The initiative of the Greater Eurasian Partnership (GEP) was declared by Russian President Vladimir Putin in December 2015 in the message for the Federal Assembly. The President told about necessity to establish an economic partnership between member-states of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the ASEAN. The term “Greater Eurasian Partnership” was firstly mentioned in the speech of V. Putin at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in June 2016. Also this initiative has been titled as the “Eurasian economic partnership” and the “Greater Eurasia”. This project still has no formal regulations, definite circle of participants and elaborate strategy. But at the same time the GEP is open for dialogue in various formats with a broad range of actors. It gives Russia some freedom of maneuver and doesn’t impose strict obligations. There are a few reasons for initiation of the GEP. On one hand, it’s further development of Russian policy in the Post-Soviet space, including interaction in Eurasian format. On other hand, it’s a part of the “Pivot to the East” – strengthening of Russian positions in the Asia-Pacific region and enhancement of cooperation with regional actors. Eastern direction of Russian foreign policy got new impulse in 2014 in the context of the crisis in relations between Moscow and the West. An important role was played by China’s policy in Eurasia, including the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Rise of Chinese influence induced Russia to promote its own projects that were not direct counteraction to Chinese initiatives, but, at the same time, granted additional weight to Moscow in its relations with Beijing. “Pivot to the East” thereby had to be realized by Russia as a leader of a vast international structure and an initiator of a new project. China has been demonstrating benevolent reaction to Eurasian policy of Moscow. In May 2015 there was the agreement on the alignment of the EAEU and the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB). In May 2018 the EAEU and China signed the agreement on economic cooperation.
The ASEAN is considered as other necessary participant of the GEP. The focus on the ASEAN is explained by following factors. States of Southeast Asia play rising role in economy and policy in the Asia-Pacific. The ASEAN holds essential position in regional structures and organizations (sometimes it’s possible to talk about “ASEAN-centric” model of Asia-Pacific integration). Russia is a dialogue partner of the ASEAN (since 1996) and in 2018 Russia and the ASEAN adopted the joint agreement of strategic partnership. ASEAN states have made some practical steps to engage with Eurasian integration processes. In May 2015 the EAEU and Vietnam signed the agreement on establishment of a free trade zone. Some Southeast Asian states (Cambodia, Singapore and Thailand) adopted memorandums of understanding with the EAEU and now discuss free trade agreements. The idea on a comprehensive free trade zone between the EAEU and the ASEAN was also announced. In November 2018 the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) and the ASEAN signed the memorandum of understanding. The possibility of cooperation with the ASEAN in the framework of the GEP was mentioned in the joint declaration, adopted at the Russia-ASEAN summit in Sochi in 2016. The ASEAN is interested in interaction with Russia for political reasons too, because the Association traditionally tries to lead multi-vector policy.
So there is the intention in the framework of the GEP for cooperate as with China, so with the ASEAN. Herewith the involvement of China into the GEP is stipulated by both general trend of Russian-Chinese relations and the BRI. China and the ASEAN states are bound economically, the BRI embraces Southeast Asia and the negotiations on setting of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) are in progress. Participation of the ASEAN in the GEP might stimulate expansion of Southeast Asian states to markets of the EAEU – through cooperation both with the EAEU and China. The BRI can be also a logistical “bridge” from Southeast Asia to the EAEU. Vietnam promotes the alignment of its plan “Two Corridors and One Economic Circle” with the BRI. The planned free trade agreement between the EAEU and Singapore might assist to investments to the EAEU and, in this case, joint projects in the framework of the SREB seem to be possible. Meanwhile the involvement of the ASEAN into the GEP is strengthening positions of Russia in interaction with China in the framework of this project.
The GEP now is still in the period of formation, but it creates potential opportunities for enlargement of interaction with China and the ASEAN in the context of the BRI.
Written by: Nikolai Fedorov (Department of International Relations, Saint Petersburg State University)