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R. J. Ferguson

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R. J. Ferguson

This book provides a critical overview of China’s engagement with Eurasia, focusing on 21st-century challenges that will need careful management over coming decades. China’s emerging role goes well beyond the standard ‘geopolitics’ of the Eurasian ‘chess board’. China is seeking to evolve new agendas and relationships that avoid the dilemma posed by its slowing economy and potential containment by the United States. This will be a challenging task given divergent perceptions of global issues by the EU, Russia and China, and the changing Eurasian balance of power only partly moderated by bilateral dialogues and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Here the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will be a necessary but complex task, forcing China into intensified engagement with conflict prone regions across Eurasia, thereby posing several environmental, developmental and strategic dilemmas. PRC has a tight timeframe to establish itself as an essential arbiter in Eurasian integrative processes and emerge as a sustainable global power.

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R. J. Ferguson

China has the potential to evolve from an Asian regional player to a ‘new type’ of global power. This transition rests largely on how well China manages its ‘Eurasian footprint’, including economic, environmental and security factors. This is problematic given divergent perceptions of global issues by Russia and China and a changing balance of power only partly managed by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is one of the main drivers of China’s transition, leading to intensified engagement with conflict-prone regions across Central Asia, South Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Within China, the troubled Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region provides a gateway into Central Asia, but is a microcosm of the governance challenges PRC faces. For China to succeed in transforming its economy and the multipolar order, it will need to overcome a number of fundamental dilemmas. These dilemmas include: building comprehensive national strength while reducing threat perceptions; developing inclusive regional organizations without dominating them; indirect moderation of Russia–NATO–US tensions; and the evolution of multi-civilizational perspectives that can cope with the great cultural and political diversity of modern Eurasia.

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R. J. Ferguson

Eurasia in the 21st century demonstrates a turbulent mix of unfrozen conflicts, great power competition and unresolved transnational conflicts. In spite of the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, there is insufficient convergence between these two frameworks to provide proactive management of existing and new threats. Even small, underdeveloped territories or frontiers can pose major changes for multilateral cooperation: the unrecognized ‘statelet’ of Transnistria and the underdeveloped Wakhan Corridor show the complexity of multilateral cooperation across problematic borders. Both China and Russia have tried their own ‘pivots’ (to west and east) to stabilize adjacent zones economically and military. The Russian pivot to Asia and the Pacific is important for attaining national economic and security goals but remains underdeveloped. Uneven coordination across regional and security frameworks indicates an ongoing period of competitive multipolarity and limited multilateral integration for Eurasia as a whole.

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R. J. Ferguson

Central Asia has remained a fragmented transit zone dividing Eurasia, in spite of the economic modernization of Central Asian states and new external partnerships focused on Russia, China, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Eurasian Economic Union. Great power miscalculations in wider Central Asia and Afghanistan have laid the basis for a region wrought with ethnic complexity, unfinished nation-building exercises, rural underdevelopment, and inexactly delineated and poorly controlled borders. Authoritarian states of the region have become increasingly entrenched but are troubled by a range of non-traditional security threats, including continued transnational terrorism and drug flows from Afghanistan. In spite of US and UN interventions, Afghanistan remains engaged in fierce civil conflicts and has limited governance capacities. Central Asian states and Russia have sought to secure their borders and offered limited trade and aid opportunities to Afghanistan, with India and China only gradually edging towards more proactive security roles. No single Eurasian narrative for dealing with insecurity across wider Central Asia and Afghanistan has emerged, leaving a gap in Eurasian integrative processes.

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R. J. Ferguson

Recent Chinese approaches to multipolarity have focused less on completing poles of power than on multilateral, cooperative mechanisms that lessen direct conflict and diffuse power in an inter-polar world. Russian and Chinese visions of multipolarity have differences that make coordination of a shared ‘Eurasian agenda’ complex, gradual and contested. Russia uses multipolarity as a means to counter pressure from the US and to assert its claim to being an essential player in Eurasian affairs. China prefers to see power-sharing channelled through ‘multilateralism’ (duobian zhuyi), presented as a win–win mutuality with shared gains rather than clashing interests. Although multipolar world-order models and great power management (GPM) theories have a place in Russia’s foreign and security perspectives, China is unlikely to be content with either a tri-polar global order (comprising the US, Russia and itself), or a power diarchy with Russia to manage Eurasian affairs. China has sought to build a network of bilateral, multilateral and ‘new great power’ relationships that could lay the basis of a future, functional multipolarity, operating at global and regional levels.

