The Greater Eurasian Partnership and the Belt and Road Initiative: Can the two be linked?

_ Li Yongquan, Chinese Association for East European, Russian and Central Asian Studies. Soul, 2018.

Responding to changes in the world, Russia has proposed the Greater Eurasian Partnership for the international cooperation agenda. At the same time, the possibility of linking that partnership with the Belt and Road Initiative for international cooperation is one of the key factors in implementing this agenda. Alignment between the development strategies of Russia and China in the field of global, regional, and bilateral relations lays the foundation of successful cooperation between a number of countries, regions, and organizations. For the Eurasian Partnership to succeed, it must strictly adhere toWTO rules and take a tolerant attitude toward the diverse mechanisms for cooperation that various countries and regions have developed.

1. Introduction

We are all witnesses to the radical changes taking place in the world today and to the difficult process of ordering relations between the great powers. We are not only witnesses, but also participants in the shaping of a new world order. These changes are the result of the United States’ shaky position as a global superpower, Russia’s revival, China’s rise, the exhaustion of the West’s outdated liberal development model (Allison, 2018; Kortunov, 2016), the deadlock on global development issues, and the fight against terrorism – in a word, all of the issues resulting from the world’s unbalanced and unequal development.

The global economic crisis continues unabated, trade protectionism is rampant, especially in several developed countries (Xu, 2017), and the globalization process is slowing and even blocked at times. Still, it would be wrong to say

that the United States and developed countries oppose globalization for the reason that international capital cannot exist in isolation from globalization. The previous world economic order can no longer meet the needs of the developed countries: they increasingly require new rules more suited to their interests. However, the developed countries cannot monopolize the rules as they did before. The participants in globalization processes demand a more fair and equitable system of trade and want to play an active role in developing the new global economic order. Developments such as the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are therefore extremely inauspicious.

Also, while the existing world order remains unadapted to new circumstances and a new world order has not fully formed, every country and region,without exception, should present their own visions for that new world order. In this context, Russia’s Greater Eurasian Partnership and China’s Belt and Road are promising initiatives for international cooperation that provide a fitting response to the changing international economic environment (Lukin, 2016a, pp. 91–112).

1.1. The Belt and Road Initiative: The Chinese concept of international cooperation

Chinese President Xi Jinping first proposed the One Belt, One Road initiative (or Belt and Road Initiative, BRI) for international cooperation in September and October of 2013. In 2017 an ever-growing number of countries and organizations are giving their acknowledgement and support to the project. The BRI has different ramifications in the domestic Chinese context than in the context of international cooperation and partnership.

First, in the domestic Chinese context, the BRI serves as a development strategy and marks China’s entry into a new stage of the great cause of promoting reform and political openness. The stimulation of social and economic development calls for new approaches and measures and the coordination of economic, political, cultural, social, and ecocivilizational development. The BRI strategy perfectly embodies this more open approach to the socio-economic development of China and its regions, and the approach for resolving socio-economic issues connected with the world economy that arise at the state and local levels. Second, as a result of pursuing a policy for reform and greater openness, the Chinese economy has largely connected already to the global economy and kept pace with the development of the regional economy. Such coordinated development should continue to serve as its fundamental principle.

In the context of the international community, the BRI is an initiative for international cooperation. It focuses primarily on stimulating regional economic development. It creates opportunities and conditions for China and its business partners to develop by strengthening cooperation on the construction of infrastructure in contiguous countries and regions, cooperation on energy, and the simplification of trade procedures. Mutual benefit, joint development, and mutual prosperity serve as the main principles of cooperation.

The main principles for implementing that cooperation are joint consultation, construction, and use. To achieve that, the governments involved must align their political approaches and deepen the close contacts between the peoples of their respective countries. It is worth noting that, in proposing the BRI, the Chinese government did not set out to simply maximize its own profits, but gave serious thought to the question of how China’s business partners would also gain and promoted the idea of mutual benefit. China does not intend to use the BRI unilaterally by imposing its goods and manufacturing might on its partners. The win-win approach put forward by Xi Jinping is the only way to develop the BRI since it requires increasing connectivity and the synergy of participating countries’ development strategies (Chen, 2017). No, China is proposing a two-way road – namely, it is promoting Chinese goods, technologies, and investment abroad while also welcoming foreign investment, technologies, goods, and services, and is creating conditions to attract them. At the Belt and Road International Forum held in Beijing in May 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced to the many senior officials of other countries present that China would hold a permanent international exposition of import goods starting in 2018.

