Regular contributor to The Saker, Andrew Korybko, is presenting us with additional correspondence from his recent China trip . He had the opportunity to conduct a prolonged interview with Dr. Pang Zhongying,one of the country’s premier international relations experts, alongside his colleague from TASS, Ksenia Petrova. The following is a transcript of their conversation, with minor grammatical changes made to the text to make it more understandable. This is the first time that the contents of the interview are being published in full.

Korybko: My first question is about the significance of the One Belt One Road (OBOR) in changing the existing Western-imposed global order and how Russia fits into this vision.

Pang: Actually, there are two interpretations of the OBOR initiative, the first one is about how it can change the existing and future global political orders. The second one is more from the economic perspectives, and how OBOR can change the economic orders so China can get more of an economic benefit out of it. From a political perspective, OBOR doesn’t mean that it’s a challenge to the existing and future order. There are two directions of the political interpretation – one is in really changing the existing and future order, and the other is that it’s not a challenge, not yet. There are two schools of the economic explanation, too. The first one is more optimistic and thinks that China can change the global trade order and can make more of a positive impact on the global economy. Another one is that that there are many problems and challenges under the OBOR initiative, and when Chinese go to invest in other countries, there are many risks, and these two directions are opposite. Just like in this case, many places and provinces attach much importance to the OBOR initiative. Sometimes the people might not have a very optimistic view of this initiative, this program.

President Xi announced the concept 3 years ago in 2 places, one of them is Indonesia, where he attended a conference in Jakarta, and the other is in Kazakhstan, the capital of Kazakhstan, where he addressed the importance of the continental Silk Road program. These are the original Silk Road programs, the maritime Silk Road and the continental Silk Road, but 2 years later, today, so many people, not only in China, but also in other places in the world, over-addressed the meaning of the belt and the road, and they have tried to add so many things to President Xi’s original meanings, so I highly suggest you check the words President Xi said in his original speeches, particularly the one in Indonesia and the other one in Kazakhstan, and you can find, and I have found, some important differences between President Xi Jinping’s original meaning and the others’ over-interpretation and even misunderstanding and misinterpretation, so this is one thing. The other thing is that some discussions and conferences, and some speakers, undervalued the OBOR program, thinking this is just a trade initiative, this is just for international economic cooperation. These are the two over-interpretations – one is over-valuing it and the other is undervaluing it. I suggest that we try to better understand President Xi and his team, particularly some leading scholars, for example, some leading scholars in this province, Jiangsu Province, the capital of the province is Nanjing, Nanjing University, Dr. Lu Han (?) from Nanjing University, and I do believe that he has had some great ideas and perspectives on OBOR. There are so many misunderstandings.

So don’t overvalue the OBOR initiative, but also don’t undervalue it either. Just turn back to the original meaning of OBOR raised by President Xi Jinping. In addition, let me tell you a story. Firstly, people outside of China have argued that China has begun to challenge the existing world order and the regional order by proposing and initiating the OBOR, and other international institutions like the AIIB and the BRICS framework, and even the SCO and its efforts to revitalize it, and they collect such ‘evidence’ to show that you can ‘see’ that China challenges the American-dominated global order by doing such things as the AIIB to BRICS, to the SCO and the bilateral cooperation between China and Russia. China argued that yes, we have initiated some new programs and new international institutions like the AIIB and some new programs to provide new solutions to global issues, but such things as China has been doing do not mean that China challenges the existing world order. President Xi Jinping, before his visit to the US this week, Foreign Minister yesterday in Beijing gave a speech, and his position largely shows that Chinese foreign policy is unchanged. President Xi will be in the city center in New York, and his speeches in the US will show that China is not a challenger, but that China is also not a status quo player. Before, when some scholars in the US, for example Professor Justin (?) at the Department of Government at Harvard University, he’s a Canadian but he was the chair of the Department of Government, and Dr. ??? knows Professor Justin (???) very well, and his famous article published by the Journal of International Security argued that China is not a revisionist power, China is just a status quo power.

But now that China says, yes, we are not a revisionist power, but we are also not a status quo power, we are a reformist power and we want to reform the existing global governance institutions, we want a new world order, a renewed world order, and his renewed world order needs to continue to be centered around the UN and inter-governmental organizations, and China, like Russia, cannot accept the US dominating such institutions, and that’s why China continued to argue that we want to democratize the existing international institutions. So today, in Beijing, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, before President Xi Jinping’s visit to the US to attend the UN assembly to commemorate the 70th anniversary, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs today issued a position paper, a position document, on the United Nations.

Ksenia Petrova (TASS): What about the Russian Chinese partnership in specific, what will both countries get from the OBOR project?

