Putin for reelection in 2024, even though the Russian president has not declared his intention to run. And at the joint press availability at the end of the summit, Xi was much more restrained in his description of bilateral relations than was Putin, who was eager to lay out all the areas in which the two countries would enhance cooperation in the years ahead. That left the clear impression that Russia needed China much more than China needed Russia.What does the summit mean for the war in Ukraine?Nothing at the summit suggested that the underlying dynamic in the war was about to change. As expected, Beijing continued to provide Moscow with strong diplomatic support, echoing the latter’s narrative blaming the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for the conflict. Despite Washington’s fears, however, Xi gave no indication that China was ready to provide lethal military aid that might radically improve Russia’s chances on the battlefield. Putin noted that China’s recently released 12-point peace plan could serve as a basis for negotiations, but neither he nor Xi suggested any practical steps that might give substance to what is largely a list of bromides about respecting sovereignty, avoiding escalation, and seeking a diplomatic solution. The reality is that China benefits from the military stalemate. Russia’s aggression distracts U.S. attention and resources from the Indo-Pacific region, while Western sanctions compel Russia to turn to China as an economic lifeline. China exploits Russia’s predicament to gain access to critical natural resources, especially oil and gas, at discounted prices.  In line with this calculus, Xi provided Putin with sufficient moral and material support so that he could continue the fight, but much less than needed to give Russia the advantage. At the same time, the Chinese continued to drive hard commercial bargains. Notably, no deal was announced to build a second Power of Siberia gas pipeline, which Putin has described as “the deal of the century.” Rather, it was simply noted that further details needed to be negotiated, as China explores alternatives.What does it reveal about the underlying tensions between China and Russia?Except for a brief period after the Communist takeover of China in 1949, China and Russia have been rivals, not partners. Until the end of the Cold War, Russia was by far the superior power.   The dynamic changed dramatically after 1991. Then, the two countries’ economies were roughly the same size. Now, China’s economy is ten times larger, and the gap continues to widen.  Moreover, China now casts a much larger shadow on the global stage: it has overtaken Russia in the development of advanced technology and its conventional military is comparable to Russia’s, even as it is moving toward nuclear parity with both Russia and the United States. What once could have been seen as a roughly equal partnership has evolved to the point where Russia is decidedly the junior partner. Despite the rhetoric of comprehensive partnership and avowals from Putin and Xi that relations have never been better, this asymmetry in power and ambition is in itself a source of friction, in addition to the civilizational clashes, racial prejudices, territorial grievances, and geopolitical competition that have strained relations in the past. But these sources of tension are currently far outweighed by the shared challenge from the United States. Washington’s current policy of dual containment only reinforces their strategic alignment and pushes the tensions further into the background.

Diplomacy
Genghis Khan Statue Complex

Mongolia: squeezed between China and Russia fears ‘new cold war’

by Christoph Bluth

Mongolia’s prime minister, Luvsannamsrain Oyun-Erdene, recently expressed his country’s fear that the world is heading towards a new cold war as the relations between Russia and China and the west – particularly Nato – have taken a turn for the worse. “It’s like a divorce,” he said. “When the parents divorce, the children are the ones who get hurt the most.” The country sits landlocked between Russia and China and is fearful of antagonising either. It gets much of its power from Russia, and China buys much of its exports – mainly agricultural goods and minerals such as copper. By pursuing a nimble foreign and trade policy since it transitioned to a multiparty democracy in the early 1990s, Mongolia has established a stable economy, receiving a thumbs up from the World Bank in its latest country report: With vast agricultural, livestock and mineral resources, and an educated population, Mongolia’s development prospects look promising in the long-term assuming the continuation of structural reforms. But the war in Ukraine has brought home to Mongolia just how carefully it must now navigate its foreign and trade policies to remain independent.Smooth transition to democracyFrom 1921 to 1990, Mongolia was effectively part of the Soviet bloc, although not part of the Soviet Union itself. The country’s centralised command economy was almost entirely dependent on Moscow for survival. The collapse of communism in the early 1990s resulted in what proved to be a smooth transition. The then leader, Jambyn Batmönkh, refused to even consider quelling pro-democracy demonstrations, instead saying: “Any force shall not be used. There is no need to utilise the police or involve the military … Actually, these demonstrators, participants, and protesters are our children.” His resignation in 1990 and the emergence of Ardchilsan Kholboo (Mongolian Democratic Union) paved the way for the development of a multiparty democracy. The June 1993 presidential election in Mongolia, which was ruled as free and fair by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, saw the incumbent president, Ochirbat Punsalmaa – who had been appointed after a ballot by members of the existing Presidium of the People’s Great Khural (the national assembly) – elected for a four-year term. A new constitution was adopted, with a three-part structure under the speaker of the parliament, the prime minister and the president and, while there have been instances of political corruption, Freedom House gives the country a high rating for both political rights and civil liberties. All of which cannot disguise that the fledgling democracy remained wedged between (at the time chaotic) Russia and an increasingly assertive and authoritarian China. The obvious policy for Mongolia to pursue was to attempt to balance the two great powers in the region. Initially, Mongolia’s foreign policy relied heavily on “omni-enmeshment”. This basically meant building relationships with as many partners as possible, both regionally and globally – including, significantly, the US. But since 2000, Mongolia has embraced the policy concept of “balance-of-power” to reduce the country’s reliance on any one nation. To this end, they have partnered with strategic states in Asia, such as Japan and India, and rekindled military ties with Russia by entering a “strategic partnership” and conducting joint military exercises, while still maintaining a strong relationship with China. Mongolia has also strengthened bilateral security relations with the US. Mongolia’s relationship with China is complicated by the fact that a significant part of what was traditionally Mongolia is now an “autonomous region” of China (Inner Mongolia), with a population of ethnic Mongolians larger than that of Mongolia itself. This, and the activities of secessionist groups in the province, is a persistent point of conflict between China and Mongolia.Third neighboursBut Mongolia sees its independence increasingly threatened as Russia and China grow closer. Since the demise of the Soviet Union, Mongolia has adopted a strategy of maintaining strong ties with “third neighbours” – countries that embrace democratic values but also practice market economics, including the US (it was a term first articulated with connection to Mongolian foreign policy in August 1990 by then US secretary of state James Baker). The US and Mongolia formalised their relations as a Strategic Partnership in 2019 and in 2022 – clearly with one eye on Ukraine – the two countries announced they were deepening the partnership “in all areas of mutual interest”, including an “open skies” agreement which would guarantee scheduled nonstop passenger flights between the two countries. The US – with other third-neighbour allies – also takes part in the annual Khaan Quest military exercises.Dangerous timesThe war in Ukraine has brought the precarious geopolitical situation in Ukraine into sharp focus. The latest joint declaration from the US-Mongolia Strategic Partnership stressed that “disputes should be resolved by peaceful means and with respect for the United Nations Charter and international law, including the principles of sovereignty and respect for the independence and territorial integrity of states, and without the threat or use of force”. It added: “To this end, both nations expressed concern over the suffering of the Ukrainian people.” Mongolia has abstained from the UN votes condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while also refusing to criticise the sanctions imposed on Russia by the west, despite the fact that they have affected Mongolia – for example, sanctions against Russian banks have made it difficult to pay for its imports from Russia. And, for all its efforts to forge ties around the globe, Mongolia remains heavily dependent on both Russia and China. The prospect of a new cold war setting the west against the Beijing-Moscow axis is a major concern for Mongolia. As Elbegdorj Tsakhia, a former prime minister and president of Mongolia – now a member of The Elders group of global leaders – told Time magazine in April 2021: “I feel that we have just one neighbour. China, Russia, have become like one country, surrounding Mongolia … Every day, we face very tough challenges to keep our democracy alive. Mongolia is fighting for its survival.”

