The second decade of the 21st century put the geoeconomic emphasis and cooperation within the framework of China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative into the China – East European states relations.
The Chinese initiative is dictated by the understanding of the importance of the CEE countries as an important component of a unified Europe. Thus, asserting itself in the role of one of the centers of a multipolar world order, Beijing began transforming the economic and political space that developed in CEE with the promotion of favorable economic proposals to the countries of the region, without raising questions of the difference of ideologies and ways of life.
For the first time, a joint project was announced in 2012 in Warsaw, where Premier Wen Jiabao launched an initiative called “12 measures” of China to encourage friendly cooperation with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.
Starting in 2013, the main content of the programs of each 16 + 1 summit is the development of tools for this regional format. Naturally, the format of China’s cooperation with the CEE countries is closely connected with the implementation of the global concept of the “New Silk Road” proposed by the Chairman of the PRC Xi Jinping. The concept consists of two parts: the land “Economic belt of the Silk Road” and the “Maritime Silk Road of the 21st Century” and potentially involves cooperation of at least 60 countries in Europe and Asia.
By 2015, China has become one of the largest investors in Eastern and South – Eastern Europe. In November 2015, the Eastern Europe-China ( 16 + 1 ) summit was held in the Chinese city of Suzhou, in which the leaders of the PRC and 16 Eastern European member states and the Balkan countries took part. The meeting resulted in the strengthening of China’s economic presence in Eastern Europe. Also at the trade and economic forum in Hangzhou between China and the countries of CEE in 2015 it was agreed that China is ready to provide financial support for the re-industrialization of the countries of CEE, in the case that it will be conducted using Chinese technologies and equipment.
In 2015 – 2016, taking into account the opportunities and potentials, each country in the 16 + 1 format chose its own direction. For example, Bulgaria will supervise agriculture, Poland– investment and trade. The task of Latvia will be identification of links and projects, cooperation in the field of logistics, Romania will deal with energy projects, Lithuania is responsible for educational programs, and Hungary for the tourism sector.
The 16 + 1 format , in a certain sense, prepared the transition to a more focused and integrated strategy “One belt – One Road” and successfully “fits” into its main components – the projects “Economic belt of the Silk Road” and “Marine Silk Road of the XXI century”, aimed at developing new land and sea transport, logistics and trade and production systems linking China to Europe. In the first project, the countries of CEE play a key role, in the second – an important transit role in the development of “China – Europe” trade and investment ties, and in the long term – in the formation of a broad Eurasian “economic space” and “political stability belt”.
The basic design of the first project is the development on a new technological and organizational basis of the traditional direction of trade and transport “Sino – European” ties, complemented by their investment cooperation. This Northern road includes land international transit to Western Europe from China and other countries of the Asia – Pacific region (primarily, South Korea and Japan) through Russia and Kazakhstan along the Trans – Siberian Railway and the Kazakhstan railway with access to the European part of Russia in The Urals:
- Chengdu ( Sichuan province ) – Dostyk – Moscow – Brest – Lodz ( Poland )
- Suzhou ( Jiangsu province, Shanghai region ) – Warsaw ( Poland )
- Chongqing ( Sichuan region ) – Duisburg ( Germany )
- Zhengzhou ( Henan, North China ) – Hamburg ( Germany )
- Wuhan ( Hubei province, Yangtze belt region ) – Pardubice ( Czech Republic )
- Wuhan – Zabaikalsk – Hamburg
- Shenyang ( Liaoning, Northeast China ) – Hamburg
- Yiwu ( Zhejiang, Shanghai region ) – Madrid ( Spain )
Nevertheless, the transit and logistical potential of the other CEE countries is still used slightly. Almost not involved in the “European part” of the Northern road are the ports of Poland and the Baltic countries that gravitate towards it. On the contrary, the main transport and logistics centers for Chinese goods (primarily German Duisburg and Hamburg) are already overloaded, and the possibilities for expanding their capacities are limited.