Pang: My opinion is that the OBOR, this is a Chinese initiative, and we have noticed that the Russian side has also proposed the Russian addition, the Eurasian program and cooperation like this. China wants to totally and even completely work with Russia in its similar framework, this is the so-called keyword, and tomorrow I will address, the keyword is connectivity, and this means that China connects to Russia’s similar program, and it means that the programs like OBOR and the Russian addition, called Eurasian cooperation or Eurasian economic integration, China tries to promote the two sides and even the multilateral sides and find common grounds and share the commonalities. The OBOR that Russia shares and lets Russia enjoy, that Russia plays a key role in, let us, let the OBOR include Russia, and also China wanted to be included into Russia’s program for Eurasian cooperation. Please include us, please be open to us, and after such connections, we too or we three, SCO and its several members, tried to find our common goals, objectives, tasks, to promote regional integration and cooperation, and to formulate a new kind of regional architecture and governance, and even regional order like this.

Petrova: How will Russia and China’s trade turnover increase as a result of these projects?

Pang: You know, economically I think that some geopolitical factors now continue to impact economic cooperation between China and Russia. Some negative factors, for example, China is regarded as one of the largest economies, and Russia is regarded as just an economy reliant on natural resources, and some worry that China would control Russia’s resources and Russia becomes a supplier of such natural resources. So some discussions like this affect economic integration between China and Russia, and I suggest that both sides, Beijing and Moscow, go beyond the current discussions based on the existing models, the paradigms, to understand Chinese-Russian economic cooperation. Some worries are understandable. You know Russia territorially and continentally is so huge, and the Chinese economy, based on GDP and others, is also so huge, but this is a mutual complement, and I think this is a very unique (literal word he used: “rare”) situation for Russia and China to cooperate. If they cooperate economically, then the next century, or even this century, China and Russia can dominate the world economy.

Korybko: So if I understand you correctly then, China and Russia have been cooperating even more because of this pressure that the US has been putting on them?

Pang: I mean that China and Russia are thinking about economic integration based on some political regiments in order to avoid some negative developments and worries and concerns that both China and Russia and some institutions have expressed, and the Chinese also worry about economic integration. So we needed big political and diplomatic negotiations, to let economic integration happen, and if just because the Chinese economy is so huge and Russian economy is smaller, without proper political-diplomatic, particularly political, regiments, between the two, such economic cooperation cannot go far. So the big objective and big suggestion I would tell you is that in the future, China and Russia must go towards integration, the two economies, and currently and you should know, several years ago, just after the financial crisis in the US, several scholars had proposed China-United States economic integration, the so-called Chimerica, do you know this term?

This means that China, becomes a smaller partner of the United States for the United States, and the US economy and dollar would rise, and China’s huge foreign reserves in US dollars are used by the US, and the huge commodities and the huge natural resources, including Made in China commodities, go to the US. China is just handed US dollars in paper. So China has paid a lot for its economic relations with the US, and in the future as China continues to reduce economic relations with the US, particularly in the finance sector, we, China and Russia, can follow the true economic integration not based on the financialization of the economy, but based on the common infrastructure investment cooperation, based on the division of labor and so much other practical economic cooperation, and that is a virtual financial cooperation China and Russia, so Russia has huge potentials, and the Chinese economy also has huge potential.

Like here, the Eurasian economic corridor, the railway network to connect the two countries, and also the air connections and outer space connections, so China and Russia, I do believe China and Russia can have the largest common economy through their cooperation. If such a thing were to happen, then China-Russia economic cooperation can dominate the Eurasian continent and be much bigger than the EU. And also, currently, China and Russia politically and strategically cannot compete with the US on the level of the US-Japanese alliance, because the economic cooperation between both sides is still at a relatively low level.

Petrova: And when will this cooperation be, when do you think, in 10 years, 20 years, when?

Pang: We have to speed up. Mao Zedong has said that 10 years is too long, it might be too late, so we have to quicken the process of cooperation, and the economic cooperation with the proper, adequate political regiments. China and Russia should have a grand bargain to arrange our economic cooperation, and that means that China must reassure the Russian side, “okay, the economic cooperation doesn’t mean Chinese domination, this is a fully equal footing”, because Russia has had its own advantages, and China also has its own disadvantages, so with the political regiments for the long and near terms, the deepened economic integration can happen.

Korybko: Where do you see India fitting into all of this?

Petrova: You know, New Delhi in the past couple of years was always a troublemaker, and recently, as I know, New Delhi is now troubling Moscow. For example, India’s military sector was equipped with Russian technologies and also with Russian official assistance to help Indian troops, but in recent years, India tried to develop its own military sectors with so called “Indian-made” technologies and instruments and so many other things, and this means that India tries to replace Russia with their own production and also with the US in some imports from the US and Japan. So Russia’s presence in India’s military sector is now reduced, but New Delhi likes to argue “oh, we still enjoy the strategic partnership with Russia”, but the strategic partnership between Russia and India is getting empty, and that’s because India is quickening the process to have a strategic relationship with Washington DC and also with japan. I very much worry about China, Russia, India as a triangular cooperation, and even the 5 countries within the BRICS framework, with Brazil, with South Africa, so a major worry is India, its position, and India’s nationalist position, and also the political-economic nationalism policy by the current government, the Modi government.