Diplomacy
Currencies of US, China, Russia

Can Russia and China unseat the Dollar from its throne?

by Sauradeep Bag

​Although the dollar continues to be the dominant global currency, Russia and China could dent this dominance. In the aftermath of global financial exclusion, Russia has had to make some strategic adaptations. The West’s sanctions had crippling consequences, and the Kremlin scrambled to find alternatives. In light of these developments, China became an important ally, and the Yuan—its currency—has taken on a more prominent role. It is telling that in Russia, the yuan has surpassed the United States Dollar (USD) in trading volume, a feat achieved a year after the Ukraine conflict, which triggered a series of sanctions against Moscow. As Russia and China band together, one wonders what other shifts will take place and how they will shape the future. Change is afoot, and the Russian market bears witness. The month of February saw a watershed moment as the yuan surged past the dollar in monthly trading volume for the first time. The momentum continued into March as the gap between the two currencies widened, showcasing the growing sway of the yuan. It’s an impressive feat, considering that the yuan’s trading volume on the Russian market was once quite insignificant. The winds of change blew through Russia’s financial system as the year progressed. Additional sanctions had taken their toll on the few remaining banks that still held power to make cross-border transactions in the currencies of countries that had been deemed “unfriendly” by the Kremlin. One such bank was Raiffeisen Bank International AG, whose Russian branch played a significant role in facilitating international payments within the country. However, the lender found itself under the watchful eye of both European and US authorities, which only added to the pressure. These events spurred the Kremlin and Russian companies to shift their foreign-trade transactions to currencies of countries that had not imposed sanctions.Converging coalitionsThe bond between Russia and China is growing stronger, with both nations seeking to bolster their positions on the global stage. Their alliance has spread across various spheres: military, economic, and political. With relations between Russia and the West crumbling, China has emerged as a key partner for Russia, providing it with the necessary support to counter economic and political pressure. On the other hand, China is keen on expanding its global reach, especially in the Eurasian region, and sees Russia as an important ally in this regard. President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to Moscow and his pledge to expand cooperation are likely to take this partnership to greater heights. Trade and investment ties are set to grow stronger, with both nations seeking to reduce their dependence on Western economies. Russia’s focus on infrastructure development and mega projects is also likely to benefit from China’s expertise in these areas. Energy is another significant area of collaboration, with Russia being a leading exporter of oil and gas and China being the world’s largest importer of these resources. Technology is also an essential domain, with both countries investing heavily in research and development to remain competitive in the global economy. While the alliance between Russia and China will likely have far-reaching geopolitical consequences, it is a complicated relationship with both nations pursuing their interests, even as they work towards common goals. As a result of Western sanctions, Russia has shifted its foreign trade transactions away from the dollar and euro to currencies of non-restricted countries. By doing so, the Kremlin and Russian companies hope to decrease their dependence on the Western financial system and explore new avenues for conducting their trade and economic activities. This shift in strategy reflects Russia’s determination to maintain its economic stability despite restrictions on its access to the global financial system. It also underlines the growing importance of alternative currencies in global trade as countries strive to minimise the impact of sanctions and safeguard their economic interests.Structural overhaulsThe Russian Finance Ministry was not immune to the winds of change either. Earlier this year, it made the switch from the dollar to the yuan for its market operations. It even went a step further by devising a new structure for the national wealth fund, earmarking 60 percent of its assets for the yuan. The Bank of Russia joined the chorus, urging its people and businesses to consider moving their assets to the rouble or other currencies considered “friendly.” This would help mitigate the risk of having their funds blocked or frozen. As the world undergoes a seismic geopolitical shift, it seems Russia is moving in tandem, searching for ways to secure its economic future. However, the dollar still reigns supreme in the Russian market. Even with all the changes taking place, it remains the most widely used currency, ceding its throne only occasionally to the yuan. This underscores the enduring dominance of the dollar, which has played a significant role in Russia’s financial landscape for years. However, as the world continues to evolve, one wonders how long it can hold on to its crown.