The Belt and Road Initiative contains a completely new concept of cooperation. Speaking at the Forum, Xi stressed: “China will enhance friendship and cooperation with all countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence.We are ready to share practices of development with other countries, but we have no intention to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs, export our own social system and model of development, or impose our own will on others. In pursuing the Belt and Road Initiative, we will not resort to outdated geopolitical maneuvering. What we hope to achieve is a new model of win-win cooperation. We have no intention to form a small group detrimental to stability, what we hope to create is a big family of harmonious co-existence.” (Speech by Comrade Xi Jinping at Opening of Belt and Road Forum, 2017).

This is why a growing number of countries understand, accept, support, and choose to participate in the Belt and Road Initiative.

1.2. The greater Eurasian partnership: Russia’s reaction to changes in the world

The year 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. The October Revolution and the collapse of the Soviet Union were among the world’s most significant events of the 20th century. The collapse of the Soviet Union triggered fundamental geopolitical changes and made it extremely difficult for Russia to advance and develop. As an independent state, Russia’s relations with the West underwent a number of changes and were generally unstable and variable. Ultimately, Russia realized that its own revival was the only solution. Only then could it win universal respect and become a wealthy and powerful country. However, as Russia grew stronger, theWest stepped up its pressure in an effort to thwart that revival.

A prerequisite to Russia’s revival is the integration of the post-Soviet space, and the formation of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) is nothing less than the concrete result of that integration (Lukin, 2014a, pp.43–60). The development of Russia and the EAEU are inseparable from the development of the global economy. The developed countries ignored Russia and lobbied for the establishment of new global trade rules that worked to their advantage. Even though the TTP and TTIP would have only a negligible effect on Russia and the EAEU, as a great power and, until recently, a superpower, Russia cannot accept a reality in which it is excluded from the process of developing the rules of global trade.

In such a situation, Russia is trying to find its own development strategy. Various models of cooperation have been proposed and attempted. For example, the Gorbachev era saw the idea of transforming Russia into a single “pan- European home.” There were hopes for a “honeymoon” in Russian–U.S. relations during the initial period of Boris Yeltsin’s presidency, and under DmitryMedvedev, those relations underwent a “reset.” All such geopolitical agendas dealt, in one way or another, with the development of Russia’s relations with the U.S. and the West. However, the Ukrainian crisis led to a serious deterioration on these relations. In addition, the situation appears especially bleak

when considering that Russia’s relations with the West are defined primarily by its relations with the U.S. The Obama administration became deeply disappointed with Russia and President Vladimir Putin, and Russia became similarly disillusioned with the U.S. Democratic Party. With such feelings running deep, the prospects for improving Russia’s relations with the West look extremely problematic.

After Donald Trump moved into the White House, there appeared some hope of improvement. Still, in the U.S., a single person does not determine the nature of Russian– U.S. relations. Russia nevertheless hopes that relations with the West will improve, and this is the main leitmotif of its state policy. At the same time, however, it is gradually beginning to rethink this foreign policy priority and to try out new diplomatic ideas (Lukin, 2014b, pp. 85–93). The Greater Eurasian Partnership is just such a new approach to foreign policy. It breaks traditional concepts that only give importance to relations with the U.S. and the West.

The Greater Eurasian Partnership is not only one of the most important concepts of cooperation that Russia has put forward, but also a fully practicable plan for international cooperation. Russian scholars, including Sergey Karaganov, were the first to introduce the concept of a Greater Eurasian Partnership stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok (Karaganov, 2016; Li, 2017; Shevchenko, 2017; Trenin, 2015).

The academic community did not initially devote much attention to this bold idea because the economic integration of the post-Soviet space has always been Russia’s highest priority. Although the post-Soviet space is often referred to as Eurasia, when speaking of an area “stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok,” the post-Soviet space is only “Eurasia in the narrow sense of the word.”