And President Xi Jinping’s honeymoon with Prime Minister Modi was over since September of last year. President Xi was in New Delhi to be Modi’s first guest from abroad to celebrate his elections as the Indian Prime Minister. President Xi wanted to see this opportunity to woo, to attract, Prime Minister Modi, to have a new kind of relationship with India, and also President Xi Jinping committed to do his efforts and new thinking about India and the relationship with India, and this May, this March, Xi Jinping postponed his visit to Pakistan, but he did his visit to Pakistan, just for 24 hours. He waited for Prime Minister Modi’s embrace, but two months later, after President Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan, Prime Minister Modi was in Beijing, finally, and President Xi Jinping welcomed Modi warmly, but 4 months later, how far is the progress, truly, in the relationship between China and India?

My vision is that nothing truly progressed between China and India and it’s because India plays the China card in its relationship with Washington, and also in its relationship with Japan and with ASEAN, so India continued to consider some so-called thorny issues like border issues and the Dalai Lama and also the trade deficit to hinder the progress of the relationship. But at the same time, India tries to seize the opportunities to develop its economic potential, for example, it tries to use the OBOR to have more Chinese investments, but India wants to prevent more Chinese investment into India’s markets. India just wants to use official Chinese sources to boost its infrastructure investment, and the Chinese National Commission of Economic Reform forgave it and tries to play a bigger role in India’s infrastructure investment, this is official investment and not the private investment, but the Indian side continued to stop Chinese private investment into Indian markets. India’s diplomacy was so successful in securing India’s position at the AIIB that India became the second-largest shareholder at the AIIB, and also India occupies the presidency of the BRICS bank based in Shanghai, the so-called New Development Bank, so India uses the so-called hedging strategy

Korybko: What do you think will happen with the BCIM Corridor?

Pang: This is sub-regional economic cooperation with 4 countries, but China is too big and Myanmar is too small, and Bangladesh is weak, too weak, and India too ambitious, so in this corridor, India wanted to dominate the economic cooperation so that China becomes a donor. Yes, Myanmar, the political relationship has changed with China, and it’s so difficult for China to use Myanmar to connect with the Indian Ocean countries. Now Pakistan provides a port for China, the Gwadar Port in Pakistan on the Indian Ocean, seemingly it’s so strategic, China has had interest in going into the Indian Ocean, but the Gwadar Port is so dry, it is so dry, lack of water, not enough water, and that’s why the Singapore state-run company abandoned the Gwadar project. Later on the Chinese companies replaced them, but China also wants to have a Myanmar port to connect with the Indian Ocean, but because of the political changes, the Chinese-Myanmar relationship changed because of the US factor, and China was so disappointed that it couldn’t improve economic relations with Myanmar, so the four countries’ economic corridor, in my view, ???. India tries to influence the decision makers in Bangladesh and in Myanmar, and China is now facing India’s calculations, so there’s no cooperation in the economic corridor. Many new factors contributed to changes in the corridor program.

Korybko: You mentioned new factors, and something that immediately comes to my mind is the new relationship between China and Thailand, and the railroad plan to connect Kunming to Singapore through Laos. Can you maybe just please talk about the significance of Laos, Thailand, and this North-South railroad for China’s development?

Pang: Actually I know very little about this, but the political relationship between China and Thailand continued to improve, and we can classify ASEAN countries into three groups. One group is politically, diplomatically not so friendly to China, these are Vietnam and the Philippines. The second group we could call it a centrist group, not pro-China, not opposed to China. The centrists include bigger countries like Indonesia, like Thailand. The third group we could call friendly countries, like Cambodia, Laos, and partly including Thailand and partly including Malaysia. Malaysia is in-between the centrist and friendly countries to China. The railway system to connect Kunming and Singapore through Thailand, through Malaysia, through Laos, and even Vietnam and Myanmar, for such a railway system, China has to make differentiated policies in dealing with different members of the ASEAN countries. Currently Thailand becomes an increasingly positive factor because of its domestic politics, and the Bangkok rulers now need Chinese support very much and a better relationship with China, and also, Thailand has no territorial disputes with China. This infrastructure system also faces some challenges, but some good news is that the AIIB would finance such an infrastructure system and can provide loans to it. China also tries to persuade countries like Thailand to purchase Chinese high-speed trains in competition with the Japanese companies.

Korybko: Thank you very much, that was very enlightening.

Pang: Thank you so much for the interview.

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