Recently, writer Vsevolod Ovchinnikov, a legend of Russian journalism, orientalist, author of many books, including the beloved "Sakura Branches", as well as a long-term author of our magazine, turned 85 years old. On his birthday, the writer shared with the editors his thoughts on recreating the Great Silk Road on a modern basis, thanks to which economic and cultural ties between the West and the East were carried out for seventeen centuries.
- Vsevolod Vladimirovich, now the Russian mass media write a lot about the possible threat of Chinese expansion, that the inhabitants of the Middle Kingdom look with lust at the vast sparsely populated Siberia and the Far East. Probably, no one can answer the question better than you: how real is such a threat-now and in the distant future?
- These threats are greatly exaggerated and, most likely, devoid of any grounds. At the same time, Russia's relations with China should not be left to its own devices; they should be patiently and skilfully built, relying on the long-standing traditions of Russian politics and diplomacy.
As you know, the coat of arms of Russia is a double-headed eagle. One of its heads is facing West, the other is facing East. This in itself means that we must maintain a balance in our relations with both the West and the East. Do we follow this tradition, and by and large-the precepts of our ancestors? Alas, not always and not in everything.
In recent years, our country has been actively promoting the ideas of Western centrism. And from the West, we are given the idea that the East is fraught with a threat to us. That almost one and a half billion-dollar China, "hanging" over the depopulated Far East, is a direct threat to our security. And, they say, our salvation lies in strengthening our alliance with the West.
This, of course, is not the case. As you know, most of the population and economic potential of Russia is concentrated in the European part of the country, and in China - on its eastern coast. In other words, Russia needs to develop and populate the Far East, and China - the Far West. There is still a lot of free land in both countries. And, in itself, this circumstance objectively encourages both our countries not to oppose, but to meet each other halfway. We face external threats and challenges, figuratively speaking, "back to back". The Chinese have a genetic sense that Russia is their country's strategic rear. Similarly, they rightly believe that China is Russia's strategic rear.
The Chinese took the collapse of the bipolar world very painfully, when after the collapse of the USSR, American pressure on China greatly increased. In the current situation-if Russia and China really stand "back to back" - it will be easier for them to resist the existing challenges and threats in the world.
- How do you think our economic relations with China should be built?
- I believe that in general it is very important to revive the eastern vector of our trade and economic relations.-
international relations, including trade with China. The historical mission of Russia and China in the XXI century is to revive the idea of the Great Silk Road, which for centuries served as an "economic bridge" between Europe and Asia, at a new stage of history. The main part of this "bridge" would now shift to the north and pass through the territory of our two countries-Russia and China.
Let me remind you that in Soviet times, the volume of container traffic on the Trans-Siberian Railway was very large. Now most of the cargo was delivered by sea-around Africa or through the Suez Canal. Losses from the actual termination of cargo transportation from and to China via the Trans-Siberian Railway amount to billions of dollars.
We will probably have to revive the Great Silk Road in a new capacity mainly on the basis of ultra-high-speed railways. China, with the assistance of Japan, has made great strides in this area. And if we - Russia and China-even with the participation of Japan, upgraded the Trans-Siberian Railway, significantly increasing the average speed of freight trains, the scale of container transportation would quickly recover to the previous level, and most likely, would significantly exceed it.
In the future, it would be possible to create a chain of special economic zones along the entire length of the renewed northern Great Silk Road. Just as Stolypin once called on peasants to move from the European part of the country to Siberia, so now we need to call on Russians who are being "squeezed out", for example, from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, to move to the special economic zones being created near the Trans-Siberian Railway. This would help solve the problem of settling many empty territories in the Far East.
- How do you feel about the supply of cheap Chinese consumer goods to Russia? We sell it well, despite the big claims to the quality of goods from China.
- Russian "shuttles", the number of which has been noticeably reduced recently, caused great damage to the Chinese economy in the 1990s. Since they "swept" almost any goods from the Chinese market, not paying attention to their quality, then Chinese manufacturers stopped caring about quality. Hence the low "image" of Chinese goods among Russian buyers. However, recently the situation is getting better - the quality of Chinese goods is improving. And Russian buyers have become more demanding.
- How do you assess Russia's relations with Japan? A country that you also know well and have lived and worked in for many years?
- Our economic relations with Japan are generally developing successfully. The most significant achievement in this direction is the creation of a joint venture on Sakhalin to liquefy the natural gas produced on the shelf of this island, which is then exported to Japan by special vessels - gas carriers. Sakhalin liquefied gas consumption in the Land of the Rising Sun is growing and brings Russia good revenues.