Addressing the Federal Assembly in December 2015, President Vladimir Putin said: “I propose holding consultations, in conjunction with our colleagues from the Eurasian Economic Union, with the SCO and ASEAN members, as well as with the states that are about to join the SCO, with the viewof potentially forming an economic partnership” (Putin, 2015). Speaking in May 2016 at a meeting of heads of delegations at the Russia-ASEAN summit with Business Forum representatives, President Putin noted that, in addition to creating “a common free trade zone between the EAEU and ASEAN,” “another promising sphere of regional economic integration could be the coordination of the EAEU, ASEAN, the SCO and China’s Silk Road Economic Belt project” (Speech by Vladimir Putin, at a meeting with representatives of the Russian-ASEAN Business Forum, 2016). “[We are discussing prospects,” he said, “for establishing a broad crossborder partnership with the participation of the Eurasian Economic Union, the ASEAN community and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization” (Speech by Vladimir Putin at a reception in honor of the heads of delegations of the Russia-ASEAN Summit, 2016). The “Sochi Declaration” signed at the summit clearly proposed that the parties “explore the possibility of mutually beneficial cooperation among ASEAN, the EAEU and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), and consider that “a proposal put forward by Russia to launch a joint feasibility study of a comprehensive free trade area between ASEAN and EAEU” (Sochi Declaration of the ASEAN-Russian Federation Commemorative Summit to Mark the 20th Anniversary of ASEAN-Russian Federation Dialogue Partnership, 2016). Speaking before a plenary session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on June 17, 2016, Vladimir Putin said: “Now we propose considering the prospects for a more extensive Eurasian partnership involving the EAEU and countries with which we already have close partnership – China, India, Pakistan and Iran – and certainly our CIS partners, and other interested countries and associations” (Speech by Vladimir Putin on June 17, 2016, before the Plenary Session of the 20th St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, 2016). Russia’s vision for a Greater Eurasian Partnership has developed gradually since that time.

Whereas the close cooperation between five post-Soviet states and the formation of the EAEU – where Russia holds a leading position – began the process of Eurasian integration, the idea of a Greater Eurasian Partnership and the regions’ relationship to it clearly set out the basic outlines of Russia’s strategic and decisive “pivot to the East.” That pivot is toward not only China, Japan, or South Korea, but also toward the entire Asia with a particular focus on cooperation with China, the ASEAN and SCO countries. In focusing on the Asia Pacific, Russia is not seeking only its own development, but also its joint development with the EAEU through cooperation with the countries of the region and the region as a whole (Lukin, 2016b, pp.584–585).

The idea Russia has proposed is well grounded. First, the EAEU already enjoys a very high degree of internal integration.

Second, cooperation between Russia and ASEAN is already established and its future looks promising. Third, with 8 full member states and 18 associated states, the SCO will undoubtedly play a positive role in building the relations of a Greater Eurasian Partnership and serve as a reliable guarantor of its successful development. This would be fully in China’s interests since China sees the SCO as a multilateral platform for maintaining regional security and promoting economic development.

1.3. From Russian–Chinese cooperation on linking their respective strategies to a new model of economic partnership

China was the first to respond to the idea of a Greater Eurasian Partnership. Following the SCO Summit in Tashkent, President Vladimir Putin made an official visit to China on June 25, 2016 – and such annual meetings between the leaders of the two countries are very important events in themselves. On this occasion, the meeting of Russian and Chinese senior officials resulted in the signing of a joint statement by the two countries that reads in part that: “Russia and China advocate building a comprehensive Eurasian partnership on the basis of openness, transparency and the consideration of each other’s interests, including the possible involvement of the member countries of the EAEU, SCO, and ASEAN. In this regard, the heads of state instructed the governments of the two countries to work through the relevant departments and propose measures to implement this initiative in order to promote the deepening of the integration processes in the region” (Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo he Eluosi Lianbang lianhe shengming, 2016).

The declaration states several very important principles: (1) that openness, transparency, and consideration of each other’s interests are the basis of the Eurasian partnership; (2) that in the initial stage, the main participants are Russia, China, the EAEU, the SCO, and the ASEAN countries; and (3) that the goal of the Eurasian partnership is to deepen regional integration.

