How the New Silk Roads are merging into Greater Eurasia

December 13, 2018How the New Silk Roads are merging into Greater Eurasia

Russia is keen to push economic integration with parts of Asia and this fits in with China’s Belt and Road Initiative

by Pepe Escobar (cross-posted with The Asia Times by special agreement with the author)

The concept of Greater Eurasia has been discussed at the highest levels of Russian academia and policy-making for some time. This week the policy was presented at the Council of Ministers and looks set to be enshrined, without fanfare, as the main guideline of Russian foreign policy for the foreseeable future.

President Putin is unconditionally engaged to make it a success. Already at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum in 2016, Putin referred to an emerging “Eurasian partnership”.

I was privileged over the past week to engage in excellent discussions in Moscow with some of the top Russian analysts and policymakers involved in advancing Greater Eurasia.

Three particularly stand out: Yaroslav Lissovolik, program director of the Valdai Discussion Club and an expert on the politics and economics of the Global South; Glenn Diesen, author of the seminal Russia’s Geoeconomic Strategy for a Greater Eurasia; and the legendary Professor Sergey Karaganov, dean of the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs at the National Research University Higher School of Economics and honorary chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, who received me in his office for an off-the-record conversation.

The framework for Great Eurasia has been dissected in detail by the indispensable Valdai Discussion Club, particularly on Rediscovering the Identity, the sixth part of a series called Toward the Great Ocean, published last September, and authored by an academic who’s who on the Russian Far East, led by Leonid Blyakher of the Pacific National University in Khabarovsk and coordinated by Karaganov, director of the project.

The conceptual heart of Greater Eurasia is Russia’s Turn to the East, or pivot to Asia, home of the economic and technological markets of the future. This implies Greater Eurasia proceeding in symbiosis with China’s New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). And yet this advanced stage of the Russia-China strategic partnership does not mean Moscow will neglect its myriad close ties to Europe.

Russian Far East experts are very much aware of the “Eurocentrism of a considerable portion of Russian elites.” They know how almost the entire economic, demographic and ideological environment in Russia has been closely intertwined with Europe for three centuries. They recognize that Russia has borrowed Europe’s high culture and its system of military organization. But now, they argue, it’s time, as a great Eurasian power, to profit from “an original and self-sustained fusion of many civilizations”; Russia not just as a trade or connectivity point, but as a “civilizational bridge”.

Legacy of Genghis Khan 

What my conversations, especially with Lissovolik, Diesen and Karaganov, have revealed is something absolutely groundbreaking – and virtually ignored across the West; Russia is aiming to establish a new paradigm not only in geopolitics and geoeconomics, but also on a cultural and ideological level.

Conditions are certainly ripe for it. Northeast Asia is immersed in a power vacuum. The Trump administration’s priority – as well as the US National Security Strategy’s – is containment of China. Both Japan and South Korea, slowly but surely, are getting closer to Russia.

Culturally, retracing Russia’s past, Greater Eurasia analysts may puzzle misinformed Western eyes. ‘Towards the Great Ocean’, the Valdai report supervised by Karaganov, notes the influence of Byzantium, which “preserved classical culture and made it embrace the best of the Orient culture at a time when Europe was sinking into the Dark Ages.” Byzantium inspired Russia to adopt Orthodox Christianity.

It also stresses the role of the Mongols over Russia’s political system. “The political traditions of most Asian countries are based on the legacy of the Mongols. Arguably, both Russia and China are rooted in Genghis Khan’s empire,” it says.

If the current Russian political system may be deemed authoritarian – or, as claimed in Paris and Berlin, an exponent of “illiberalism” – top Russian academics argue that a market economy protected by lean, mean military power performs way more efficiently than crisis-ridden Western liberal democracy.

As China heads West in myriad forms, Greater Eurasia and the Belt and Road Initiative are bound to merge. Eurasia is crisscrossed by mighty mountain ranges such as the Pamirs and deserts like the Taklamakan and the Karakum. The best ground route runs via Russia or via Kazakhstan to Russia. In crucial soft power terms, Russian remains the lingua franca in Mongolia, Central Asia and the Caucasus.

And that leads us to the utmost importance of an upgraded Trans-Siberian railway – Eurasia’s current connectivity core. In parallel, the transportation systems of the Central Asian “stans” are closely integrated with the Russian network of roads; all that is bound to be enhanced in the near future by Chinese-built high-speed rail.