Such uneven distribution of cargo flows combined with insufficient technological level of the transport and logistics infrastructure of the CEE countries hinders the further development of China – Europe ties. There are also serious organizational and economic limitations of this development. Most of the provinces ( especially the western ones, remote from the sea ) tend to establish regular communication with Europe for both economic and prestigious reasons. The export potential of only the western provinces of China is estimated at $ 40 billion. Therefore, the full utilization of trains and partial financing of transportation costs are provided by local authorities on the basis of public – private partnerships (especially since many Chinese companies retain great state involvement) (see Figure 1 below).
Figure 1.:China`s infrastucture investments in the 16 + 1
Source: CSIS; FT Research
The April 9th CEE– PRC summit 2019 in the Croatian city of Dubrovnik marked a new beginning in the development of relations between China and Eastern Europe. Although the Belt and Road initiative (BRI) usually focuses on Asian (whether Central Asian, South Asian, or South– East Asian) or African participants, post-Communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe have begun to play not less significant role. In fact, the CEE region was one of the most represented regions in the 2017– 2019 BRI Forums: of the 28 heads of state or government, four were from this region (representing the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, and Serbia), and Romania was represented by a delegation led by the country’s Deputy Prime Minister. This list of forum participants reflected the intensive development of cooperation between China and CEE under the auspices of the BRI.
Humanitarian influence is also increasing – the leadership of the PRC encourages interpersonal contacts with the CEE countries, especially through tourism, student and youth exchanges, etc. China’s credibility in the region is also growing, because now almost any project of cooperation on a bi – versatile basis is served under the brand “One Belt – One Road”, which allows China to demonstrate real ( albeit small ) successes literally every year. This is especially noticeable against the backdrop of crisis phenomena in the European Union and the weakening of the ties between the CEE region and Russia.
Underlining the main opportunities of BRI for CEE and EU, should be mentioned the following :
- Chinese public and private sector bodies were willing to take construction risk, and to act quickly. It was suggested that this could be a major opportunity when embarking on major construction projects. However, the experience of COVEC (the construction of a 49-kilometre Polish section of the motorway from Warsaw to Łódź. The construction contract was awarded to a consortium – formed by China Overseas Engineering Group – is a subsidiary of China Railway Engineering Corp (Hereinafter CREC – Auth.)) as a contractor in Poland shows that Chinese companies have not always been able to work well in the EU.
- One interviewee suggested that Chinese investment in rail infrastructure was leading to rail being a viable alternative to both sea and air for trade between the Far East and Europe.The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (Hereinafter EBRD – Auth.) expressed the opinion that “the rail mode has a huge potential” but did not provide specific forecasts of what goods would transfer to rail, or over what timescale, or what routes they would use.
Other interviewees considered that rail services would attract demand mainly from shipping rather than from air. One of them, responsible for air cargo services, argued that rail would not abstract demand from air because it could not offer the very short transit times required by the most time-sensitive air cargoes. This interviewee also suggested that, to remain competitive, China and other parts of Asia with rail services introduced as a result of the BRI would still need air freight connections to Europe. In this context, ownership of the capacity of a cargo airline such as Cargolux can be seen as a key element of the infrastructure connecting China and the EU.
A representative of the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (Hereinafter CER– Auth.) agreed that rail would attract demand from shipping but would not be able to compete with air services. The European Commission also suggested that, from China’s perspective, the maritime elements of the BRI were more important and that overland rail was a distraction. In their view, 90-95% of traffic between China and the EU was maritime and would remain so. This is broadly consistent with the analysis of maritime and air traffic. It should also be stressed that the most common investments by Chinese parties in the EU appear to be ports, principally in the Mediterranean and the United Kingdom.
Russian Railways (Hereinafter RZD– Auth.) has long operated rail services along the Trans – Siberian Railway between Europe and the Sea of Japan. These could, in principle, be used to carry goods from Japan and South Korea to Europe, but these would first have to be shipped across the Sea of Japan to Russia. In contrast, from landlocked north east China, long overland journeys are needed to reach any port, but may also be needed to reach a suitable railhead.
Thus, the commercial objective of growing rail services appears not to be to put pressure on maritime operators, which are already efficient, but to offer a higher speed service. This also helps producers and consumers along the rail routes used.
- In principle, commercially viable rail services between China and the EU are a major opportunity for operators, shippers and industry.
