Russia doesn’t like taking a back seat to China in Central Asia trade

Russia doesn’t like taking a back seat to China in Central Asia trade
Russia dispatched a massive delegation, led by the industry and trade minister and many regional governors, to Uzbekistan’s Innoprom trade fair in late April, hoping to boost bilateral trade. But the negotiations did not result in any breakthroughs. /
By Eurasianet May 1, 2024

It seems that the Kremlin is having a hard time accepting that Russia is playing second fiddle to China when it comes to trade in Central Asia.

The reluctance of Russian officials to acknowledge the trade reality was on display at a late April trade fair, held in the Uzbek capital Tashkent. In a speech at the exhibition, Igor Kamynin, Russia’s deputy trade representative, claimed, at least in the case of Uzbekistan, that Russia and China were "equal partners with an equal share in trade turnover" in the eyes of Uzbek leaders, according to a TASS news agency report.

Kamynin’s reasoning literally rests on wishful thinking. To put Russia and China on the same trade level, he cited aspirational trade targets for 2030, in which Uzbekistan hopes to increase annual trade turnover with both Moscow and Beijing to $20bn each.

Official Uzbek trade figures for 2023 take a pin to Kamynin’s bubble world, showing a wide trade turnover gap between Russia and China at present. Uzbek-Russian trade turnover last year amounted to $9.8bn, almost 30% lower than the Uzbek-Chinese total of $13.7bn.

China is holding its lead so far this year, according to Uzbek official sources. Bilateral trade turnover with China during the first quarter of 2024 amounted to $3.01bn, while Russia trailed at $2.5bn. If the existing pattern holds for the rest of the year, the value of Uzbek bilateral trade with Russia will remain flat while China’s total will experience a decline.

Uzbekistan is not an anomaly in the Russian-Chinese regional trade rivalry. Official statistics for 2023 show China surpassed Russia in trade turnover with all five regional Asian states.

This article first appeared on Eurasianet here.