A Comparative Study of the Greater Eurasian Partnership: The Chinese and Russian Perspectives
As China is a key participant of the Greater Eurasian Partnership proposed by Russia, a comparative study of the Russian and Chinese perspectives of this initiative is needed to assess the possibility of its realization. This analytical article based on the method of comparative research examines the Russian and Chinese approaches to the Greater Eurasian Partnership through the Russian and Chinese expert literature.
How do Chinese understand the Greater Eurasian Partnership?
Chinese scholars understand the Greater Eurasian Partnership by reading Sergey Karaganov’s articles and the relevant Valdai club’s reports. However, the Chinese experts have also critically interpreted the Greater Eurasian Partnership regarding its nature, membership, and mechanism.
At the 2016 Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum, President Putin first announced the idea of the Greater Eurasian Partnership, which promotes growing economic interconnectedness in the Eurasian continent. The Greater Eurasian Partnership refers to the concept of Greater Eurasia proposed by the Russian scholars, namely Karaganov and experts in the Valdai Club. According to Karaganov, Greater Eurasia entails a common economic and security space with the geopolitical implication of transforming the world order into a bipolar system including two macro geopolitical blocs represented by the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Greater Eurasia respectively.
At the same time, the Chinese research stresses that the Greater Eurasian Partnership is an imitation, if not a countermeasure, of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) . From the Chinese point of view, the Greater Eurasian Partnership that emphasizes geopolitics and security is an upgraded version of the Chinese initiative. Whereas the Greater Eurasian Partnership is more of a geopolitical project and delivers international public goods in the sphere of security, the BRI is a geoeconomic project that uses Chinese economic instruments in exchange for geopolitical benefits. Meanwhile, the two projects have different visions: the Greater Eurasian Partnership foresees global polarization while the BRI looks for the construction of a ‘community of shared destiny’.
According to the Russian expert literature, potential participants of Greater Eurasia include mainly non-Western organizations and countries . The potential members are the member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), as well as third-party countries including Turkey, Iran, and India. Due to the unclear membership, the Chinese experts suggest interpreting the Greater Eurasian Partnership into narrow, moderate, and broad senses . In the narrow sense the Greater Eurasian Partnership refers solely to the EAEU and China; in the moderate sense, the Russian initiative would also include the BRI participants. In the broad sense, the Greater Eurasian Partnership entails continental integration in Eurasia, which covers all countries in the Eurasian continent including Western European countries. Nevertheless, the Chinese experts state that the inclusion of other great powers in the Greater Eurasian Partnership implies a balance against China and an attempt to prevent Chinese dominance in the Eurasian continent.
The Russian side has not suggested a concrete plan for institutionalizing the Greater Eurasian Partnership, which is not yet a formal organization and has not held any meetings. Conversely, the Chinese scholars believe that the Greater Eurasian Partnership is an EAEU-centered mechanism and based on the multiple ‘5+1’ cooperation. From a Chinese perspective, the Greater Eurasian Partnership facilitates economic partnership between five EAEU member states and third-party countries, and thus enhances the status of the EAEU.
Why is Russia Proposing the Greater Eurasian Partnership?
Whereas Russian and Chinese scholars have shared opinions on Russia’s economic interests behind the Greater Eurasian Partnership, they have different interpretations of the emergence of the Russian initiative from geopolitical and normative perspectives.
Both Russian and Chinese experts share the view that Russia proposes the Greater Eurasian Partnership for economic rationales. The Russian experts have suggested a pan-continental Free Trade Agreement (FTA) among the EAEU, SCO and ASEAN. Similarly, from the Chinese perspective, the Greater Eurasian Partnership would facilitate Russia’s integration into the Asia-Pacific economy through intensified economic cooperation between the EAEU and Asia-Pacific economies. Also, the Russian initiative enhances the development of the Russian Far East thanks to the improved infrastructure connectivity and collaboration that link the Russian Far East with the emerging markets in Asia.