One interviewee in the logistics sector said that subsidies granted by the Chinese Government to rail services between China and the EU are “tremendous”. They also stated that Kazakhstan Railways (Hereinafter KTZ – Auth.) had reduced tariffs in 2012 but now agreed with RZD to keep tariffs high. KTZ indicated that the Chinese Government provided subsidies to support westbound container traffic, but envisaged that these would be withdrawn by 2020 as balancing eastbound traffic was attracted to the route. These comments illustrate a number of issues relating to the commercial viability of the services.Also trains between China and the EU will be charged transit tariffs by operators such as KTZ and RZD. There is no uniquely correct basis for setting such transit tariffs, although the principal applied in the EU is that they should be based on marginal costs. From the perspective of these transit railways, however, transit traffic is an opportunity to profit from third parties (A similar issue emerges in the provision of air navigation services within the EU, where national air navigation service providers (Hereinafter ANSPs – Auth.) may have incentives to overcharge for en-route services provided to overflying, and typically foreign, aircraft to subsidise terminal services provided to aircraft taking off and landing). The incentives on the transit states are typically to maximise their profits, rather than to maximise the economic, social and environmental value of the railway operation as a whole. For both the EU and China, however, there is the potential risk that a growing and successful rail service will be seen as a potential source of profit by the transit railways.
- Another opportunity is the rebalancing of freight flows.
Figure2 and Figure 3below summarise the volumes of loaded containers which are loaded and discharged on flows between ports in the Far East and ports in the EU, measured in TEU. However, the EU Member States in which containers are loaded and discharged may not be the final destination states(The country where custom controls are executed is the country of discharge. This is the reason why Czech Republic is included in Figure 5 below despite it has not access to the sea.)
Figure2 below illustrates the recent growth in loaded containers from the Far East to EU ports, from just over TEU one million in 1996 to about TEU eleven million in 2016. Other than China, no state loads more than one million containers to Europe.
Figure2.:Loaded containers from the Far East to Europe: country of loading
Source: MDST World Cargo Database
Figure 3shows the points at which loaded containers are discharged in the EU. A large proportion are discharged at ports in the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy, before travelling onwards to the points at which they are stripped. Containers discharged in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, or Genoa (Genova) or Trieste in Italy, for example, may continue by river barge, train or truck to other EU Member States or to landlocked and non-EU Switzerland.
Figure 3.: Loaded containers from the Far East to Europe: country of discharge
Source: MDST World Cargo Database
Thus, the analysis of Figures 2 and 3 and 4show that westbound loaded container flows of 11 million TEU exceed the eastbound flows of 5 million TEU. This creates a need fora large number of containers to be returned empty in the eastbound direction. A representative of the CER said that this represented an opportunity for the EU to rebalance imports and exports.
Of the Member States shown, the largest imbalance in flows is for the United Kingdom, which exports only just over one quarter as many loaded TEUs as it imports. Even in Germany and Sweden, exports are less than two thirds of imports. This appears to confirm CER’s view that additional containers could be carried eastbound, in principle at little additional cost.
Figure 4.: Balance in loaded container flows for selected EU Member States
Source : MDST World Cargo Database
- Among other opportunities there should be metioned improved customs coordination. Thus, one interviewee saw opportunities to use through rail services between China and the EU to improve and streamline customs arrangements. However, they did not suggest either that specific initiatives were required or how these should be organised. As already discussed, a number of the MoUs supporting the BRI relate to the development of improved customs arrangements with a view to enhancing connectivity.
- Opportunity: EU companies working in CAREC states. The EBRD suggested that there were good opportunities for companies from the EU to build railways, roads and other transport infrastructure in the CAREC states. They argued that, in addition to construction, there would be opportunities in the areas of harmonisation of regulation, information technology systems, developing reliable and sustainable energy supplies, and logistics.
- Opportunity: complementary skills in the EU and China. Thus, one interviewee said that the EU had greater skills in regional issues and planning than Chinese bodies, and that there were opportunities for each country’s skills to complement each other. At first sight, it appears likely that each party may benefit from the other’s knowledge of local legislation, planning and procedures.
