Resources for Mapping China’s Participation and Contribution in Asian Regional Cooperation

Part II

Mapping Academic Scholarship on Regionalism

by Aya Adachi

For studying China’s behavioural pattern in regionalism it is useful to draw lessons from general work on comparative regionalism as well as scholarship on Asian specific regionalism. It not only allows us to place China’s regional politics into the wider academic debate but also to make statements with regards to distinct features of Chinese regionalism.

Comparative regionalism deals with issues such as, defining regions, regionalism, regionalisation and regional integration. As regions and their level of regionness (Hettne & Söderbaum 2000) are diverse, definition have been rather loose in order to accommodate flexibility when defining regions in a comparative context. While early scholarship has been narrowly centered around the EU and the European experience, scholars have since put efforts in trying to amend the bias. The scholars around the so-called new regionalism scholarship and other more recent work have re-conceptualised ontological perspectives and established a more or less consensus view on the following (Acharya 2012):

  1. Regionalism is no longer centred around the state but also includes interactions among non-state between states and within a given area.
  2. Regionalism in no longer defined in terms of formal intergovernmental organisations with a charter and its own bureaucracy
  3. Regionalization is understood different from regionalism: the former being market-driven and less political – alas not entirely apolitical.
  4. Regions are not a geographic given, but are socially constructed, made and remade through interactions.

Comparative regionalism as a discipline to actually compare one region to another suffers from difficulties of obtaining comparable data sets or establishing a research method that is applicable in all regions. Comparative regionalism has been criticized for thus far only having delivered regionally specific empirical generalizations, in which hypothesis were verified but relationship to other variables were not specified. Nevertheless, it is important to refer to the comparative regionalism scholarship to establish the link between area-specific or region-specific scholarship and academic work across all regions and to avoiding parochialism within your own academic discipline (e.g. China Studies, or East Asian Area Studies).




East Asian Regionalism
has proliferated since the 1990s. What has emerged is a complex structure of various different competing and overlapping initiatives and constellations (ASEAN, ASEAN + 3/+6, ASEAN Regional Forum, Asia Pacific Forum, East Asian Summit, Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, amongst others). East Asian Regionalism has been studied by numerous scholars. Much work has been dedicated to exploring external aspect of effects of globalization on regionalism (Beeson 2014/2007; Dent 2016/2008) or on Sino-Japanese rivalry and its impact on regional economic order (Park 2013; Rathus 2011; Solis, Stallings & Katada 2009). However, scholarship on East Asian Regionalism has been rather state-centered and has shied away from taking on the research agenda of new regionalism by avoiding to include non-state actors and the analytical level of domestic politics. This can be attributed to the fact that many scholars are critical of the differentiability of state and non-state in East Asia (Fawn 2009) and no attempts have been made to dissolve the binary distinction between state and non-state to include other analytical levels.

With regards to how China
positions itself regionally, it is uncertain whether China has a clear singular stance or strategy towards regionalism. With the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) being a global project, it could be argued that China does not have a strategy towards regionalism, but rather relies on various regional frameworks as a means to an end. Nevertheless, China is engaging in multiple regional cooperation projects in Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, Central Asia and in the Asia Pacific.


The New Silk Road and Eurasian ambitions of China (CfE on ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ contribution)

by Alexey Alexandrovich Semenov


Strengthening of China led to more proactive and assertive Chinese foreign policy aimed at increasing the global role of the country. The new Chinese diplomacy is focused on the active influence and inclusion of China in all global processes, as well as the creation of its own integration projects. The ultimate goal of Chinese leaders is to make China one of those world powers that establish the rules of the game. Xi Jinping’s foreign policy doctrine can be characterized as the attempt to rewrite the current geopolitical landscape with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as its most visible project. Additionally, BRI has directly influenced China’s Eurasian ambitions.