When Russia is the core country of the EAEU, the actorness of the EAEU depends on the capabilities of Russia, and the fragility of Russian economy would produce a dysfunctional EAEU. The Greater Eurasian Partnership offers the EAEU a platform for economic cooperation with ASEAN and other Asian countries, which brings external economic stimuli to the EAEU . Not forgetting to mention that the Chinese state financial institutions have become the primary capital provider to Russia following the Western sanctions.
From a geopolitical perspective, Russian researchers have adopted a structural approach in explaining the emergence of Greater Eurasia while Chinese scholars emphasize Russia’s national interests. According to Alexander Lukin, the Russian-Chinese rapprochement is shaped by the West-dominated international system provided that Russia and China are weaker powers and strategically need each other . At the same time, Russia has formulated the ‘pivot to Asia’ course while China has adopted the ‘Westward Strategy’. These conditions have created a foundation for the emergence of Greater Eurasia. From the Russian point of view, the Greater Eurasia Partnership would create a macro-region that transforms the world order. Therefore, Greater Eurasia is a natural development of international relations, which puts an end to the unipolarity and re-establishes the balance of power.
On the contrary, Chinese scholars perceive the Greater Eurasian Partnership as a Russian-centric policy and the product of Russia’s clash with the West. The Greater Eurasian Partnership repositions the EAEU as the center of the Eurasian continent with Russia as the core country of the EAEU. The geopolitical reposition makes Russia an independent power with no overdependence on the West or East. In the meantime, from the Chinese perspective, Greater Eurasia is a result of the failure of Greater Europe and escalated Russian-U.S. tensions. Having tense relations with the West, Russia is forced to shift the strategic focus to the Asian countries for new strategic spaces.
Chinese experts stress that the Greater Eurasian Partnership could address the asymmetric status in Russian-Chinese cooperation and let Russia play the leading role in the Eurasian continental integration. There is a challenge of the alignment between the EAEU and the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) due to the different level of institutionalization between the Russian and Chinese projects. The EAEU is a supranational institution while the SREB is a non-institutional initiative. Chinese scholars contend that the Greater Eurasian Partnership is similar to the BRI and consequently Russia shares the equal status with China. The Greater Eurasian Partnership implies China joining the Russian-led initiative as Russia participates in the BRI. At the same time, the Greater Eurasian Partnership has Russia taking the lead in the Eurasian continental integration alongside China. Instead of being only a participant in the BRI, Russia that the Greater Eurasian Partnership should play a more significant role in the continental integration and address the missing link between the EAEU and the EU.
Why is China Joining the Greater Eurasian Partnership?
The Russian explanation of the Chinese participation in the Greater Eurasian Partnership is based on the notion of China’s peaceful rise. However, the Russian discourse indirectly pressures China into joining the Russian initiative. Conversely, the Chinese literature delivers a stronger argument against Chinese participation in the Greater Eurasian Partnership to prevent China from having conflicts with Russia.
From the Russian points of view, China has to participate in the Greater Eurasian Partnership to comply with the notion of ‘peaceful rise’. The Russian opinion on China’s participation in the Greater Eurasian Partnership is based on the Chinese interests and national strategies. The Russian scholars contend that the Greater Eurasian Partnership is a multilateral grouping that delivers a ‘useful counterbalance’ to China thanks to the participation of other great powers. Consequently, the Russian initiative will undermine so-called ‘China threat’ and help it to avoid the U.S. containment. Nevertheless, the Russian discourse puts China into a dilemma that either China joins the Greater Eurasian Partnership or becomes a global threat. In other words, Russia has manipulated the notion of ‘peaceful rise’ to pressure China into participating in the Greater Eurasian Partnership.
On the contrary, Chinese literature offers a more reasonable explanation to the Chinese participation in the Greater Eurasian Partnership, which is to prevent China from having conflicts with Russia. Both the Greater Eurasian Partnership and the BRI have covered the Southeast Asian and Central Asian countries. There is a potential for the struggle between Russia and China in these regions, especially in Central Asia which is perceived as a sphere of influence by Russia . Therefore, it is understandable that China joins the Greater Eurasian Partnership to reduce tensions with Russia. Besides the goal of reduced tensions, Russia becomes the only great power participating in the BRI following India’s public opposition to the Chinese initiative. Chinese participation in the Greater Eurasian Partnership could be a reciprocal because of the Russian support to the BRI.
