Putin to sell Eurasian vision on China trip

Mr Putin wants to include China in the five-member Eurasian Economic Union.
Mr Putin wants to include China in the five-member Eurasian Economic Union.

Coordinating both sides' interest in Greater Eurasian region likely to take centrestage, among other key issues

Russian President Vladimir Putin's new vision of a Greater Eurasian partnership involving China may be the focus of his official visit to Beijing on Saturday, say analysts.

The visit comes at a time when Russia is pushing to forge closer economic ties with China to counter Western sanctions imposed over the conflict in eastern Ukraine. It comes also as Beijing is seeking Moscow's military support in the face of the United States' rebalance to Asia.

Mr Putin said last week at the St Petersburg Economic Forum that he wants to expand the five-member Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) - which comprises Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia - to include China, among other countries.

The EEU was established last year to create a regional market that has a combined population of 180 million and total gross domestic product of US$4.2 trillion (S$5.6 trillion). Strategically, it is a means by which Moscow could regain influence over countries which were once part of the Soviet Union.

The proposed expanded grouping aims to develop trade and eventually remove tariff barriers among participating countries, the Russian leader had said.

Discussion on how to coordinate both sides' interest in the Greater Eurasian region could take centrestage, among other regular key issues such as military cooperation, said Russia expert Yang Cheng of East China Normal University.

China also has its own version of an economic initiative - the Silk Road Economic Belt - across the same region where it seeks to establish trade and infrastructure networks overland.

Prof Yang noted that Mr Putin did not choose to time his visit together with the Group of 20 (G20) leaders' summit in Hangzhou in September. "This shows that Russia attaches special significance to the visit, and views this as an important meeting that should be held separately," he said.

Bilateral ties have been warm in recent years, and annual meetings between Mr Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping have become a routine, he added.

According to the Kremlin press service, Mr Putin and Mr Xi will discuss cooperation in trade, economic development, investment, science and culture.

"The agenda of the talks will also include key international issues, interaction at multilateral and regional organisations, primarily the United Nations, Brics ( Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), and the G20," said a Kremlin statement on Monday.

Both leaders will also exchange views on the implementation of the deals to be sealed at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit today and tomorrow in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The SCO, an economic, political and economic grouping, brings together China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. India and Pakistan, which have observer status, are set to become members at this summit.

Ahead of Mr Putin's visit, Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Yang and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin met in Huangshan in eastern province Anhui on Sunday and Monday, reported Xinhua news agency.

The South China Morning Post had earlier reported that both sides are expected to ink a multibillion-dollar high-speed rail deal during Mr Putin's visit, alongside some 30 other trade agreements.

Russia expert Yang Cheng notes that Mr Putin did not choose to time his visit together with the Group of 20 leaders' summit in Hangzhou in September. "This shows that Russia attaches special significance to the visit, and views this as an important meeting that should be held separately," he says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2016, with the headline 'Putin to sell Eurasian vision on China trip'. Print Edition | Subscribe