Table 1 below summarises a number of the opportunities and challenges which appear to emerge from the BRI. None of these may amount to a clearly-defined “problem”, as outlined in the EC’s Better Regulation Toolbox. Nonetheless, this section briefly discusses the extent to which it might be relevant to consider legislation to address them.
Table 1.: Opportunities, challenges, and the need for legislation
|Opportunity or challenge||Issue(s)|
|Chinese investors may not always meet EU standards||Procurement and enforcement|
|China may subsidise products and transport||–|
|Scope for improved customs coordination||Multilateral coordination|
|EU standards must be maintained and harmonised|
|Wasted and misdirected investment||Transparency and coordination|
|Chinese parties may take over existing projects|
|Chinese dominance of rail transport||Chinese may limit transit traffic|
|China may focus its trade elsewhere||–|
|Changes in relative advantage within the EU||Regional and cohesion policies|
|New investment in transit countries||Coordination between EU and Asian railways|
|Making Asia’s infrastructure meet EU needs|
|Bottlenecks may emerge on rail and on TEN-T||Consider EU and Far East flows|
Source: Steer Davies Gleave analysis
Thus, it can be noted that the participating countries of 16 + 1 mechanism understood the scale, prospects and synergies of this interaction. It should be emphasized that the “Old” EU countries are wary of Chinese activity in the Central European zone of their influence and insist that all members ( and candidate members ) coordinate their cooperation with China, and that the EU should speak with the PRC “with one voice”. Nevertheless the strategic concepts of the development of these states reflect the importance and priority of both bilateral relations with China and cooperation in the China – EU format. That is why most of the foreign policy strategies of the CEE states are oriented toward expanding foreign economic activity and trade with the PRC. It is necessary to emphasize the consistency and planning of work in this direction, conducted by the states of the 16 + 1 format. As we can see, pragmatic economic diplomacy started to prevail in the newest foreign policy history of Europe.
The ninth summit of cooperation between China and CEE, based on the results, was the last for the 16 + 1 format. In April 2019, it became clear that Greece would be invited to be part of this initiative. This actually turns 16 + 1 into 17 + 1. This move confirms claims that the importance of the CEE countries to China is closely linked to COSCO’s acquisition of a controlling stake in the Greek port of Piraeus. With this strategy, Beijing is partly paving the way for a resolution of the dispute between Greece and Macedonia, aiming to connect the port of Piraeus via Macedonia to the proposed high-speed rail link between Belgrade and Budapest, and then direct it to the Western part of the continent.
The appearance of 17 + 1 has a direct bearing on the cooperation between China and CEE. Greece’s accession is likely to weaken some regional aspects of cooperation between partners and re-emphasize the bilateral nature of China’s relations with individual countries. This is a strategic step that will bear fruit for both Beijing and the CEE capitals, and will also aim to allay EU fears that China is trying to split the continent.
The potential development of the 17 + 1 initiative demonstrates that China has already become a full-fledged “European power”. The growing number of Chinese investments and relations on the continent suggests a much broader and more complex “deepening” into European Affairs than expected by Beijing or any European capital. This reality requires China to own its position as a “European power”. At the same time, Europe needs to engage in a mature and meaningful debate about the growing influence of China’s power, which goes beyond simplistic divisions between friend / foe, rival / ally, and so on. As the evolution of cooperation between China and CEE shows, that we live in a complex world and interlocutors can simultaneously perform several contradictory roles. Due to the BRI initiative, Europe has realized that it is impossible to sacrifice China, and ignoring the fact that this country has become the “new power of the European continent” can cause significant damage to the Union, primarily economic.
 The Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (Hereinafter CAREC – Auth.) Program is a partnership of 11 countries (Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) and 6 multilateral development partners (Asian Development Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, International Monetary Fund, Islamic Development Bank, UnitedNations Development Programme, and World Bank) working to promote development through cooperation, accelerate economic growth, and reduce poverty. ADB serves as the Secretariat .