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R. J. Ferguson

Vladimir Putin sees Russia as a unique Eurasian power with special security, resource and civilization claims. Domestic governance uses a narrative of national greatness and external threats, leading to a consolidating mix of authoritarianism and nationalism. Xi Jinping and the Communist Party of China see themselves as leading the PRC, and Eurasia as a whole, towards a new period of prosperity and global influence. Therefore, Russia and China will need to deepen their ‘comprehensive partnership’ or face a pattern of cross-cutting agendas leading to intensified strategic competition. Their relationship is moving beyond an ‘axis of convenience’ towards a mutually-enhancing and transformative collaboration that falls short of a formal alliance. Recent trade and investment flows, arms sales, and bilateral military exercises suggest some increased alignment. Problems have been moderated by the ‘warm’ relationship between Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, whose legacies will shape the coming decade. To balance this relationship, Moscow needs to leverage its strategic importance to major Eurasian states, including Germany, India and several middle powers, sustaining a central role in regional governance.

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R. J. Ferguson

China’s Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road were joined by China into a single vision, the ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR), rebranded as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Embracing parts of Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Pacific, it has moved from a geo-economic framework to regear the Chinese economy into a geopolitical agenda accelerating PRC’s interregional influence. Funded by Chinese and multilateral development banks, it faces the risks of not being able to maintain the huge flow of funds needed for infrastructure development across Eurasia, of accruing toxic loans, and of generating strong political opposition. The Bangladesh–China–India–Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM-EC) and the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) have come under criticism from India, while other corridors need closer coordination with Russia and Europe. China has begun to improve the environmental and societal implementation of the BRI by dialogue with UN agencies and the Sustainable Development Goals, but more needs to be done to make these projects sustainable. BRI is the main ‘engine’ for a Eurasian transition, and if successful will give China a secure co-leadership role in global affairs.

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R. J. Ferguson

The relationship between China and Europe is one of the great narratives of world history. China engages with the European states to ensure diplomatic recognition, improve technology transfer, boost trade, and to gain access to new markets. Despite blockages over human rights and market access, this relationship has taken on greater significance since 2013 in relation to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The EU–China Comprehensive Strategic Partnership agreement of 2003 has since been deepened during 2013–18, with convergence on global issues including climate change, sustainable development, and non-traditional security threats. Relations with Germany and Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) have taken on particular significance, with a triangular relationship beginning to emerge among China, Germany and CEE countries. This has serious implications for the EU’s revised European Neighbourhood Policy and its Common Foreign and Security Policy. Positive relations with Europe form the ‘capstone’ of the BRI agenda, and are essential for its success. The EU has an opportunity to influence Chinese regional and global policies, acting as ‘hidden balancer’ in the emerging Eurasian multipolar system.

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R. J. Ferguson

In Eurasian processes, China has avoided letting Russian security initiatives undermine its more nuanced approach toward the super-region. The PRC leadership understands that the formation of a G2 ‘ruling diarchy’ with the US would result in it becoming a junior partner, delaying the future struggle for power primacy. These factors have led Chinese foreign, economic and security policies along several parallel directions. China has enhanced its roles in international organizations, including ASEAN, the ADB, IMF and UN. It has founded parallel institutions including BRICS, the SCO, BRI and the AIIB. The AIIB demonstrates the kind of institutional learning that will be required as China becomes a stronger global player in development, aid and financing agenda. China’s ‘hyperactive’ diplomacy has built ‘special’ relations with over 47 states, and engaged over 67 in BRI programmes. However, a cooperative, multipolar order with wide power diffusion could be derailed by a failure of the BRI as a whole, by unresolved global crises, or the evolution of a bipolar Eurasian versus Euro-Atlantic order.