Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sunday Essay - is this the Eurasian century?

There was an interesting piece recently by Matthew Susse on the Lowy Institute blog, Putin's pivot: The Russians are coming to Asia, about the shift in Russia's strategic focus towards the east. This makes a degree of sense on economic and security grounds, but it is also another sign in the continuing shifts in directions within Asia that are, I suspect, not well recognised in Australia.

In an earlier post I mentioned that I had been reading the travels of Marco Polo travelled what was known as The Great Silk Road that stretched from Europe to China with a southern sea route involving the subcontinent. The book paints a picture of life and commercial and cultural interaction across a vast space.

Marco Polo travelled in the 13th century. By then, the Great Silk Road was near the end of its practical life Political, military and religious conflicts broke the land route, while the rise of Western European shipping provided an effective alternative. However, now the Great Silk Road is coming back, driven by a China with memories of its imperial past.

Three articles in by Robert Berke in provide a useful introduction - here, here, here. Russia's strategic objectives mesh, at least at this point, with those of China. Russia wants to preserve its influence across its old territories but, and more importantly, it wants new markets for its oils and gas in China. By the way, I don't know if you noticed, but Gazprom appears to be a major sponsor of the current soccer Women's World Cup. Congrats, by the way, to the Australian team for their win over Nigeria.

Considerable doubts have been raised about the geopolitical problems facing the Chinese initiative. I think that these miss a key point. We are talking relatively long time periods, several decades. As the roads and railway lines spread, so will trade. In a way, I also think that the Chinese are hedging their bets here. If the recreation of the southern Silk Road with all its various projects lags, they still have fast routes to Europe via Russia.

No where so far as I have seen, I may well have missed something, will you see references to the rise of Eurasia as a continent.We are used to thinking of Europe and Asia as separate continents. They are not. They are a single land  mass that has never been fully integrated because of distance. This is changing quite quickly.

I think that this is important. In Australia. we like to talk of this as the Asian or Asian Pacific century.What happens if this is actually the Eurasian century?  What does Australia do then?        


Anonymous said...

Made more complicated by the sanctions and counter-sanctions between EU and Russia. I gather trade between Russia and China and between Russia and India is booming. Indian rice is being used to offset the loss of access to Baltic grain for Russia.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi anon. You capture the evolving dynamics. It's also all the bits in the middle.

Anonymous said...

Both Russia and China are command economies, and paranoid (internally, externally) as well - possibly with good reason. I think (in the long term) any close liason is only so good as their respective strategic needs are met by co-operation, and not threatened by weakness in either.

Internal discontent always hovers in the background, and the US has the same, but at least with some sort of shakey promise of a better future.

To speak of 'Eurasia' as one block (in the longer term) would be to deny the past couple of thousand years of history between the various parties? Not sure I'd go along with such a view.

Be interesting to get Ramana's thoughts; I've never thought of China and India as comfortable bedfellows - and that blows your 'Eurasia' out of the park. India will sell excess rice - or anything - to anybody as long as it suits them to do so, and then most probably not. Unlike Russia, despite it's publicity, I think the only two countries capable of thinking past this century are India and China. Fair bit of history in that.

Anyway - 'straya - that's this small bit of flotsam getting washed hither and to, by bigger tides than we can ever hope to influence. Not sure we have ever been a meaningful player at any significant level in the so-called global village. Being honest, gofers at best.


Jim Belshaw said...

Hi kvd. I wasn't thinking of Eurasia as one block. I can't see that happening. It's rather the impact of new infrastructure and linkages that will play out in ways we can't yet see.

We have seen examples of this at a purely local level in Australia. It's part of the history of New England or, in another case, look at the impact of Canberra. The investment in road, rail and pipelines carried out in part for ideological and geo-political reasons not connected with immediate market conditions changes the economic dynamics. For example, it is already quicker in some cases to send goods to Europe by road from China than by sea.

I suspect that we are seeing something of the same thing in Africa with the slow growth of intra-Africa linkages.

Australian thinking around the "Asian" century treats Asia as a block and says how might Australia fit in? My very simplistic analysis suggests that we need to change that mind set, that we remain gofers!

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Jim Belshaw said...

Hi kvd and thanks.