In 2016, using recommendations by the Russian and Chinese leaders as their guide, scholars of the two countries researched the issue of a comprehensive Eurasian partnership. In November, after a meeting of the prime ministers of the two countries, a joint statement was published giving a positive assessment of the idea of a comprehensive Eurasian partnership and charging the two countries’ experts with creating a feasibility study of the project (ZhongE zongli di 21 cidingqi huiwulianhe gongbao, 2016).

The authorized bodies of the two countries subsequently began carrying out the instructions of their respective leaders by beginning an analysis of the feasibility of the idea of a Eurasian partnership. In China, the Ministry of Commerce undertook this task, and in Russia, the Ministry of Economic Development did so. On July 4, 2017, Chinese Commerce Minister Zhong Shan and Russian Economic Development Minister Maxim Oreshkin signed, in the presence of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, a Joint Declaration of the Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China on the Feasibility Study of the Eurasian Economic Partnership Agreement. Both sides continue seeking ways to further expand bilateral trade exchanges by creating a more equitable, transparent, and favorable trade and investment environment, and by jointly stimulating regional economic development.

The same day in Moscow saw the signing of a Joint Declaration of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on the Further Deepening of the Comprehensive Partnership and Strategic Cooperation Relationship. The Chinese Ministry of Commerce and the Russian Economic Development Ministry underscored their expectation for rapid progress on joint research.

By this time, Russia and China had, over the course of their working relationship, changed the wording of the “comprehensive Eurasian partnership” to the “Eurasian Economic Partnership.”

In a sense, prospects for this development emerged during Russian–Chinese cooperation on the creation of the Eurasian Economic Partnership. Russia and China are members of the UN Security Council and the strict observance of all UN principles is their sacred duty. During the consultations on the issue of Eurasian partnership (or Greater Eurasian Partnership, or Eurasian Economic Partnership) Russian and Chinese scholars and experts reached a consensus on the main points – namely, regarding observance of the principle of sovereign equality, non-interference in internal affairs, respect for a country’s chosen path of development, respect for each country’s cultural traditions, mutual tolerance, and win-win approaches. At the same time, the parties agreed to use mechanisms for cooperation to link the various integration processes. The relevant bodies of the two countries continue to coordinate specific elements of the Eurasian Economic Partnership, guided by the consensus already reached and the content of the Belt and Road Initiative put forward by China and supported by numerous countries. The future Eurasian Economic Partnership will deal with the following issues that hold equal importance for all countries concerned: the observance ofWTO multilateral trade rules and the streamlining of investment and trade procedures; the intensification of construction of communications infrastructure; the creation of regional cross-border transport corridors and the development of infrastructural interdependence; the activation of cooperation on energy and environmentalprotection; the development of cooperation on agriculture; the search for opportunities to cooperate on scientific and technical innovation; the development of regional cooperation; and so on. The process of building the Eurasian Economic Partnership should also be based on the principles of joint consultation, construction, and use. Fully coordinating that process should make it possible to identify sources of growth and drivers of development for all interested countries and regions: only in this way is it possible to achieve joint development and prosperity that will benefit all.

Russia and China have already tried to take the first step toward linking strategies and strengthening cooperation. On May 8, 2015 they signed a Joint Declaration on Cooperation on Linking Construction of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Eurasian Economic Union. The signing of this joint declaration noticeably boosted practical cooperation between China and the EAEU countries. In practice, China has large joint cooperative projects with EAEU countries, including Kazakhstan, Belarus, and others (Li, 2016).