Diplomacy
Chinese president Xi Jinping on the phone screen and Volodymyr Zelensky the president of Ukraine

Beijing’s Kyiv outreach is about acquiring a global role for itself

by Harsh V. Pant

It aims to signal its diplomatic ascendance and challenge Washington as the big shaper of outcomes. Late last month, Chinese President Xi Jinping finally made that much hoped-for call to Ukraine’s President Volodymr Zelensky and informed the world that his nation “always stood on the side of peace.” This was the first outreach by Beijing to Ukraine since  the latter’s invasion by Russia last February, and Zelensky was keen on this engagement, especially after Xi’s visit to Moscow in March. Ukraine views China as an important interlocutor that can engage with Russia and seems to have been encouraged by the “long and meaningful” phone call between the two leaders that in its view would “give a powerful impetus to the development of our bilateral relations.” Last week, Ukraine’s finance minister also suggested that Kyiv should use its bilateral relationship with China as leverage to bring an end to Russia’s full-scale invasion, though he refused to consider China as a friend. The Chinese President has been reported as saying that China, “as a responsible majority country,” would “neither watch the fire from the other side, nor add fuel to the fire, let alone take advantage of the crisis to profit.” But there was no suggestion that Beijing would be doing anything meaningful going forward. The call and associated choreography had more to do with positioning China as a global power that is willing to engage in resolving problems, as opposed to the US that is creating more trouble by continuing to support Ukraine and prolonging the war. China has already laid out its cards on the table when it comes to the Ukraine crisis. It had released a 12-point position paper on the political settlement of the Ukraine crisis earlier this February. In an attempt to present itself as a neutral peace broker, Beijing has enunciated a few standard principles, including respect for the sovereignty of all countries, resumption of peace talks, keeping industrial and supply chains stable and opposition to unilateral sanctions  as well as the use of nuclear weapons. Taking this forward, China has decided to send special representatives to Ukraine and hold talks with all parties in an attempt at peace-making. But beyond these principles, China’s credentials are hardly supportive of a larger role as a peace-maker, as it has long refused to view its ties with Ukraine and Russia at the same level. Russia has shown no inclination to step back from its aggression and Ukraine is seemingly preparing to launch a large-scale counter-offensive against Russian forces in a bid to retake territory in the east and south for which it has been preparing for months now. While Moscow has given no indication of backing down, perhaps assuming that it has time on its side and waiting for the Western consensus on backing Ukraine to collapse, Ukrainian forces feel that the weaponry delivered by the West over the past few months is likely to give them the momentum needed to shape battlefield realities in their favour. China is also unlikely to be viewed as an honest broker, given its ties with Russia that are increasingly becoming tighter. And despite repeated statements that the “sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all  countries must be effectively upheld,” Beijing has not only refused to acknowledge Russia’s violation of Ukrainian sovereignty, but has continued to privilege its partnership with Moscow. Though Xi’s visit to Moscow in March did not result in any concrete help to Russia, it did signal to the West that  the China-Russia entente can shape the global balance of power in ways that can be deleterious to Western interests. More than anything else, Chinese posturing in the Ukraine conflict is aimed at the West. In its position paper, Beijing talks about the need to abandon a “Cold War mentality” and argues that “the legitimate security interests and concerns of all countries must be taken seriously and addressed properly,” making it clear that it largely agrees with Moscow’s perspective that it was the West that created the conditions for this war with the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato). China has also been critical of Western sanctions on Russia, arguing that “relevant countries should stop abusing unilateral sanctions and ‘long-arm jurisdiction’ against other countries, so as to do their share in de-escalating the Ukraine crisis.” Both of these issues are germane for the long-term trajectory of China’s role on the global stage amid deepening tensions with the US. For China, clearly, this crisis is more about itself than it is about Russia. As China comes out of its covid- induced isolation, it would like to have a stable international environment for a sustained economic recovery. But it is also using an opportunity to emerge as a key global interlocutor by venturing into diplomatic arenas it has been shy of in the past, taking advantage of the West’s recent inward orientation. This effort was exemplified by its attempt to bring Iran and Saudi Arabia together in the highly volatile Middle East. China’s attempt at emerging as a global peace-maker is about presenting a diplomatic challenge to the US on the global stage. Beijing may not have much of an impact on the eventual outcome of the Ukraine crisis, but it is signalling that it is no longer shy of showcasing its growing diplomatic heft.

