Foreign and Military Affairs

Co-op to form 'economic pole' among neighbor countries

By Fu Jing (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-06-18 09:37
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BRUSSELS - Increasing cooperation between China, Russia and Central Asia is forming a global economic pole and will benefit countries throughout Europe and Asia, said European observers.

They made the comments during Chinese President Hu Jintao's tour of Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine, which they said would substantially enhance the three nations' geopolitical and economic ties with China.

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"Robust and stable regional cooperation will bring benefits to the rest of the Eurasian countries," David Fouquet, director of the Europe-Asia Network in Brussels, told China Daily.

Fouquet said for China, the link to Central Asia, Russia, Ukraine and other nations in Europe and Asia could be of crucial strategic and economic importance and could provide the potential for a strong pole of regional economic growth.

"And in the long run, it could also provide a land bridge to the rest of the Eurasian continent in Europe," said Fouquet.

"Hu's visit is bolstering security and economic ties," he added.

Fouquet said that in strategic and security terms, stabilizing and securing its western borders and neighborhood, including Afghanistan, are a key objective for China.

He said Russia's economic, energy and political relations with China are also crucial and much importance is attached to this in both countries.

"Should both overcome obvious obstacles and form a truly functioning coalition of interests, it could represent a major geopolitical force in world affairs," said Fouquet.

"The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is a symbol of this, but only part of the overall conditions, which also involve bilateral relations."

Bruno De Cordier, Central Asia specialist at Ghent University in Belgium, said the SCO has served as a means to settle border disputes and to improve cross-border traffic connections and trade.

Central Asia is becoming increasingly important as an export market for China. Central Asia is also rich in energy reserves, needed by China's rapidly growing economy.

"There is a high degree of complementarity here, with China as a buyer and Russia and Kazakhstan as sellers of oil and gas," said De Cordier.

Fraser Cameron, director of the EU-Russia Centre in Brussels, said an active presence is important for China so as not to lose out to other players in the region.

"China has displayed an effective and balanced approach in dealing with its relations with Central Asian countries," said Cameron.

"Its economic investments contribute to the stability of the region," said Cameron, adding that China's role in Central Asia is important and will only keep growing, given the growing energy demands of its economy and the region's vast energy reserves.

Despite the fact that China has made a great contribution to boosting Asia-Europe relations, Fouquet said some European politicians have turned a blind eye to this.

For example, while Europe made urgent appeals beginning in 2008 for Chinese help and cooperation in dealing with the financial crisis, Fouquet said it by and large failed to notice when this assistance came.

"It has been so self-absorbed in its immediate preoccupations in this crisis that it has failed to maximize its advantage and benefits, or even expressed gratitude," said Fouquet, adding that this has left the way clear for those who express concern about Chinese "penetration" or "domination" of European markets and interests.

Stefaan Van Kerchove contributed to this story.