Iran and Turkey are conducting their own versions of a pivot to Asia. A free-trade agreement between Iran and the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU) was approved in early December. Iran and India are also bound to strike a free-trade agreement. Iran is a big player in the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), which is essential in driving closer economic integration between Russia and India.

The Caspian Sea, after a recent deal between its five littoral states, is re-emerging as a major trading post in Central Eurasia. Russia and Iran are involved in a joint project to build a gas pipeline to India.

Kazakhstan shows how Greater Eurasia and BRI are complementary; Astana is both a member of BRI and the EAEU. The same applies to gateway Vladivostok, Eurasia’s entry point for both South Korea and Japan, as well as Russia’s entry point to Northeast Asia.

Ultimately, Russia’s regional aim is to connect China’s northern provinces with Eurasia via the Trans-Siberian and the Chinese Eastern Railway – with Chita in China and Khabarovsk in Russia totally inter-connected.

And all across the spectrum, Moscow aims at maximizing return on the crown jewels of the Russian Far East; agriculture, water resources, minerals, lumber, oil and gas. Construction of liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants in Yamal vastly benefits China, Japan and South Korea.

Community spirit

Eurasianism, as initially conceptualized in the early 20th century by the geographer PN Savitsky, the geopolitician GV Vernadsky and the cultural historian VN Ilyn, among others, regarded Russian culture as a unique, complex combination of East and West, and the Russian people as belonging to “a fully original Eurasian community”.

That certainly still applies. But as Valdai Club analysts argue, the upgraded concept of Greater Eurasia “is not targeted against Europe or the West”; it aims to include at least a significant part of the EU.

The Chinese leadership describes BRI not only as connectivity corridors, but also as a “community”. Russians use a similar term applied to Greater Eurasia; sobornost (“community spirit”).

As Alexander Lukin of the Higher School of Economics and an expert on the SCO has constantly stressed, including in his book China and Russia: The New Rapprochement, this is all about the interconnection of Greater Eurasia, BRI, EAEU, SCO, INSTC, BRICS, BRICS Plus and ASEAN.

The cream of the crop of Russian intellectuals – at the Valdai Club and the Higher School of Economics – as well as top Chinese analysts, are in sync. Karaganov himself constantly reiterates that the concept of Greater Eurasia was arrived at, “jointly and officially”, by the Russia-China partnership; “a common space for economic, logistic and information cooperation, peace and security from Shanghai to Lisbon and New Delhi to Murmansk”.

The concept of Greater Eurasia is, of course, a work in progress. What my conversations in Moscow revealed is its extraordinary ambition; positioning Russia as a key geoeconomic and geopolitical crossroads linking the economic systems of North Eurasia, Central and Southwest Asia.

As Diesen notes, Russia and China have become inevitable allies because of their “shared objective of restructuring global value-chains and developing a multipolar world”. It’s no wonder Beijing’s drive to develop state-of-the-art national technological platforms is provoking so much anger in Washington. And in terms of the big picture, it makes perfect sense for BRI to be harmonized with Russia’s economic connectivity drive for Greater Eurasia.

That’s irreversible. The dogs of demonization, containment, sanctions and even war may bark all they want, but the Eurasia integration caravan keeps moving along.

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The reinstatement of North Korea: What effects on the ‘story’ of socialism?

 

October 25, 2018

by Ramin Mazaheri for The Saker BlogThe reinstatement of North Korea: What effects on the ‘story’ of socialism?

It seems unlikely – as it defies 73 years of ongoing aggression, warfare, the near-warfare of constant tap dancing on the border, starvation-creating sanctions, false promises, broken promises, racist caricaturing, hysterical knee-jerk anti-socialism, and more besides – but what if Washington finally allows North Korea to reintegrate into the multinational world?

North Korea has been so politically oppressed from without that they are less integrated into global affairs, regional affairs, and even local & national affairs (their country was forcibly divided, after all) than any nation. They are even less integrated than the other few nations which have sustained modern (and thus socialist-inspired) popular revolutions, such as Cuba, Iran, Eritrea, mighty China and their fighting Vietnamese comrades.

We are told that we don’t really know anything about North Korea! We are also told to believe nothing from Pyongyang, and that the “Hermit Kingdom” is the most inscrutable of all those very-inscrutable East Asians. But I reported from Seoul and the DMZ border in 2013 and learned some interesting things (5 of them are here).