Diplomacy
 Former President of Iran Hassan Rouhani with Vladimir Putin

Diagnosing Iran’s emerging pivot toward Russia and China

by Mahmood Sariolghalam

“The world is not just Europe and America,” Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson declared on April 10, 2023, implicitly echoing the views championed for years by the senior leadership of the Islamic Republic regarding the ostensible rise of China and Russia. Indeed, the moment when Iran shifted from a traditional balancing relationship between East and West to decisively embrace Russia and China occurred on May 8, 2018, when the Trump administration withdrew the United States from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The U.S.’s decision to abandon the nuclear deal deeply disillusioned the Iranian leadership about any possibility of a rapprochement with Washington. Tehran had initially agreed to sign the JCPOA with the Obama administration based on the expectations that its promises to substantially reduce its nuclear program would be recompensed by the lifting of a substantial portion of U.S. economic sanctions.  Consistent with its long-held objective of maintaining distance from Washington, Tehran was pleased that the JCPOA, as agreed, had permitted it to avoid normalizing relations with its adversary while still reaping the economic benefits by being able to resume oil exports and welcome foreign investment. Yet following the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal, Iran concluded that Washington’s policy toward Tehran is unreliable and the American political class could not be swayed. The Iranian leadership was further disillusioned by the Europeans’ limited ability or willingness to preserve the 2015 agreement. Moreover, the convergence of additional domestic factors — such as pressure from hardliners to bolster the country’s defensive and offensive military capabilities, the weakening state of the economy, and looming challenges to the continuity of the political system — led to intensive debates about the direction of Iran’s foreign policy. Though the foreign and defense policy bureaucracy made the decision to reorient Iranian relations more fully toward China and Russia as early as 2019, it had to wait until the Hassan Rouhani government completed its term in August 2021 before taking any concrete steps in this direction. A clear indication of that decision can be traced to the constant stalling tactics used by the Rouhani delegation during the talks with the U.S. and the broader international community on potentially reviving the JCPOA. The pivot to the East took on a more noticeable character following the inauguration of President Ebrahim Raisi on Aug. 5, 2021. The Raisi presidency led to higher levels of policy compatibility in the totality of the Iranian political system, but even more importantly, it resulted in the executive branch rank and file being staffed with devotees, loyal administrators, and 1970s-era revolutionaries. This was a necessary move following the Rouhani presidency, during which somewhat liberal administrators permeated the bureaucracy. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran’s legislative and judicial branches have consistently demonstrated their loyalty to the status quo. However, following each change of president, the executive branch has had the opportunity to fill some 11,000 administrative positions throughout the country with like-minded individuals. Now, with the inauguration of the more conservative Raisi government, all three branches are committed to maintaining the current inertia and coherence of the Islamic Republic. Iran is now pursuing a two-tiered foreign policy: a vigorous and determined shift toward Russia and China on the one hand, while, on the other hand, making incremental concessions on its nuclear program to give the impression that another deal can be struck to replace the JCPOA. The former approach is being implemented with almost zero fanfare and the latter with extensive publicity. Iran has been steadfast in its Eastward turn even though this shift does not enjoy the support of the general public or the professional and educated classes in particular. As such, all debate and discussions regarding the country’s foreign policy orientation have been restricted to tightly knit circles within the top ruling elite. Still, it is possible to deduce three broad reasons for Iran’s growing alliance with China and Russia: 1. A refusal to capitulate to or make vast concessions to the United States;2. The valuing of security concerns as more important than economic development needs; and3. The desire to see continuity of the political system.Avoiding capitulating to the United StatesIran has a long-standing policy of avoiding normalization with the United States. Throughout the post-revolutionary period, Tehran has deliberately avoided any moves toward rapprochement except in the face of imminent danger or a potential U.S. military operation against the Islamic Republic. The underlying calculus maintains that normalization with Washington would lead to profound consequences for the current Iranian political system, from disrupting its internal politics to overwhelming its economy and reshaping its culture. First of all, there is a deep-seated fear in Tehran that once American companies, educational institutions, and civil society organizations become active in the country, the Iranian leadership would gradually lose much of its grip on power. Anti-American sentiment also provides the revolutionary class with a common identity and keeps more internationally minded, moderate, or pragmatic groups out of positions of authority. Even following the JCPOA agreement and prior to the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump, the dominant perception in the Iranian capital was one of despair since most of the economic sanctions on the country remained intact. The ambiguous future of sanctions, combined with the possibility of spill-over effects on regional issues, created an atmosphere of uncertainty within the corridors of power in Iran. Another factor that dampens hopes for change in U.S.-Iranian relations is Washington’s long list of demands not only with regard to Iran’s foreign policy and nuclear program but also about the nature of its political system and internal conduct. A final facet standing in the way of improved bilateral relations — and closely related to the first — is the Iranian revolutionary class’s belief that rapprochement with the United States would inevitably result in undesired substantial changes in the political system. Any long-lasting improvement in the relationship would require not just policy change but also a redesign of state structures. In line with this thinking, concessions on the nuclear program would be inadequate; Iran would ultimately need to fully capitulate to the U.S., reviving bitter memories of the 1953 American-British coup d’état. The Farsi word for submission, tasleem, was, thus, widely used in the revolutionary state media and television to characterize Washington’s ostensible expectations from Tehran in the realization of the JCPOA. With its vast stake in the political and economic spheres of the state, Iran’s revolutionary class was not prepared to abandon power or open the political floodgates by making structural concessions to the U.S. and facilitating a possible takeover of the country by liberal presidential candidates. The disillusionment in the aftermath of the JCPOA agreement fostered a Raisi-type conservative presidency, an essential prerequisite to the consolidation and continuity of the revolutionary Iranian polity.Precedence of security concerns over economic developmentAt no point in its history has the Islamic Republic prioritized domestic economic development. Continued reliance on energy exports has furnished the state and its elites with a stream of income to maintain this system. Iran’s activist foreign policy antagonizes a large number of neighboring and external countries, yet the leadership considers it essential to protecting the state. For many decades, Iran’s national security doctrine has articulated a hedging strategy of relying on Shi’a and/or anti-Western enclaves in the Middle East to expand its territorial influence vis-à-vis major Arab countries, Israel, and the United States. Turkey is perhaps the only major country in the region with which Iran has been able to manage a stable relationship over the long term. In recent years, Tehran has additionally militarily aligned itself with a major outside power — Russia. Furthermore, Iran’s drone and missile capabilities as well as its geopolitical influence in much of the region have served as a dependable deterrence strategy. Such a conceptualization of national security, threat perceptions, and statecraft have left little room to pursue economic development in a globalized economy. This sharply contrasts with regional neighbors such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates, which have deliberately been concentrating their energies on economic diversification, high-tech industries, renewable energy, and attracting foreign direct investment (FDI). The economic rise of China and Russia’s military and political capabilities have provided a wide range of opportunities for