The new Chinese diplomacy begins to go far beyond the limits of traditional “tao guang yang hui” strategy (韬光养晦, literally translated as “hide brightness, nourish obscurity”, i.e. hiding one’s abilities and to biding one’s time). The principle of the new strategy is “fen fa you wei” (奋发有为, i.e. exerting yourself, striving for achievements). Beijing begins to use the whole range of diplomatic methods to implement the goals of foreign policy: from economic diplomacy and military ties to soft power and public diplomacy (Yang 2014).

The new foreign policy is focused on the active influence and inclusion of China in all global processes, as well as the creation of its own integration projects. In autumn 2013, during Xi Jinping’s visits to Indonesia and the countries of Central Asia, the Chinese leader announced the proposal of the establishment of the “One Belt, One Road” project (OBOR)[1], which consists of two main components, the oceangoing “Maritime Silk Road” (MSR) and the land-based “Silk Road Economic Belt” (SREB).

Xi expressed the idea of creating BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) as a new form of deepening cooperation between China, the states of Central Asia, and Russia. The Chinese leader formulated a five-point action program: 1) to step up policy communication; 2) to improve road connectivity; 3) to promote unimpeded trade by removing trade barriers, reducing trade and investment cost, increasing the speed and quality of regional economic flows; 4) to enhance monetary circulation by settling trade in local currencies; 5) to increase understanding between states by the means of public diplomacy.

BRI aims to promote the connectivity of the Asian, European and African continents and their adjacent seas, wants to establish and strengthen partnerships among the countries along the Belt and Road, set up all-dimensional, multi-tiered and composite connectivity networks, and realize diversified, independent, balanced and sustainable development in these countries (National Development and Reform Commission of the PRC 2015). This will provide new markets for the PRC, as well as create a new sphere of influence for the country.

The SREB is considered as an opportunity to promote economic development in Central Asia, which will help stabilize this region. As a result, it will reduce political risks and create opportunities for deepening economic cooperation with the countries of the region.

Nevertheless, the implementation of the SREB may be a new stage in China’s economic offensive on Central Asia. China has already begun to develop soft power in this direction by expanding cooperation in the field of education with the Central Asian countries. Beijing will promote Chinese language in Central Asia to mitigate linguistic barriers and boost cooperation.

At first, Russia was wary of the Chinese project due to the growing fears that China-led integration projects in the region are gradually replacing Russian ones, such as the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).

However, on February 6, 2014, during a conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Xi Jinping invited Russia to participate in the development of the SREB and the MSR. The Chinese leader neglected the tradition of his predecessors not to attend major sporting events outside the borders of China for the sake of that meeting. This was the first time when a Chinese leader visited a large-scale foreign sports event. After this meeting, Russia’s attitude towards BRI has changed dramatically. Putin pledged to support China’s Belt and Road Initiative and expressed his willingness to link the section of Eurasian Rail inside Russia with the initiatives to create greater benefits (Li 2014).

The Joint Statement on Cooperation on the Construction of the EAEU and the SREB dated May 8, 2015 marked a milestone in the history of bilateral relations between Russia and China. The strategy announced by Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin is somewhat broader in scope than merely “connecting” the EAEU and the SREB. The paragraph outlining the steps that Russia and China intend to take to promote regional cooperation can be viewed as a preliminary concept for co-development in Eurasia, taking the interests of the continental powers into account. The list covers a broad range of issues, from the joint establishment of industrial parks and cross-border economic cooperation to creating a favorable environment for small and medium-sized businesses. Conditions for further implementing the idea of the co-development of Russia, China and Central Asian countries are emerging in the Eurasian region (Lousianin, Zhao 2016).

The scale of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative allows us to say that the economic policy of the PRC has acquired a geopolitical dimension, at both regional and global levels.

However, the prospects for the implementation of the project at the current stage are still not clear. There are two main challenges for BRI in the Eurasian direction.

The first one is the political risks associated with the problems of Afghanistan and Xinjiang and international terrorism in Central Asia.