Finding Fulcrum to Move the World Economics
Where hidden is the fulcrum to bring about new global-age thinking and escape current mysterious economic models that primarily support super elitism, super-richness, super tax-free heavens and super crypto nirvanas; global populace only drifts today as disconnected wanderers at the bottom carrying flags of ‘hate-media’ only creating tribal herds slowly pushed towards populism. Suppose, if we accept the current indices already labeled as success as the best of show of hands, the game is already lost where winners already left the table. Finding a new fulcrum to move the world economies on a better trajectory where human productivity measured for grassroots prosperity is a critically important but a deeply silent global challenge. Here are some bold suggestions
ONE- Global Measurement: World connectivity is invisible, grossly misunderstood, miscalculated and underestimated of its hidden powers; spreading silently like an invisible net, a “new math” becomes the possible fulcrum for the new business world economy; behold the ocean of emerging global talents from new economies, mobilizing new levels of productivity, performance and forcing global shifts of economic powers. Observe the future of borderless skills, boundary less commerce and trans-global public opinion, triangulation of such will simply crush old thinking.
Archimedes yelled, “…give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world…”
After all, half of the world during the last decade, missed the entrepreneurial mindset, understoodonly as underdog players of the economy, the founders, job-creators and risk-taker entrepreneurs of small medium businesses of the world, pushed aside while kneeling to big business staged as institutionalized ritual. Although big businesses are always very big, nevertheless, small businesses and now globally accepted, as many times larger. Study deeply, why suddenly now the small medium business economy, during the last budgetary cycles across the world, has now become the lone solution to save dwindling economies. Big business as usual will take care of itself, but national economies already on brink left alone now need small business bases and hard-core raw entrepreneurialism as post-pandemic recovery agendas.
TWO – Ground Realities: National leadership is now economic leadership, understanding, creating and managing, super-hyper-digital-platform-economies a new political art and mobilization of small midsize business a new science: The prerequisites to understand the “new math” is the study of “population-rich-nations and knowledge rich nations” on Google and figure out how and why can a national economy apply such new math.
Today a USD $1000 investment in technology buys digital solutions, which were million dollars, a decade ago.Today,a $1000 investment buys on global-age upskilling on export expansion that were million dollars a decade ago. Today, a $1000 investment on virtual-events buys what took a year and cost a million dollars a decade ago. Today, any micro-small-medium-enterprise capable of remote working models can save 80% of office and bureaucratic costs and suddenly operate like a mini-multi-national with little or no additional costs.
Apply this math to population rich nations and their current creation of some 500 million new entrepreneurial businesses across Asia will bring chills across the world to the thousands of government departments, chambers of commerce and trade associations as they compare their own progress. Now relate this to the economic positioning of ‘knowledge rich nations’ and explore how they not only crushed their own SME bases, destroyed the middle class but also their expensive business education system only produced armies of resumes promoting job-seekers but not the mighty job-creators. Study why entrepreneurialism is neither academic-born nor academic centric, it is after all most successful legendary founders that created earth shattering organizations were only dropouts. Now shaking all these ingredients well in the economic test tube wait and let all this ferment to see what really happens.
Now picking up any nation, selecting any region and any high potential vertical market; searching any meaningful economic development agenda and status of special skills required to serve such challenges, paint new challenges. Interconnect the dots on skills, limits on national/global exposure and required expertise on vertical sectors, digitization and global-age market reach. Measuring the time and cost to bring them at par, measuring the opportunity loss over decades for any neglect. Combining all to squeeze out a positive transformative dialogue and assemble all vested parties under one umbrella.
Not to be confused with academic courses on fixing Paper-Mache economies and broken paper work trails, chambers primarily focused on conflict resolutions, compliance regulations, and trade groups on policy matters. Mobilization of small medium business economy is a tactical battlefield of advancements of an enterprise, as meritocracy is the nightmarish challenges for over 100 plus nations where majority high potential sectors are at standstill on such affairs. Surprisingly, such advancements are mostly not new funding hungry but mobilization starved. Economic leadership teams of today, unless skilled on intertwining super-hyper-digital-platform-economic agendas with local midsize businesses and creating innovative excellence to stand up to global competitiveness becomes only a burden to growth.
The magnifying glass of mind will find the fulcrum: High potential vertical sectors and special regions are primarily wide-open lands full of resources and full of talented peoples; mobilization of such combinations offering extraordinary power play, now catapulted due to technologies. However, to enter such arenas calls for regimented exploring of the limits of digitization, as Digital-Divides are Mental Divides, only deeper understanding and skills on how to boost entrepreneurialism and attract hidden talents of local citizenry will add power. Of course, knowing in advance, what has already failed so many times before will only avoid using a rubber hose as a lever, again.