numerous developing countries, including India, Indonesia, Brazil, Nigeria, South Africa, and Mexico, to diversify their foreign and economic policies. However, while drawing on the support they can obtain from Beijing and Moscow, most still strive to maintain a balance between the West and the East. These countries benefit from European and American financial and technological sectors and earn sizeable profits by selling in their markets. But since national economic development is not a priority for the Iranian leadership, and it devotes a large proportion of its energies toward domestic and national security, even a complete political and economic pivot away from the West will not jeopardize Iranian state-owned industries nor affect the already-sidelined private sector and dwindling consumer markets. Indeed, Western companies and banks have also removed Iran as a potential market due to U.S. and European sanctions. Ultimately, Iran’s pivot toward the East will reduce its economy to selling fossil fuels to China and a few other Asian-Pacific countries in exchange for commodity imports. And it is unlikely that these consumers will turn around and invest in Iranian industries due to the sanctions restrictions currently in place. The only conceivable investment opportunities would perhaps be in the form of barter, wherein Iran might export petroleum in exchange for infrastructure development with no financial transactions involved. Furthermore, the timing of the Iranian leadership’s decision to reduce the country’s political and economic reliance on the West in general and Europe in particular was critical: Namely, that strategic choice was made ahead of the looming leadership transition at the top to avoid possible dissenting views when Iran’s third supreme leader takes over. Closer relations with Russia and China promise to not only de-risk Iran’s foreign economic relations but also help maintain an optimum level of progress on the nuclear program as a strategic component of the national security doctrine.Continuity of the political systemIran’s anti-Americanism is considered a highly treasured geostrategic asset in Moscow. In a sense, Iran is Russia’s southern Belarus. From a historical perspective, all permutations of the Russian state over the last two centuries, from the Russian Empire to the Soviet Union to the Russian Federation today, have pursued a similar policy of trying to keep Iran out of the Western orbit. But the Russian-Iranian military partnership that developed in Syria and solidified over Ukraine — specifically covering military hardware, cyber software, and digital surveillance tools that Iran has no hopes procuring through cooperation with the West — has also furthered Tehran’s leverage vis-à-vis Israel and the United States. Iran is expected to receive 24 Su-35 fighter aircraft from Russia in addition to S-400 air-defense systems. And the relationship is developing in both directions. Tehran has also supplied Moscow with low-cost drones and weapons systems. Additionally, the two countries are cooperating in the energy sector, with Russia reportedly having delivered 30,000 tons of diesel fuel to Iran in February and March 2023; yet given Russia’s technological limitations in the energy sector, it is not clear whether these projects will eventually and efficiently materialize. Though relations with Russia have undoubtedly expanded in the military domain since the invasion of Ukraine, one can also deduct other Iranian motives to further solidify relations with Moscow. There are at least two crucial reasons behind Iran’s desire to tighten its cooperation with Russia and move from a transactional to a strategic bilateral relationship. First is Tehran’s need to secure intelligence on Israeli and American operations against Iran. And second is the desire to draw on Moscow’s potential political and intelligence assistance during the transition period to the third supreme leader of Iran. Such expectations can be met with or without Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin since they fulfill fundamental Russian interests vis-à-vis Iran and the West. Iran has reached a point where it can no longer depend on increasing internal control and expanding regional deterrence to maintain a status quo conducive to preserving the political system. Israel’s traditional “periphery doctrine,” of reaching out to non-Arab countries to build security partnerships, has now expanded to the South Caucasus and Central Asian regions. Moreover, most Arab neighbors of Iran today maintain normal or at least not overtly antagonistic diplomatic relations with Israel, which has improved American leverage with regard to Tehran as a result. Facing limited foreign policy options, including diminishing hopes of reaching a modus vivendi with the United States through reviving the JCPOA and a lasting divergence in relations between Russia and the West, Tehran has had to succumb to Moscow. This was not only to procure new military hardware but also to secure its position in a shifting regional matrix, deter potential future threats to its internal security, and safeguard the continuity of the political system. In this evolving context, as long as Russian interests remain opposed to those of the West, Moscow will likely do whatever is necessary to protect the Islamic Republic of Iran. Unlike Russia’s more strategic and long-term calculus vis-à-vis the Islamic Republic, China confines itself to mostly political and commercial relations with Iran and appears to cautiously act in parallel to the U.S. in the Middle East rather than in opposition to it. Beijing has immense short-term and long-term commercial and technological interests in maintaining peace and cooperation with Israel as well as with major Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Moreover, petroleum imports from Iran can easily be substituted in a global glut. That said, Beijing’s mediation role between Iran and Saudi Arabia highlights that for China, good relations with the Islamic Republic provide useful political leverage when navigating the region as well as in its global rivalry with the United States.Challenges aheadThis article attempted to explain Iran’s calculations behind politically and economically pivoting toward Russia and China, founded upon the assumption that the deep state in Iran is prioritizing continuity and issues of succession in the political system. Almost all matters of state are overshadowed by these medium- to long-term concerns — a set of priorities that Iranian leaders have, in fact, held for centuries. The question facing the government today, however, is how the revolutionary domestic apparatus can strive to survive the myriad sources of domestic and foreign challenges, including the Islamic Republic’s stand-off against the Western world. In contrast to the United States and Europe, Russia and China are not concerned with Iran’s internal political system, constitutional structures, or governmental machinery. Of its three main adversaries, namely, the U.S., Israel, and Saudi Arabia, Iran recently concluded that a rapprochement with Saudi Arabia is a possibility, having made a complete U-turn on this in March 2023, with the help of Chinese mediation. Iran had learned the hard way to compromise with the Saudis, given the latter’s instrumental political and financial role among Iranian minorities inside the country as well as Iranian opposition groups in Europe and the U.S. In order to mitigate this influence, Tehran apparently decided to make concessions on Yemen in return for reduced Saudi support for the Iranian opposition. Of all the points of leverage at Iran’s disposal in the Middle East, Yemen appears to be the least valued, especially compared to Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria. Evidently, the Iranian leadership’s incremental moves toward China and Russia stem from an unwillingness to redefine the underpinnings of the country’s national security doctrine. Not only does Iran’s current foreign policy orientation not run in opposition to Beijing’s or Moscow’s overall international outlook, but in many ways, its anti-Western predisposition in a critical region of the world serves the two powers in their difficult relationships with the United States. By aligning with Russia and China in the security and commercial spheres, Iran feels it has acquired an insurance policy against any potential negative resolutions emanating from the United Nations Security Council. And even more consequentially, with an eye toward the potentially turbulent looming period of leadership transition and succession, Tehran may feel comfortable with relying on Moscow and Beijing for security, political, intelligence, and financial support. But a major challenge confronts the political system: Will the Iranian public, professional and intellectual groups, and the country’s slim private sector — all deeply accustomed to Western ideas, systems, and customs — be willing to embrace and adapt themselves to this Eastward shift that was formulated by Iran’s political and security elites? Perhaps the social and political atmospherics that emerge as the Islamic Republic’s third supreme leadership seeks to consolidate its power will reveal the durability of this unbalanced geopolitical reorientation.

