China’s debates about the EAEU-BRI conjunction

Within the framework of the IRES conference, we will discuss the results of the first stage of the research project, conducted at the School of International Relations of St. Petersburg State University.

The key question is – What ideas lie at the heart of Chinese experts’ debates about the EAEU-BRI conjunction?

Research tasks are:

– to determine the focus of attention of Chinese experts

– to identify experts’ views alternative to an official position, mentioned in Joint Declaration on cooperation in coordinating development of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Silk Road Economic Belt of 2015

– to understand how Chinese experts assess the competitiveness or complementarity of the two projects and the role of the EAEU in implementing the BRI

– to evaluate Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats of the docking, from an expert’s point of view

– to evaluate the development of Chinese discourse on the topic.

The hypothesis of the first stage of the study: the most debatable topic among Chinese experts is the conjunction process and its influence on the implementation of the BRI.

Materials. The project includes the study of sources and materials, such as:

•           The text of the Joint Declaration of 2015.

•           Publications of Chinese experts in scientific journals since the signing of the Joint Declaration.

Methodology: In the course of the study, we conducted content analysis, discourse analysis, comparative analysis between Chinese experts’ opinions and of the official position, as it appeared in the Joint Declaration.

The discourse analysis:

•           The evaluation of the context (the position and significance of the journal, source of the grant, significance, and independence of the research center).

•           Encoding the text and drawing the first list of tags, allowing to assess the focus of attention of the study.

•           Evaluating the frequency of tags in relation to the text content: identifying the author’s key concept of the docking, studying the author’s reasoning, including the image of an enemy/ally as an argument.

•           Consolidation of statements on the second group of tags: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats.

•           Interpretation of results and determining of key concepts.

The content analysis:

•           Evaluating the frequency of key concepts of the docking, their meaning, and uniqueness.

•           Identifying alternatives to an official position, as mentioned in the Joint Declaration of 2015.

•           Assessment of the nature of the key concepts – if they consider the EAEU and the BRI as complementary/trade-off/competing projects.

•           Conducting the SWOT-analysis.

The key outcomes:

First, experts do not propose alternative terms to the “docking” indicated in the Joint Declaration, and in general, the discourse substantially repeats the theses of the document, including a discussion of the main areas and mechanisms of cooperation. All authors are unanimous in understanding the value of cooperation with the EAEU and Russia as its leader for the successful implementation of the BRI. Chinese and Russian projects are considered as equal and more or less complimentary. Nevertheless, a number of authors are discussing the possible competition of projects related to the difference in the political and economic interests of Russia and the PRC.

Second, experts evaluate prospects for cooperation on the docking as positive. According to the results of the SWOT analysis, the main discrepancies were revealed in the understanding of Threats of the docking, namely, greater or lesser risks due to the international political situation and weak economic development of the EAEU countries, specifically the Central Asian countries. The EAEU substantial dependence on Russia, which is mired in confrontation with Western countries, underlines the complexity of the docking. In this regard, a number of authors consider it necessary to support Russia as a key partner in the implementation of the BRI in Eurasia, while others consider it reasonable for the PRC not to rely on such a cooperation, but to build multilateral diplomacy, including with Western countries.

Third, contrary to the hypothesis, experts are focused not on docking, but on studying the very project of the EAEU. The authors yet explore the history and background of the emergence of the EAEU, the role of Russia as a leader, the interests of the participating countries, and the foundations of cooperation with the PRC. Thus, expert discourse still performs an introductory task and does not construct new concepts on the cooperation. At that, we have not revealed the dependence of the authors’ position on affiliation in certain institutions.

Written by: Maria Kobzeva (St. Petersburg State University)

Cover photo:  A road to China–Belarus Industrial Park, Minsk region, Belarus. Photo by Maria Danilovich, 2018. 

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