Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang said on 5 September that Russia's push to develop its run-down Far East region coincided with Beijing's economic strategy, as he gave backing to President Vladimir Putin's drive for new sources of income, according to reporting by Reuters. At the Eastern Economic Forum in the Pacific Port of Vladivostok, Putin promised favourable conditions and state support to Asian and domestic investors who are willing to do business in Russia's most remote area, according to reporting by Reuters.
"The Far East development strategy coincides with China's strategy of north-east rebirth," Wang said. "[The] Russia-Chinese partnership will definitely bring generous fruits." But while Putin's attempt to attract Asian funds to Russia is bold, his timing may be flawed because of the slowdown in the Chinese economy. However, he has little choice other than to turn to China for economic support since Russia's relations with the West are their worst since the Cold War, due to its involvement in the Ukraine conflict.
Russia is short of money – sanctions and low oil prices have hurt its economy, with national income expected to fall 3.3% this year after rising by 0.6% in 2014. Meanwhile, China's growth is slowing and its stock market falling, forcing interest rate cuts and devaluation of the yuan to bolster its economy.
Ian Ivory, a partner at Golstblat BLP, believes the Chinese slowdown will hit emerging markets hardest, given their role as providers of raw materials."China will be a further negative drag on the Russian economy," Ivory said.
Andrey Kuzyayev is a former head of overseas operations at Lukoil, Russia's second-largest oil producer. He played down worries, insisting the development of the Far East was not a temporary whim, but rather a long-term goal for the country.
"We need to make up time we have lost," he said. "Cycles in any economy are the norm, not deviation. There will be a slow down but obviously there will be acceleration later." The Chinese government's growth target is 7% this year, down from 7.4% in 2014 and the slowest in a quarter of a century. However, this rate is far higher than of any sizeable western economy.
But plans to develop the Russian Far East in tandem with China begs at least one crucial question: pipeline projects for oil and gas are extremely expensive and involve a hefty bet on stable future political relations between the two superpowers – and that is not necessarily sensible, in view of persistent hostility in the past.