Diplomacy
Flags of Kazakhsatn, China, and European Union pictured in one frame

Kazakhstan, the imperative to cooperate

by Olivier Arifon

Landlocked in the heart of Central Asia, Kazakhstan is involved in regional partnerships and, pragmatic, claims to be a facilitator with balanced relations, even if the pressure to take a stand between Russia, China and the European Union is strong. This cocktail is the challenge of so-called middle power (or bridge) countries, developing multi-factor diplomacy, here constrained by geography and made possible by the country’s resources. Moreover, the development and identity of the five Central Asian countries are built around the imperative of cooperation, given the geographical position and the small number of citizens (75 million for the five countries).  The 2023 edition of the Astana Forum, formerly economic and renamed Astana International Forum, was structured around four themes: foreign policy and international security, international development and sustainability, energy and climate change and economy and finance. This forum supports the development of international action: dialogue of international themes, with the desire to propose answers, desires to become a reference on the world scene without forgetting a public relations dimension. This has resulted in Kazakhstan’s diplomacy being described as ‘niche diplomacy’ (for uranium exchanges) or multi-vector diplomacy[1]. Since February 2022, the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s connectivity project, no longer pass through Russia. Kazakhstan is at the centre of the EU-funded Asia-Europe Transport Road (or Trans International Transport Road). This is one example where the economy, originally considered by Joseph Nye as a resource of hard power, becomes a factor of attractiveness and image for a country. In terms of analysis, considering a continuum – not a strict dichotomy – between hard power and soft power allows for more flexibility between projects and resources. This multilateral institutional program connects the rail freight container transport networks of China and the EU. The multimodal transport structure connects the Caspian and Black Sea ferry terminals with the rail systems of Asian and European countries. The route starts from Southeast Asia and China, crosses Kazakhstan, the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey. The so-called middle corridor is present in the speeches and in the initiatives and funding of the European Union and China. This land logistics link between the China and EU trading zones goes beyond transport to digitation of data and complying with European Union and UN standards. Therefore, several models are facing together depending on the view of China or the Union. Beyond this situation, what are the challenges for this middle power and in the broader context of countries that voluntarily and reasoned choose an identical approach and positioning? A successful solution for a middle power means choosing specific negotiating topics in the international space, being agile and flexible, and knowing how to build coalitions to defend them. In the context of multilateralism, it is necessary to structure actions for a convergence between its interests and those of the partners rather than on an ideology. This is one of the conditions for becoming credible, for developing its discourse and, ultimately, to be perceived by the international community as a country with positive contributions. And beyond this community, by the public, which comes down to finding its place on the world map in the long term, when the country becomes known and better identified. Diplomacy becomes public, because it consists of informing, or even dialogue with public opinion. Thus, the Astana Forum presents a middle power capable of building a regional dialogue with experts, politicians, and international actors, which contributes to the construction of legitimacy and the ability to influence through contacts, cooperation and media coverage. Being a middle power also means being courted in alliance competitions whose number and formats become exponential, which generates as many acronyms as possible, here China + C5 and EU + C5. Two recent summits, beyond content and photos, tell the stakes. The China-five Central Asian summit took place in May 2023 in Xi’an, China with the signing of 54 multilateral agreements. The meeting of the European Union and the five Central Asian countries took place at the beginning of June in Cholpon Ata, Kyrgyzstan. These are the five countries being courted no doubt with strong pressure to choose one or the other alliance, hence the tensions and questions of cooperation already mentioned. Moreover, contradictions exist between the possibilities and wills of the middle powers and the driving force of international institutions, structures with more rigid rules, including, for example, the Security Council. A new paradigm is emerging: the role of coalitions. Finally, middle-power countries must balance their national interests, common international challenges such as climate change, and building alliances and coalitions. Claims of middle powers, alliances and coalitions and connectivity programs may be shaping the geopolitics of tomorrow.