If I had to give the two most important ideas, they would be: no People have lived with more meddling exterior menaces since the year 1945 -North Koreans are bordered by and/or threatened by the US, South Korea, Russia, China and Japan); and the second point would be that the reunification of an $8 trillion mineral-richwell-educated(darn those socialist countries with their not-for-profit education programs) North Korea with South Korea would almost IMMEDIATELY create the world’s 5th-largest economy, trailing only the US, China, Japan and Germany. I hold these truths to be self-evident, and move on to the point of this article….

Let’s conjecture that Korea is still not allowed to reunite but that North Korea is allowed a global reinstatement on the level of China and Vietnam, leapfrogging poor Cuba and lonely Iran (but who is lonely when they have God?): How would that affect socialism on a global-historical scale?

What do I mean by that? I mean: socialism is a historical-political movement which covers 200 years, which is nearly as faith-based as Islam or Christendom, and which is nearly as economically influential as the era of industrialisation (an era which has lasted 250 years because many colonized countries have never even finished the First Industrial Revolution) and reinstatement for North Korea means a North Korean victory…and a victory for North Korea HAS TO impact the “narrative of socialism”, no?

Right now the narrative since 1992 is that “History is over”, per Francis Fukuyama, and capitalism has defeated socialism until the end of time…except that Fukuyama himself just backtracked on that with a recent interview“At this juncture, it seems to me that certain things Karl Marx said are turning out to be true.” Ah, really Frank? By “juncture” you mean roughly 1848, right?

It’s 2018 and we’re talking North Korean reintegration, old F.F. is having doubts and Donald Trump is in the White House – what is the world coming to?!

Trump, God bless his Nobel Peace Prize-deserving soul (hey, Obama re-set the bar, right?) seems willing to do what the smartphone-loving world demands: end the Cold War on North Korea…in order to start exploiting the Jongju superdeposit, the world’s largest rare earth metals cache, and which may contain double the world’s known rare earth element resources. Money talks with capitalists, not ideology/morality/history….

So what does it mean for socialism if North Korea is allowed to allow people in?

Here’s what I’m picturing: Much like Iran, foreigners come visit and realize: this place is far more modern and put together than often ignorantly assumed. After all, North Korea seems to have the ideological cohesion of Cuba combined with a high-tech skillset & wealth volume closer to Iran (Cuba’s “wealth volume” is limited by population size, containing only sugar and nickel, and by being an island (blockade-busting is thus harder)). With reinstatement the world will slowly realize and accept that North Korea is indeed a socialist success – just like China and Vietnam. Unlike Iran, there is no Islamophobia for the Christian-Atheist West to use as a deflection.

Reinstatement means Asians run socialism like Westerners run capitalism

A North Korean victory means we are talking about the four biggest socialist success stories, certainly from an economic standpoint, being from Asia.

Concurrently, European socialism is not even close to being revived: it’s hard to shock back into life someone who has drunk hemlock (events of 1989-1991) and also asked to be shot (the Eurozone & European Union). Asia turns to its left, sees Iran, mumbles (but not disapprovingly), stands on its tiptoes and shakes its head while discussing “revisionism” and “the lack of a Cultural Revolution”.

Here is the fundamental question at the heart of this article: The West writes the history of socialism because they are the “victors” and history is written by the victors.

The West is the “victor” in every way possible, of course – one can never question that. They are the “victors” in what “socialism” is, means and should be…which is paradoxical, because they have undoubtedly always been the “victors” in capitalism-imperialism and are the current victors in neo-imperialism.

Western paradoxes are there only to be ignored, so I’ll continue: They are also the “victors” in which rights are “human” and which are not; they are the “victors” in what is “freedom” and what is not; they are the “victors” in which economics are successful and which are not. All of these are absolutely without a defensible factual foundation – especially the more-mathematical last one – but I contend that the West believes, and much of the rest of the world is also persuaded, that the West are the “victors” in achieving the greatest amount of “socialist victory”. (For the record, I do not believe nor am persuaded by any of these claims.)

Again, socialism is a movement which is so long and so enduring that it forces us to extend our viewpoint: If North Korea is added to the list of socialist victories…what does and what should the world do?

Save a few Latin American countries, only one of which is stable (Cuba); save a few African countries, only two of which are stable (Algeria, Eritrea); it must be admitted that Asian socialism is currently victorious in the “global-regional competition”.

Therefore, I insist an integration of North Korea allows me to declare the “end of history”: Asian socialism is the only acceptable model, and all must follow Asia henceforth.

LOL, but such a declaration is not “socialism” at all because socialism (like Islam) cannot be forced: it would then cease to be democratic, and socialism is the most class- and citizen-inclusive sociopolitical model ever created in human history. This type of a declaration can only be made by capitalists, who impose by force the ideas of one person (or of an oligarchical few).

