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China is potential partner in Northern Sea Route development, Russian minister says

Alexey Chekunov recalled a new grain terminal in the Trans-Baikal Region - the largest grain logistics facility in Russia and the world's first specialized full-cycle land grain terminal, which has removed infrastructure restrictions for grain handling in the Far East, and also has reduced the logistics costs

MOSCOW, March 22. /TASS/. Russia eyes China as a potential partner in development of the Northern Sea Route (NSR) and international transit infrastructures, Minister for Development of the Far East and Arctic Alexey Chekunov told TASS.

Chinese President Xi Jinping was on a state visit to Russia at the invitation of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. This was the first foreign visit the Chinese leader is paying after the 14th National People's Congress (NPC, parliament) on March 10 re-elected him as president for the third term.

"Since 2021, the relations between Russia and China have reached a qualitatively new level of cooperation, the highest level in the history of our bilateral relations. <...> The direction of these relations, set over this period, will determine conditions of strategic partnership between Russia and China for decades to come. <...> China is our potential partner in the international transit via the Northern Sea Route, in infrastructure development, in particular in development of seaports' infrastructures," the minister said.

The Northern Sea Route will become an additional transportation option, including for cargo export, for which, the minister continued, the Eastern Polygon of railways and ports does not have sufficient capacities. Russia has adopted a comprehensive plan to develop the Northern Sea Route, under which before 2035 the country will build 10 icebreakers, 141 ice-class transport vessels and support vessels, 14 ports and terminals, will launch 12 satellites into the orbit, will build the Emergency Situations Ministry's four rescue centers. The overall investments in NSR development to 2035 are estimated at 1.8 trillion rubles ($23 billion).

The annual trade between Russia and China has increased since 2012 from less than $90 billion to more than $190 billion in 2022. The Power of Siberia project has been completed. It has "defined the mechanisms of cooperation in the gas sector for decades to come." China has become a partner in strategic projects in the Arctic, such as Yamal LNG, and in the Far East - such as the Amur Gas Chemical Cluster. Chinese companies lead among foreign residents of preferential business areas in the Far East. In the advance-development territories and the free port of Vladivostok Chinese businesses have invested capital in 52 projects with a total cost of about $11 billion.

Participation in international business and tourism projects

"Russia is open to cooperation with China in implementation of major projects in the Far East and the Arctic - both in the infrastructure and industrial sectors," the minister continued. "A special regime is being created for international investors from friendly countries - international territories of advanced development. The creation of joint ventures at such territories - including with investors from China - will contribute to the creation of new value chains with the participation of Russian and foreign industrial companies."

The minister pointed to a significant demand for products in the radio-electronic industry, chemical industry, oil and gas equipment, automotive and machine tool construction. Russia continues negotiations with Chinese investors, interested in implementing projects under the preferential conditions on the Kuril Islands.

"The countries are developing cooperation in tourism. Including in projects to build new tourist infrastructures. One of such Russian-Chinese projects is being implemented in the Amur Region - a cross-border cable car route across the Amur River between Blagoveshchensk and Heihe," the minister added.

Transport infrastructure and agriculture

According to the minister, the development of transport infrastructures contributes to bilateral relations, including the export-import operations. These projects include the construction of two cross-border bridges across the Amur River (Heilongjiang). The bridge between Blagoveshchensk and Heihe, opened in 2022, favored the 1-million annual trade between the countries. The new railway bridge Nizhneleninskoye - Tongjiang at the first stage will bring cargo handling to the level of 5.2 million tons per year, and in future the annual traffic will reach 20 million tons, he said.

The minister recalled a new grain terminal in the Trans-Baikal Region - the largest grain logistics facility in Russia and the world's first specialized full-cycle land grain terminal, which has removed infrastructure restrictions for grain handling in the Far East, and also has reduced the logistics costs. The terminal is a link of the Russia - China overland grain corridor. The annual handling will be up to 8 million tons of cereals, legumes and oil seeds.

"Generally speaking, we expect an increase in exports of agricultural products - not only grain. We have been organizing new enterprises in the border zones with the Asia-Pacific countries. Russian products, known for being environmentally friendly, are of high demand in Asia. There is a potential to increase exports of meat products (including pork), produced in the Far East," the minister said, adding those are the Trans-Baikal, the Jewish Autonomous, the Amur, and the Primorsky Regions that have the potential to increase exports (primarily of agricultural products).

Director of the Institute of Asian and African Countries at the Lomonosov Moscow State University, Alexey Maslov, in an interview with TASS said in the past Russia mainly supplied oil and gas to China and bought everyday products. Under Xi Jinping, China has lifted most barriers to supply, for example, agricultural products from Russia, and a number of Russian final-production goods.

Humanitarian cooperation and new opportunities

"Another very important aspect is the expansion of humanitarian cooperation. <...> The countries have increased the exchange of students, which means that people get to know each other, receive joint knowledge, and this is very important for future generations. <...> We have noticeably increased cooperation in joint research, for example, between the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, between Russian universities, including universities in Novosibirsk, in the Far East, and Chinese partner universities. This cooperation develops in large and important areas like nanomaterials processing, biotechnology, bio pharmacy," the expert said.

As for education, he continued, the main issue now is to have joint bachelor and master programs. "In my opinion, the most relevant would be those in social sciences in Oriental studies, law, and regional research. These are sociology programs, because it is very important for us to understand how our societies are developing. These are programs in management and entrepreneurship, as well as programs in computer technologies, mathematics, physics and nanotechnology, as well as ecology," the expert said.

While speaking about tourism, he pointed to necessary training of guides and interpreters. The countries must have joint schools, which would be located in every major region. In this matter, specialists may rely on major universities both in Russia and in China, he said in conclusion.