Diplomacy
The leaders of four BRICS countries, Lula, Xi Jinping, Cyril Ramaphosa with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov

BRICS and the West: Don’t Believe the Cold War Hype

by Cedric H. de Coning

While it is prudent to be cautious, it may also be wise to explore cooperation in those areas where there are shared interests rather than assume that the BRICS and the West are strategic rivals on all fronts.This analysis was first published in the Global Observatory, 30 August 2023.When Jim O’Neill coined the BRIC acronym in 2001, the point he was trying to convey was that the global economic system needed to incorporate the world’s largest emerging economies. His advice fell on deaf ears and in 2009, Brazil, China, India and Russia decided to take matters into their own hands and formed the BRIC grouping. South Africa joined the group in 2010 to form the BRICS. This July, the group held its 15th summit in South Africa, where they decided to add six new members: Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. More are likely to join in the future, including countries like Indonesia and Nigeria. What these countries have in common is a frustration, if not a grievance, about being side-lined to the periphery of the world economy. Together, the BRICS represent approximately 40% of the world’s population. The combined size of their economies are approaching approximately 30% of the world’s GDP, which puts them roughly on par with combined size of the economies of the G7 countries, depending on whether size is measured in GDP or PPP.  More importantly, in the next few decades, the combined size of the BRICS economies will surpass that of the G7. Despite this growing parity, all the members of the BRICS, with the exception of Russia, self-identifies as being part of the Global South, i.e., they feel excluded from a global system dominated by the Global North. Their stated aim is to work towards a future system of global governance where they will have equal political and economic say in global institutions, and where no one state will dominate others. In pursuit of this aim, BRICS countries have established their own development bank, set up their own contingency reserve arrangement, are developing their own payment system, and have started to trade with each other in their own currencies. The BRICS want to free their economies from the dollar-based international financial system. They feel exposed to United States interest rates that can have a negative effect on their economies, for no domestic reasons. The dollar-based financial system also provides the US with significant advantages in the global economy, which the BRICS see as unfair. They also feel a dollar-based financial system gives the US hegemonic influence in global affairs, through for example, exerting US jurisdiction on all dollar-based trade or investments that flow through US banks or financial institutions. While the BRICS countries have these clear shared macro-economic interests, many of the members also have competing interests in other domains. China and India are geopolitical rivals in South Asia. Egypt and Ethiopia are at loggerheads over the Nile. Brazil, India, South Africa and the newly-added Argentina are democracies, while other countries in the group are governed by a diverse set of autocratic regimes, which could set up an irreconcilable clash of values on some issues. Many of the members of the BRICS also have close ties to the United States and Europe, including Egypt, India, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, in a televised statement to the nation on the eve of hosting the BRICS summit in South Africa, explained that South Africa remains non-aligned, and he announced that in 2023 the country will also host a major United States-Africa trade meeting and an EU-South Africa summit. South Africa will also host the G20 in 2025, the first in Africa. For many countries, membership of the BRICS does thus not necessarily imply aligning themselves with one global alliance versus another, but rather cooperation in a group around a series of shared interests. Where does this place the BRICS on the Russian war in Ukraine? The BRICS summit in Johannesburg steered clear of taking a position on the war, other than welcoming mediation aimed at resolving it through dialogue and diplomacy. Some BRICS members like Iran are clearly supporting Russia, while most others have stopped short of either supporting or condemning Russia. For many such as Egypt, the war has adversely affected their economy. Two of the BRICS members, Egypt and South Africa, are part of an African initiative to seek a mediated end to the conflict, which is perhaps the first African initiative to mediate an international conflict. Overall, however, the BRICS have their eyes on the medium- to long-term transformation of the global macro-economic and financial system, and countries like China are probably frustrated that the Russian war in Ukraine has drawn attention away from this larger objective. Are the BRICS and the West headed for a new cold war? The shift in the center of gravity of the global economy to the East is an unstoppable fact driven by demographics and economic factors like the cost of production. At the same time, Europe and the United States will remain major economic players. In tandem with these changes in the global economy, it is clear that the global political order will become more multipolar, with China, Europe, India, and the United States representing some of the major centers of influence. In an August 27 article, Jim O’Neil argues that the influence of the BRICS will be determined by their effectiveness, not their size. An expanding BRICS will most likely succeed in helping its members to break free from a dollar-based international financial system, but that will take several decades of incremental change before it reaches a tipping point. Whether that is a good or bad thing depends on the degree to which your economy is tied to the United States. Many of the BRICS countries, including China, Egypt, India, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa all have economies whose prosperity are closely tied to the Unites States. They will thus have an interest in a slow, stable freeing up of the international financial system, and this should give everyone that is prudent time to adapt. The same logic also applies to changes in global governance architecture. Apart from Russia, all the other BRICS countries have an interest in making sure that changes in the global order are managed at a slow steady pace that does not generate instability. All the BRICS countries, apart from Russia, are also strong supporters of multilateralism, with the United Nations at its center. Many Western countries and BRICS members may thus have more shared interests than the doomsday headlines suggest. While it is prudent to be cautious, it may also be wise to explore cooperation in those areas where there are shared interests rather than assume that the BRICS and the West are strategic rivals on all fronts.