Speaking of mechanisms for cooperation and linkage at the international Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, President Xi Jinping noted: “[T]he Belt and Road Initiative is not meant to reinvent the wheel. Rather, it aims to complement the development strategies of countries involved by leveraging their comparative strengths.We have enhanced coordination with the policy initiatives of relevant countries, such as the Eurasian Economic Union of Russia, the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity, the Bright Road initiative of Kazakhstan, the Middle Corridor initiative of Turkey, the Development Road initiative of Mongolia, the Two Corridors, One Economic Circle initiative of Vietnam. . ..” (Speech by Comrade Xi Jinping at Opening of Belt and Road Forum, 2017). With regard to the Eurasian Economic Partnership, mechanisms for cooperation are already in place such as the EAEU, SCO, ASEAN, the geographically expanded ASEAN+ format, the 10 + 3 format that includes the 10 ASEAN countries plus China, Japan, and South Korea, the Russia-ASEAN cooperation mechanism, (The Permanent Mission of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam to the United Nations Office, the World Trade Organization and Other International Organizations in Geneva; Ramani, 2017) and others. In practice, the use of any or all of these mechanisms would improve the process of linkage of China’s BRI and the Greater Eurasian Economic Partnership.

Linking the Russian and Chinese development strategies is crucial not only to building the Eurasian Economic Partnership, but also, in some ways, to that organization’s future prospects. China, Russia and the EAEU, and ASEAN are three very important economic entities. In the future, aligning the development strategies of China and the

Russian-led EAEU will drive the construction of the Eurasian Economic Partnership (Shuvalov: Evrazijskoe ehkonomicheskoe partnerstvo nuzhno nachat’ s EАEHS i KNR, 2017). By no means do we say this because it is relatively easy to reach agreement on questions regarding a partnership between China and Russia in conjunction with the EAEU. In fact, just the opposite might be closer to the truth. During the past few years, talks between Russia and China, and between China and the SCO member countries on the creation of a free trade zone have progressed with extreme difficulty. Moreover, it has been difficult to make any progress at all on several aspects of those talks. However, in 2016 the EAEU signed a free trade agreement with an ASEAN member country Vietnam and Russia and other countries continue to hold talks on establishing new free trade zones. Russia and China would also enjoy certain opportunities with the creation of the Eurasian Economic Partnership. First, their economies complement each other greatly, including in the areas of resources, market, technology, commodity structure, etc. That degree of complementarity offers enormous potential for developing mutually beneficial cooperation. Second, Russia and China have developed an outstanding mechanism for meetings and consultations. A separate mechanism for consultations works at every level, from meetings between heads of state and government ministers downward. The two countries have also created excellent conditions for tracking emerging problems and their solutions. Third, Russian and Chinese development strategies, and particularly their regional development strategies, share a number of common points. For example, Moscow’s strategy for developing the Russian Far East complements Beijing’s strategy for reviving the Chinese Northeast, and so on.

Of course, the process of building the Eurasian Economic Partnership cannot progress smoothly at all times and will inevitably encounter both foreseeable and unforeseeable difficulties.

First, Russia is concerned that China’s enormous economy could hurt the integration processes of the EAEU and that the competitiveness of Chinese goods could exert enormous external pressure on the economy of the EAEU; second, after the SCO admits new member countries, Indo-Chinese and Indo-Pakistani disagreements could have a negative impact on the effectiveness of mechanisms for diverse cooperation and consultations within the SCO; and so on.

Nevertheless, it is realistic to link the Greater Eurasian Partnership (the Eurasian partnership, Eurasian Economic Partnership) with the Belt and Road Initiative. Russia and China have the requisite desire, knowledge, and conditions to make it happen. For more than three years now, China has been the largest importer of Russian crude oil thanks to commonalities in their respective energy development strategies. China has made serious progress toward diversifying its energy imports, and Russia has successfully managed to enter the energy market of the Asia-Pacific region. In terms of regional cooperation, Russia had feared that the Belt and Road Initiative would affect the future of the Trans-Siberian Railway. However, the Primorye-1 and Primorye-2 international transport corridors are now demonstrating the importance of the Russian Far East’s transit potential to the Asia Pacific region, reinforcing Russian influence on the economic development of the region, and creating the necessary conditions for new ideas for development of the Russian Far East to emerge.

In conclusion, China’s political and economic relations with EAEU countries, the level of China’s practical cooperation with ASEAN countries, and the strong cooperation between Russia and ASEAN countries provide reason to be confident that the linking of the Belt and Road Initiative and the Eurasian Partnership has a future. Moreover, the Russian–Chinese talks on the Eurasian Economic Partnership are the most important link in this process. As they say in China: The future looks bright, but the road leading there is thorny!

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