Russia and China are no strangers to collaborating on investment vehicles, with entities from both countries having collaborated on several large bilateral funds over the years – including the Russia-China Investment Fund (RCIF) in 2012.
The RCIF, backed by sovereign wealth funds Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) and China Investment Corporation (CIC), has now in turn partnered TUS Holdings, the enterprise arm of Tsinghua University’s Science Park, for a $100m vehicle dubbed Russia-China Venture Fund (RCVF).
TUS Holdings and the RCIF are anchor investors in the fund, and are seeking additional institutional investors from both countries to reach the target size. The RCVF, in fact, may be extended beyond its $100m goal depending on interest and opportunities.
True to the mission of any university, the RCVF will aim to boost scientific and technological cooperation between the neighbouring nations, focusing on sectors such as big data, cloud, biotech and biomedicine, new materials, clean energy, smart technologies such as robotics, data transmission and financial.
The latest initiative follows collaborations such as a tech transfer fund created by Rusnano, the nanotech-focused commercialisation arm of Russia government, and China’s Science and Technology Ministry in June 2016.
Previously, TUS Holdings partnered Russia-based conglomerate Sistema in March 2016 to create a vehicle of up to $100m to identify China, Russia and Southeast Asia-based startups in the cloud, network IT, biomedicine and internet-of-things sectors.
Another deal that was struck across the border recently is a $4bn fund in July 2016 between Russian state-backed technology company Rostec and China CYTS Industrial Development, a subsidiary of Chinese state-owned Communist Youth League Central State Holding. While that vehicle is largely focused on IT infrastructure, it will also seek investments in the technology space.
The increasing amount of collaboration might be striking, but it is hardly surprising. For one, Russia and China are two significant economies that share a border.
For another, China has, despite some astonishing numbers, struggled somewhat to make in-roads into Europe, as pointed out in last week’s big deal. Russia, meanwhile, is facing sanctions from the EU over its annexation of the Crimea peninsula in Ukraine – sanctions that are expected to be renewed in a few weeks as they have been every six months since 2014.
While Russia might be looking forward to Donald Trump taking over as US president in January – he has famously said he wants to renew ties with the federation and might revoke US sanctions – for now a look towards the east may be the country’s best bet for economic prosperity.
There is another reason why China is such an appealing option. The country’s One Belt, One Road (Obor) initiative. The project, announced in 2013, aims to connect China to the rest of Eurasia and parts of Africa through a network of trading routes inspired by and largely based on its ancient predecessor the Silk Road which brought the eponymous textile from China to the Mediterranean.
Obor gives Russia access to a market of more than a billion people, and brings in China-based investors drawn by the abundance of natural resources and an economy that is striving and ripe for innovation.
That TUS Holdings would get involved is a logical progression of Tsinghua’s ambition to become not just a Chinese but an international powerhouse. This past June, the university’s investment arm Tsinghua Holdings committed at least $7.6bn to research over the next five years and announced it was putting $1.5bn into a spinout-focused fund.
The jaw-dropping size of that spinout fund was not the first time Tsinghua went big in 2016. In February, Tsinghua Unigroup, a fabless semiconductor producer owned by Tsinghua Holdings, partnered TCL Capital, the corporate venturing arm of electronics manufacturer TCL Corporation, in a $1.5bn vehicle that raised an initial $275m from the two founding investors.
All eyes might be on the US and the UK these days, but Russia and China are not being distracted by events in those western economies.