Diplomacy
Russian President Vladimir Putin with China's Vice Premier Zhang Guoqing during Eastern Economic Forum

Meeting with the Deputy Premier of the State Council of China, Zhang Guoqing

by Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin met with Vice Premier of the State Council of the People's Republic of China Zhang Guoqing. President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Zhang Guoqing, friends, I am very pleased to see you and to welcome you to Russia, to Vladivostok. China has traditionally participated in this forum for many years now. I had the pleasure of welcoming the President of the People's Republic of China to it. He participated in person, spoke here, and then took part in the forum in the videoconference format. I would like to take this opportunity to ask you to convey my best wishes to the President of the People's Republic of China, with whom I have friendly work-related and personal relations. This certainly helps promote bilateral relations and ties between our countries. We know you well as a very business-like person. You headed a major company and now engage in matter of industry. As far as I know, you have already had the chance to meet with your counterparts, deputy prime ministers [Yury] Trutnev and [Denis] Manturov. The latter is in charge of the industrial block in the Government. I would like to note that thanks primarily to the efforts of our governments and business circles, Russia-China relations in this area – the area of economic cooperation – have reached a very high level. Of course, this is a derivative of what has been achieved in the political sphere, but nevertheless the results are more than good, they are excellent, and every year our trade grows by almost one third. This year, too, over the first seven months of it, the trade is up by about the same amount, I think, 24 percent – to as much as 120 billion. The goal President Xi Jinping and I have set – to reach the US$200 billion mark in trade – can be achieved very soon, already this year. I am confident that our relations will keep the current pace. We are glad to welcome you, and I would like to thank you for your decision to come and take part in the Eastern Economic Forum. Welcome. Vice Premier of the State Council of the People's Republic of China Zhang Guoqing (retranslated): Thank you, Mr President, for the opportunity to meet with you. First of all, I would like to pass on to you sincere regards and best wishes from President Xi Jinping. We also wish to offer heartfelt congratulations on the successful organisation of the 8th Eastern Economic Forum. Under the strategic direction of President Xi Jinping and President Vladimir Putin, China and Russia have deepened their overarching partnership and strategic cooperation in this new era. Our relations have maintained a consistently high dynamic. As you rightly noted, our countries have provided resolute mutual support in matters concerning our key interests. We are deepening political cooperation and trust and multiplying our mutual interests, bringing our nations closer. Our multi-dimensional practical cooperation is moving forward progressively, and the range of our bilateral cooperation is constantly expanding. Mr President, you noted the volume of our trade for the first seven months of this year, but in the first eight months of this year, the bilateral turnover reached US$155.1 billion, which is 32 percent higher year-on-year. We have every reason to believe that the goal set at the highest level, to reach US$200 billion in bilateral trade, will be achieved earlier than the end of the year. Last March, President Xi Jinping made a successful state visit to Russia, during which a new large-scale plan for developing China-Russia relations was outlined and new guidelines were set. Currently, the Chinese nation, under the true leadership of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, centred around comrade Xi Jinping, is promoting the comprehensive Chinese modernisation focused on high-quality development. We are ready to share development opportunities and deepen mutually beneficial cooperation with our Russian colleagues. Vladimir Putin: We highly value and appreciate the fact that, as you mentioned, the President of China made his first foreign visit after his re-election to Russia. This indicates that the relations between Russia and China have reached an unprecedented and historic level in the past few years. As you said, we will continue working together.

Diplomacy
North Korean President Kim Jong-un with Vladimir Putin

Russia-North Korea talks

by Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin and Chairman of State Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Kim Jong-un held talks at the Vostochny Space Launch Centre. Following the talks with participation of the countries’ delegations, the two leaders held a one-on-one meeting. * * * President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Chairman, I am delighted to see you again and to welcome you to Russia. This time we are meeting at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, just as we agreed. We are proud of the way this sector is developing in Russia, and this is our new facility. I hope that it will be of interest to you and your colleagues. However, our meeting is taking place at a special time. The People’s Democratic Republic of Korea has recently celebrated the 75th anniversary of its founding, and we established diplomatic relations 75 years ago. I would like to remind you that our country was the first to recognise the sovereignty and independence of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. This year we mark 70 years since the end of the war for independence and the Korean people’s victory in that war. It is a landmark date because our country also helped our friends in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to fight for their independence. Of course, we need to talk about our economic cooperation, humanitarian issues and the situation in the region. There are many issues we will discuss. I would like to say that I am glad to see you. Thank for accepting our invitation to come to Russia. Welcome. Chairman of State Affairs of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea Kim Jong-un (retranslated): I express my gratitude to you for inviting us despite your being busy with state affairs. Our visit to Russia is taking place at a very important time. The Russian side is giving a warm welcome to the delegation from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. From the moment we arrived in Russia, we could feel the sincerity of our Russian friends. On behalf of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, I express my gratitude to you and to the people of the Russian Federation. I also thank you for paying so much attention to our visit to Russia. We have been able to see with our own eyes the present and the future of Russia as it builds itself as a space power. Right now, we are having a meeting at a very special moment, right in the heart of the space power which is Russia. As you mentioned, the Soviet Union played a major role in liberating our country and helping it become an independent state, and our friendship has deep roots. Currently, our relations with the Russian Federation are the top priority for our country. I am confident that our meeting will serve as another step in elevating our relations to a new level. As you have just mentioned, we have many issues pertaining to the development of our relations, including politics, the economy and culture, in order to contribute to the improvement of the well-being of our peoples. Russia is currently engaged in a sacred battle to defend its state sovereignty and security in the face of the hegemonic forces that oppose Russia. We are willing to continue to develop our relations. We have always supported and will continue to support every decision made by President Putin, as well as the decisions of the Russian Government. I also hope that we will always stand together in fighting imperialism and building a sovereign state. Once again, I express my gratitude to you for providing us with the opportunity to visit Russia and for paying so much attention to our visit. Vladimir Putin: Thank you. <…>