The new world economic order: There is no such thing as big and small as it is only strong and weak, there is no such thing as rich and poor it is only smart and stupid. There is no such thing as past and future is only what is in front now and what is there to act but if and or when. How do you translate this in a post pandemic recovery mode? Observe how strong, smart moving now are advancing and leaving weak, stupid dreaming of if and when in the dust behind.
The conclusion: At the risk of never getting a Nobel Prize on Economics, here is this stark claim; any economy not driven solely based on measuring “real value creation” but primarily based on “real value manipulation” is nothing but a public fraud. This mathematically proven, possibly a new Fulcrum to move the world economy, in need of truth
The rest is easy
Evergrande Crisis and the Global Economy
China’s crackdown on the tech giants was not much of a surprise. Sure, the communist regime allowed the colossus entities like Alibaba Group to innovate and prosper for years. Yet, the government control over the markets was never concealed. In fact, China’s active intervention in the forex market to deliberately devalue Yuan was frequently contested around the world. Ironically, now the world awaits government intervention as a global liquidity crisis seems impending. The Evergrande Group, China’s largest property developer, is on the brink of collapse. Mounding debt, unfinished properties, and subsequent public pressure eventually pushed the group to openly admit its financial turmoil last week. Subsequently, Evergrande’s shares plunged as much as 19% to more than 11-year lows. While many anticipate a thorough financial restructuring in the forthcoming months, the global debt markets face a broader financial contagion – as long as China deliberates on its plan of action.
The financial trouble of the conglomerate became apparent when President Xi Jinping stressed upon controlled corporate debt levels in his ongoing drive to reign China’s corporate behemoths. It is estimated that the Evergrande Group currently owes $305 billion in outstanding debt; payments on its offshore bonds due this week. With new channels of debt ceased throughout the Mainland, repayment seems doubtful despite reassurances from the company officials. The broader cause of worry, however, is the impact of a default; which seems highly likely under current circumstances.
The residential property market and the real estate market control roughly 20% and 30% of China’s nominal GDP respectively. A default could destabilize the already slowing Chinese economy. Yet that’s half the truth. In reality, the failure of a ‘too big to fail’ company could bleed into other sectors as well. And while China could let the company fail to set a precedent, the spillover could devastate the financial stability hard-earned after a strenuous battle against the pandemic. Recent data shows that with the outbreak of the delta variant, the demand pressure in China has significantly cooled down while the energy prices are through the roof. Coupled with the regulatory crackdown rapidly pervading uncertainty, a debt crisis could further push the economy into a recession: a detrimental end to China’s aspirations to attract global investors.
The real question, therefore, is not about China’s willingness to bail out the company. Too much is at stake. The primal question is regarding the modus operandi which could be adopted by China to upend instability.
Naturally, the influence of China’s woes parallels its effect on the global economy. A possible liquidity crisis and the opaque measures of the government combined are already affecting the global markets: particularly the United States. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) posted a dismal end to Monday’s trading session: declining by more than 600 points. The 10-year Treasury yields slipped down 6.4 basis points to 1.297% as investors sought safety amid uncertainty. The concern is regarding China’s route to solve the issue and the timeline it would adopt. While the markets across Europe and Asia are optimistic about a partial settlement of debt payments, a take over from state-owned enterprises could further drive uncertainty; majorly regarding the pay schedule of western bondholders amid political hostility.
Economists believe that, while a financial crisis doesn’t seem like a plausible threat, a delayed response or a clumsy reaction could permeate volatility in the capital markets globally. Furthermore, a default or a takeover would almost certainly pull down China’s economy. While the US has already turned stringent over Chinese IPOs recently, a debt default could puncture the economic viability of a wide array of Chinese companies around the world. And thus, while the global banking system is not at an immediate threat of a Lehman catastrophe, Evergrande’s bankruptcy would, nonetheless, erode both the domestic and the global housing market. Moreover, it would further dent Chinese imports (and seriously damage regional exchequers), and would ultimately put a damper on global economic recovery from the pandemic.