What is the Prospect of the Greater Eurasian Partnership?
Both Russian and Chinese experts mention the challenges of the Greater Eurasian Partnership. Whereas the Russian scholars perceive the Greater Eurasian Partnership as a long-term project, the Chinese experts believe that the Russian initiative is an opportunist move and it has a bleak future.
Russian experts hold a pragmatic attitude towards the Greater Eurasian Partnership. The Russian side has expressed the necessity to address the issue of Russia having inadequate knowledge of Asia and the institutional deficiency of the EAEU. The Russian policymakers have an insufficient understanding of China and other Asian countries, which has produced unrealistic expectations for Russia’s pivot to Asia and disappointment from the Russian side . Meanwhile, the EAEU has suffered from institutional deficiency and consequently most cooperation between China and the EAEU member states is on the bilateral level. However, Russian scholars are implicit about the prospect of the Greater Eurasian Partnership. Karaganov has stated in a personal interview that the creation of Greater Eurasia is a long-term project and at this stage it is too early to assess the progress of the Greater Eurasian Partnership.
At the same time, the Chinese researchers are comparatively pessimistic about the prospect of the Greater Eurasian Partnership. Chinese scholars argue that the Greater Eurasian Partnership would face severe challenges because of the vagueness and strong geopolitical sense of the project. To them, the Greater Eurasian Partnership has no concrete plan but abstract motives, unclear boundaries, and a broad list of potential members. At the same time, the Greater Eurasian Partnership implies explicit geopolitical implications that demise its attractiveness for the potential participating countries. For instance, China refers to the Greater Eurasian Partnership as the ‘Eurasian Economic Partnership Agreement’ in the latest Sino-Russian joint statement instead of ‘Eurasian Comprehensive Partnership’ used previously. The word choice emphasizing the economic nature shows China’s cautious attitude to the Greater Eurasian Partnership. Besides, unlike Russian scholars, Chinese experts believe that the Greater Eurasian Partnership is a short-term strategic shift rather than a long-term grand strategy. Chinese scholarship considers Russia as a Eurocentric country and the Greater Eurasian Partnership as an opportunist move by Russia under pressure of the current international isolation. Accordingly, Chinese experts foresee Russia abandoning the Greater Eurasian Partnership following the rapprochement with the West.
It could be summarized that taking references to the Chinese and Russian literature complementarily could contribute to deeper understanding of the Greater Eurasian Partnership and its future. While the idea was developed from Greater Eurasia concept proposed by Russia for the prosperity of the whole Eurasian continent, Chinese researchers have offered critical interpretations of the Greater Eurasian Partnership perceiving it mainly as EAEU-centered geopolitical mechanism aimed at balancing the rise of China. Concerning Russian objectives behind the Greater Eurasian Partnership, the Russian and Chinese researchers have a shared view on the economic interests of Russia in accelerating its integrations with the Asian-Pacific economies and enhancing development of the Russian Far East. In the meantime, Chinese literature has supplemented that the Russian initiative would address economic incapabilities of the EAEU. From the geopolitical perspective, the Greater Eurasian Partnership is a natural development of the international system for Russia but a too Russia-centric strategy for China. Chinese researchers have also mentioned normative interests of Russia in addressing the asymmetric status in Russian-Chinese cooperation. Besides, Chinese scholars have contended that China’s participation in the Greater Eurasian Partnership is to prevent China from having conflicts with Russia, whereas the Russian explanation manipulates the notion of China’s peaceful rise to pressure China into participating in the the project. Importantly, both Russian and Chinese experts mention the challenges of the Greater Eurasian Partnership including Russia’s imperfect knowledge of Asia, the EAEU’s institutional deficiency, and strong geopolitical sense of the project. Nonetheless, Chinese experts consider the Greater Eurasian Partnership a short-term move that has a bleak future while the Russian scholars perceive the initiative as a grand strategy.
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