'Small' Powers Embracing 'Great' Projects: Central Asian Republics as Actors with Agency on Russia's EAEU and China's OBOR
Min Koel Kim
(Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation)
This paper focuses on the agency of the Central Asian republics on the mega-regional integration projects of Russia's Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and China's One Belt One Road (OBOR). These grand visions initiated by two great powers have recently been attracting scholarly attention due to their significant politico-economic influence on broader Eurasian regional relations. Central Asia is typically considered a sphere of influence subject to competition and cooperation between an assertive Russia and a rising China in the post-Soviet space. The current academic discourses on International Relations relating to Central Asia are heavily dependent upon a neorealist approach based on a system-centered explanation which disregards the unique capability and competence of small states. The author argues that each respective Central Asian republic as a 'subject', rather than as a 'unit' restricted by a structural distribution of power, is capable of and competent at taking part in and playing its roles in the Russia-led EAEU and the China-led OBOR, and making Moscow and Beijing cautiously consider the interests of their Central Asian neighbors. In contrast to the neorealist approach with structure-centered analysis, the author argues that the Central Asian republics determine their own attitudes and formulate their own interests by themselves in regard to the two great integration projects promoted by Russia and China. The author introduces an interpretative approach based on hermeneutics which reveals essential desires and implied meanings to capture the subjective roles of Central Asia in the Eurasian integration process covering most of the Central Eurasian region. This methodology makes it possible to consider not only material resources, but also those values that precede the actions of key Central Asian figures and experts in the sphere of international relations and diplomacy. The research is based on an empirical array of data relevant to political rhetoric of politicians, diplomats, scholars and experts in specialized communities and mass media in Central Asian countries on the matters of Russia's EAEU and China's OBOR.
Foreign Policy Challenges in Central Eurasia