In an op-ed published by Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency on May 15, Rostislav Ishchenko, a regular RIA Novosti commentator, argued that the United States for years has been unsuccessfully trying to destabilize Russia-China economic unity.
America, he wrote, took specific actions to hamper Eurasia’s economic development, including encouraging the Arab Spring and instigating a crisis in Ukraine. Ishchenko claimed that despite American attempts to disrupt Russo-Chinese economic unity, the One Belt One Road Forum for International Cooperation, held in Beijing on May 14-15, confirmed that Russia and China are moving towards deepening economic relations in the framework of the Chinese New Silk Road initiative.One Belt One Road is a development strategy proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping that focuses on cooperation between Eurasian countries.
Polygraph.info found that Ishchenko is misrepresenting the current state of the Russia-China economic partnership and is trying to blame Washington for Moscow’s failures to deepen its economic ties with China. Experts told Polygraph.info that China does not view Russia as an equal partner in economic relations and does not share Russia’s perception of its importance to Chinese economic plans.
Ishchenko claimed the Arab Spring was one of the disruptive steps taken by the United States, and “was supposed to destabilize the Middle East for a long time.” He wrote that the subsequent "destruction of North Africa (from Tunisia to Egypt), Syria, and then Turkey, would have completely blocked the southern flank of the new Great Silk Road.”
“This is utter nonsense,” Stephen Blank of the American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC) told Polygraph.info.
“We did not start the Arab Spring. It was the intrinsic movement within the Arab countries against the misgovernment that we saw in countries like Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Syria," he said. "The last thing we want is an unstable Middle East! And quite frankly, we supported the Chinese Silk Road in China, in Central Asia initially, and that is a matter of public record.”
Daniel Blumenthal, director of Asian Studies and a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), told Polygraph.info that Russia and China share the “conspiracy theory” about alleged U.S. involvement in the Arab Spring, and that both believe the United States “is behind every effort in the world to topple the regimes.”
While Moscow and Beijing may share this theory, the experts contacted by Polygraph.info said Ishchenko’s argument that the United States destabilized both the Middle East and Ukraine in order to sabotage Russo-Chinese economic relations is completely unsubstantiated. They also said that current and potential economic ties between Russian and China are not nearly as close as Ishchenko portrays.
In fact, according to AEI’s Blumenthal, Russia and China have concerns about each other’s intentions. “Russia is very concerned about the Chinese One Belt One Road initiative,” while China is “wary of the fact that Russia views Central Asia as its sphere of influence,” he said. However, he added that this mutual distrust “is not going to stop China” from moving forward with its plans.
While the economic success of the One Belt One Road initiative “could be very mixed,” Blumenthal said China would succeed politically by “building influence through certain direct investments in places where it wants to build influence. That would be in Central Asia, and South Asia.” Chinese political influence in Central Asia is something that Moscow cannot accept easily, and therefore, he said “Russia is more concerned about China and its moves in Central Asia than the other way around.”
Chinese-Russian economic ties are mainly limited to energy exports and weapons sales, which create an unequal balance in the partnership. China has pledged investments in Russia, but some of the largest projects are still only at the discussion phase.
“Russia’s failure to reform its economy and make it competitive is what lays at the root of this,” said the AFPC’s Blank. “They thought that the Chinese would give them all this money because they have an inflated idea of their importance to China, but this does not fool anybody in Beijing.”
China does not see Russia as an equal partner, the experts told Polygraph.info. To Beijing, Russia is a weapons supplier, an important oil exporter, and a country that takes on the United States. “Russia will be a supplier of energy to China and China will have to decide whether it is going to spend a lot of cash on the Russian energy infrastructure,” said Blumenthal.
In addition, Chinese banks have limited their loans to Russian businesses. This may be in part due to U.S. actions, but those actions are not aimed at sabotaging the Russo-Chinese economic relations. Chinese banks, as major international financial players, are enforcing the sanctions the West imposed on Russia after its annexation of Crimea.
“The Chinese banks do not want to get in trouble with the U.S. Treasury Department,” said Blank. “Russia is a very small player, relatively speaking, in China's international economic design. Oil and gas is strategic, as (are) weapons, but the numbers do not come anywhere close to the level of business China is doing with the United States. Obviously, bankers are not going to make trouble for themselves.”
The experts told Polgraph.info that China would not follow through on all of its promised investments under the One Belt One Road initiative, and that potential partner countries would not borrow enough from Beijing to make projects viable and sustainable.
“The Chinese do not see a lot of financially strong customers out there. So there is no win-win, for all of the rhetoric,” said Blank.