Recently, the Japanese connected their two islands of Honshu and Hokkaido with a tunnel. Now few people remember that even 50-60 years ago, the project for the construction of the Hokkaido - Sakhalin tunnel was discussed, which would become part of a grandiose intercontinental road and rail transport line from Tokyo to London. The implementation of this colossal project could - without exaggeration - rebuild the entire global transport system. In my opinion, now there are already technical opportunities to recreate the Great Silk Road in such a grandiose vi-
The Great Silk Road in ancient times and in the Middle Ages was a caravan road that connected East Asia with the Mediterranean. Initially, it mainly transported silk from China, which is why its name is associated with it. It was opened in the II century BC and operated intermittently until the XV century AD, when transportation along this route was replaced by sea vessels. The Great Silk Road ended in the Middle East, but since a number of territories in this region were subordinate to Rome, it actually served as a" bridge " between China, Central Asia, the Caucasus and Europe. Silk was far from the only commodity that was transported along this transcontinental route. Gold, silver and their products, weapons, carpets and fabrics, leather and wool, porcelain, cosmetics, tea and rice, spices and much more followed it in both directions. It helped to exchange achievements in the field of culture, art and technology, and also promoted mutual acquaintance with various religions-Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc.
Attempts to revive the Great Silk Road in our time have been made more than once. The most famous of them is the program of the international transport corridor Europe - Caucasus-Asia (TRACECA). In 1998, 12 countries in the Caucasus, the Black Sea, and Central Asia, with U.S. support, reached an agreement to create a rail, sea, air, and road transport corridor from China and Mongolia to Europe, deliberately bypassing Russia. However, the implementation of this agreement has practically not yet begun. Therefore, the article deals with the Northern Silk Road.
de. It's up to political decisions.
I was very pleased that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin spoke very positively about this idea when he answered questions from Russians live in December 2011. And although I am well aware that it is probably still very far from being implemented in practice, it is pleasant that the creation of a transport highway from Tokyo to London through the vast expanses of Russia is already being discussed, as they say, "at the highest level".
I was extremely impressed by a recent trip on the Shanghai-Beijing train. Its speed is 300 kilometers per hour. When I was working in China, I used to take this train, and the trip lasted almost two days. Now the same distance was covered in just 11 hours. Even US President Obama has taken an interest in China's achievements in building and operating high-speed rail lines. After all, Americans for many decades believed that railways will never compete with cars and airplanes. As we can now see, they were wrong...
As for the Japanese, they have generally done a lot to improve all types of transport, and we have a lot to learn from them.
"More specifically, what is it?"
- I believe that the time will come when our country will completely abolish relatively short air routes - to St. Petersburg, Samara, Nizhny Novgorod, Voronezh, Perm, etc. In Japan, due to the relatively small distances between cities (with the exception of those located on different islands), it is simply unprofitable to fly by plane. The flight usually takes no more than an hour and a half, but you still need to get to the airport, go through the check-in procedure, get your luggage after arrival, and then go back from the airport to the city... Sometimes all this takes another two or three hours...
And high-speed trains all over Japan in the morning hours follow with an interval of only five to seven minutes-it's almost like in the subway. At the entrance to the station, you can use a special electronic device to make a request and on the approach to the platform, a special computer device will issue a" booked " ticket. All this makes railways the most efficient means of transportation, much more profitable than an airplane and a car.
And here is the result. The territory occupied by Japan is about the same as that of Germany. Moreover, in Germany, the length of railways is even longer than in the Land of the rising Sun. But in Germany, trains carry 2 billion passengers a year, and in Japan, an order of magnitude more - 22 billion. The Germans have not yet appreciated the advantages of high-speed rail transport. And the Chinese have already appreciated it - they have built the Beijing - Shanghai and Beijing-Tianjin expressways.
- China's success is not only in building high-speed railways. Their main achievement in recent years is the successful reform of the economy. What can be useful for Russia from the Chinese experience in this area?
- The Chinese, carrying out their reforms, unlike us, did not thoughtlessly, "off the bat" reject the best of the socialist experience. In China, they say: private entrepreneurship is sails. But in order for the ship to move on the correct course, sails alone are not enough - you also need a steering wheel. So, a market economy requires both sails and a steering wheel in the form of effective public administration. What our "captains of perestroika" clearly forgot at the time.
The guiding role of the State is especially needed during the transition period. In the political system of all Asian countries that have made economic strides in recent years, there is an element of so-called enlightened authoritarianism. All of them were in no hurry to make political or deep economic changes. And the work on introducing market principles into the economy began not from the city, but from the countryside. Because first you need to feed the people well, let them feel the concrete effect of the ongoing and projected reforms, and then gradually change the policy in the industrial, "urban" sphere.
That's exactly what the Chinese did. The first thing they did when they started their reforms was to give the peasants land and dissolve the communes. As a result, labor productivity in rural areas increased dramatically, because people began to work not for the "abstract" state, but for themselves. Food supply to cities has improved, and this has facilitated market-based industrial transformation.
This was followed by the creation of special economic zones. Almost all of them appeared in seaside towns. This was done to facilitate the entry of foreign entrepreneurs into China and the establishment of enterprises with foreign capital and equipped with foreign equipment. The "overseas Chinese" were the first to rush to start their business in China - after all, Chinese diasporas are scattered all over the world.
As you can see, the Chinese were in many ways wiser than us. That is probably why the reform of the Chinese economy is more successful and brings better results than in Russia.
The conversation was conducted by M. V. KACHEVSKAYA, correspondent of the CCI-Inform agency
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