Economy Contradicts Democracy: Russian Markets Boom Amid Political Sabotage
The political game plan laid by the Russian premier Vladimir Putin has proven effective for the past two decades. Apart from the systemic opposition, the core critics of the Kremlin are absent from the ballot. And while a competitive pretense is skilfully maintained, frontrunners like Alexei Navalny have either been incarcerated, exiled, or pushed against the metaphorical wall. All in all, United Russia is ahead in the parliamentary polls and almost certain to gain a veto-proof majority in State Duma – the Russian parliament. Surprisingly, however, the Russian economy seems unperturbed by the active political manipulation of the Kremlin. On the contrary, the Russian markets have already established their dominance in the developing world as Putin is all set to hold his reign indefinitely.
The Russian economy is forecasted to grow by 3.9% in 2021. The pandemic seems like a pained tale of history as the markets have strongly rebounded from the slump of 2020. The rising commodity prices – despite worrisome – have edged the productivity of the Russian raw material giants. The gains in ruble have gradually inched higher since January, while the current account surplus has grown by 3.9%. Clearly, the manufacturing mechanism of Moscow has turned more robust. Primarily because the industrial sector has felt little to no jitters of both domestic and international defiance. The aftermath of the arrest of Alexei Navalny wrapped up dramatically while the international community couldn’t muster any resistance beyond a handful of sanctions. The Putin regime managed to harness criticism and allegations while deftly sketching a blueprint to extend its dominance.
The ideal ‘No Uncertainty’ situation has worked wonders for the Russian Bourse and the bond market. The benchmark MOEX index (Moscow Exchange) has rallied by 23% in 2021 – the strongest performance in the emerging markets. Moreover, the fixed income premiums have dropped to record lows; Russian treasury bonds offering the best price-to-earning ratio in the emerging markets. The main reason behind such a bustling market response could be narrowed down to one factor: growing investor confidence.
According to Bloomberg’s data, the Russian Foreign Exchange reserves are at their record high of $621 billion. And while the government bonds’ returns hover at a mere 1.48%, the foreign ownership of treasury bonds has inflated above 20% for the second time this year. The investors are confident that a significant political shuffle is not on cards as Putin maintains a tight hold over Kremlin. Furthermore, investors do not perceive the United States as an active deterrent to Russia – at least in the near term. The notion was further exacerbated when the Biden administration unilaterally dropped sanctions from the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. And while Europe and the US remain sympathetic with the Kremlin critics, large economies like Germany have clarified their economic position by striking lucrative deals amid political pressure. It is apparent that while Europe is conflicted after Brexit, even the US faces much more pressing issues in the guise of China and Afghanistan. Thus, no active international defiance has all but bolstered the Kremlin in its drive to gain foreign investments.
Another factor at work is the overly hawkish Russian Central Bank (RCB). To tame inflation – currency raging at an annual rate of 6.7% – the RCB hiked its policy rate to 6.75% from the all-time low of 4.25%. The RCB has raised its policy rate by a cumulative 250 basis points in four consecutive hikes since January which has all but attracted the investors to jump on the bandwagon. However, inflation is proving to be sturdy in the face of intermittent rate hikes. And while Russian productivity is enjoying a smooth run, failure of monetary policy tools could just as easily backfire.
While political dissent or international sanctions remain futile, inflation is the prime enemy which could detract the Russian economy. For years Russia has faced a sharp decline in living standards, and despite commendable fiscal management of the Kremlin, such a steep rise in prices is an omen of a financial crisis. Moreover, the unemployment rates have dropped to record low levels. However, the labor shortage is emerging as another facet that could plausibly ignite the wage-price spiral. Further exacerbating the threat of inflation are the $9.6 billion pre-election giveaways orchestrated by President Putin to garner more support for his United Russia party. Such a tremendous demand pressure could presumably neutralize the aggressive tightening of the monetary policy by the RCB. Thus, while President Putin sure is on a definitive path of immortality on the throne of the Kremlin, surging inflation could mark a return of uncertainty, chip away investors’ confidence: eventually putting a brake on the economic streak.
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