A 21st Century Silk Road

As NATO powers heap additional sanctions onto Russian businesses, banks, firms, and economic players, Russia and its BRICS partners continue behind the scenes to solidify even more alliances around the world. This time it’s Mongolia… and a proposed new Silk Road.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) recently held their 14th annual summit in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, and the red carpet was rolled out for leaders of the six-member nation organization—chief among them China President Xi Jinping and Russia President Vladimir Putin.

President Jinping further urged a proposal at a meeting with President Putin and Mongolia President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj on the sidelines of the summit to build an “economic corridor” between the three nations.

“The Silk Road Economic Belt” initiative was actually first proposed by President Jinping during his visit to Central Asia last year, as he seeks a revival of the ancient trade route linking China with Central Asia and Europe.

President Jinping hopes the three countries can interlock the Silk Road Economic Belt initiative with Russia’s transcontinental rail plan and Mongolia’s Prairie Road program, thereby concurrently shaping an economic regional union.

In order for the plan to succeed, President Jinping believes that strengthening traffic interconnectivity, facilitating cargo clearance and transportation, and studying the feasibility of building a transnational power grid need to be top priorities.

It was also suggested that the three countries should work more closely together in a variety of different industries and areas—from tourism, media, environmental protection, disaster prevention and relief to “think tanks” (which although vague still seems rather provocative).

The summit is an interesting group made up of members, observers, and guest attendants from such countries as Uzbekistan, Iran, Turkey, and member countries of ASEAN.

In addition to discussions of a new Silk Road, the members of SCO discussed “external challenges” and the need for both Russia and China to maintain “mutual support” in the face of these challenges. Accordingly, just last week President Jinping stood firmly behind President Putin’s seven-point peace plan for Ukraine, even as the EU was preparing another round of sanctions against Russia’s banking and energy sectors.

President Jinping has in the past backed up his position, signing a major US$400 billion gas deal with Russia in Shanghai last May. The deal was for Russia’s state-owned Gazprom to supply China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) with 38 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year for the next 30 years.

There’s no doubt that Putin’s “personal friendship” with President Jinping is a huge geopolitical win for the Russia President, especially as NATO leaders ratchet up attempts to destroy Putin domestically (using financial weapons) over Russia’s alleged support to pro-Moscow rebels in eastern Ukraine.

President Jinping has held talks or met with President Putin nine times since March 2013, when he became China’s top leader, so obviously China feels that Sino–Russian relations are more than just diplomacy, but rather they are equally vital to China’s future also.