Obviously, the actual ramifications of a North Korean success on the “narrative of socialism” is multi-faceted, complicated and boring to many, but the ramifications are real, impactful, undeniable and unavoidable.

What do Western socialists ‘learn’ from a North Korean success?

Is the West capable of learning from a North Korean success?

Past behaviour is the best indicator of future behaviour, so my answer is “no”: The West will make it a point to remain the “victors” (in their view) and thus learn nothing from North Korea’s success, just as they have learned nothing from the successes of China, Iran, Cuba, etc.

The West will try to co-opt North Korean success by the same lie – that North Korea is an anti-democratic mullah-ocracy…no wait, a one-family dictatorship like Cuba – that works better.

They will deny the existence of North Korea’s undeniably socialist rules, laws, history and martyrs. They will also deny the words and experiences of actual North Koreans because the Western “victors” can and should speak for everyone: The Western tongue is the “one, true” tongue.

Above all they will assert – on the Western left and the Western right – that North Korea never was socialist at all, or that it could possibly be “socialist” now. Sadly, Western socialists often do the work of the imperialist-capitalists for them; they, paradoxically are “socialists” despite espousing the exact same (nonsensical, uninformed, self-referencing, self-centered, self-interested) views on North Korea in 2018 as right-wingers.

But for the true socialists living in the Western countries – and I am talking about perhaps as many as 14 people – a North Korean success should be applauded loudly. After all – no other socialist nation has endured more to win sovereignty, freedom and their own form of socialism. Of course, this public applauding will make us even more socially-isolated in Western society to the point where we will have even greater trouble finding that elusive 15th comrade….

It’s undeniable, at least to me, that socialism can be divided into 3 distinct eras: West European dominance (Marx, Paris Commune), East European/Slavic dominance (USSR, Eastern Bloc) and Asian dominance (China, Vietnam, Iran…North Korea?). A North Korean integration means that we are STILL living in this mostly-unappreciated 3rd historical era of Asian dominance in socialist thought and practice. Reinstatement also implies that the long-awaited “Latin American dominance era”, to be led by Cuba, remains unmaterialized (due to the continued domination of the “Monroe Doctrine era”).

Of course, most Western leftists don’t want to hear any analysis which relegates the West to 2nd fiddle, as they are still the “victors”…and they are: in living in a tired, nostalgic, decidedly un-revolutionary fashion.

Trump has certainly said and done crazy things but the re-integration of North Korea follows as much capitalist logic as the re-integration of China (consumer demand, loans/bond buying, formerly low- but now mid-cost labor (providing mid-cost labor is the function Eastern Europe currently serves for the German neo-imperialism of the Eurozone)) and Vietnam (low-cost labor):

Without access to North Korea’s rare earth metals China will have perhaps as great a chokepoint on the modern global economy as any OPEC nation save Arabia (which I refuse to call “Saudi”, as only Western governments believe/want the house of Saud to be synonymous with the People of Arabia). Furthermore, due to their educational advancements, North Korea can obviously serve the same function for South Korea as East Germany did for West Germany upon their reunification: cheap but smart labor.

(Iran might have oil instead of rare earth metals, but how can they serve this capitalist labor function when they are (due to imperialist throttling) the most populous, most advanced economy in the Middle East? Even if a counter-revolution happened in Iran, who would make them their mid-cost labor hub – Russia, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt? None of those will work. This is why toppling Iran (combined with their anti-imperialist & anti-Zionist stances) is Washington’s continued project, in contrast to this floated reinstatement of North Korea. The US, being capitalist, runs on lobbies and money – somebody is obviously greasing the policy wheels (exercising their “free speech”) in favor of Pyongyang, and to hell with Korean War veterans groups or anyone else.

But that last is a bold statement – North Korean reinstatement…seriously? Sounds great – Koreans are certainly all for that, and they deserve Korean socialism…or at least to be #5 instead of pawns in a four-way game.

What does “socialism do” if North Korea becomes a success story – acknowledge it or ignore it? It seems like the answer depends on what part of the world you live in, but that is certainly a response which is “bad socialism”.

Socialism’s recent past and its present remains centered in the East, but socialism’s future remains open to anyone with common sense, a disposition for equality, and the courage to speak out.

Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for PressTV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. His work has appeared in various journals, magazines and websites, as well as on radio and television. He can be reached on Facebook.

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