The second problem is the contradiction between China’s desire to actively cooperate with its neighbors and the apparent trend to take a tougher stance on territorial disputes with some of them, which causes serious fears in neighboring states. If Beijing continues to promote the idea of the “Silk Road”, it will have to seriously consider rethinking the approaches to these two problems.

The Central Asian countries, including Kazakhstan (a member of the Russian-led Eurasian Customs Union), expressed support for the Chinese projects. It can be seen that this was done for reasons of respecting the balance of interests between Moscow and Beijing, preserving the multi-vector policy.

Moscow’s expansion of military infrastructure in the region (in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan) is not a matter of concern for Beijing, because, firstly, it ensures regional security; secondly, it serves as a deterrent to the strengthening of the US influence; and thirdly, it removes accusations of Beijing’s geopolitical aspirations in the eyes of Central Asian leaders and increases China’s attractiveness as a key investor in infrastructure and economic projects in Central Asia.

However, it is possible that enlargement of China’s military and political potential will include the practice of deploying military bases and facilities in various regions of the world, including Central Asia, in order to protect its economic interests in the region.

The importance of the Eurasian direction for China has grown in the last years in many respects in connection with the Silk Road projects, which is gradually becoming the key foreign policy project of Xi Jinping.

China endeavors to seek new models of international cooperation and global governance. Chinese leaders state that the country has taken a new place in the global system and that it assumes a new level of global responsibility and areas of interests. China’s strategic goals are no longer limited to the economy. The ultimate goal of Chinese leaders is to bring China to the same level as the world powers that establish the rules of the game. President Xi’s foreign policy agenda can be characterized as the attempt to rewrite the current geopolitical landscape, and the development of BRI is an example of such a kind of ambition.



Blackwill, Robert D.; Campbell, Kurt M. (2016): Xi Jinping on the Global Stage: Chinese Foreign Policy Under a Powerful but Exposed Leader. Council on Foreign Relations’ Special Report № 74. URL:, access date 15.05.2017;

Denisov, Igor (2015): Игорь Денисов: Эволюция внешней политики Китая при Си Цзиньпине (The evolution of China’s foreign policy under Xi Jinping). Международная жизнь (International Affairs), No. 5. URL:, access date 15.06.2017;

Li, Ziguo (2014): Meetings between Xi and Putin boost China-Russia ties. China Network Television, 11 May. URL:, access date 15.05.2017;

Lousianin, Sergei; Zhao Huasheng (eds) (2015): Russian-Chinese Dialogue: The 2016 model. Russian Foreign Affairs Council, Report No. 25. URL:, access date 15.05.2017;

National Development and Reform Commission of the PRC (2015): Vision and Actions on Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road. URL:, access date 15.05.2017;

Yang, Jiemian (2014): 杨洁勉:站在新起点的中国外交战略调整 (Strategic adjustment of Chinese foreign policy at a new starting point). 国际展望 (International Outlook), No. 1. URL: 杨洁勉.pdf, access date 15.05.2017.

[1] editor’s note: recently renamed to Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)



How the EU should engage with OBOR Centrality

by Aya Adachi

While EU is faced with disintegration, China’s role in regional integration has gained momentum. As an overarching projection that could potentially incorporate and coordinate other inter-regional regional as well as sub-regional initiatives, China-led One Belt One Road (OBOR) could emerge as the central cooperation mechanism across Eurasia and includes parts of the African Continent. This OBOR Centrality (Zhao 2016) is already shaping regional integration processes, by utilizing synergy effects arising from other regional initiatives: Chinese diplomats have started to try aligning and incorporating other regional and sub-regional cooperation mechanisms with OBOR.

Although the EU has potential to co-design and shape the dynamics of integration underpinning OBOR, it lacks a comprehensive and effective agenda to engage with the various levels, the mega-regional, regional, sub-regional, and state levels of the initiative. Diverging interests among EU member states have resulted in failure to come up with an unified China-policy. OBOR has received mixed reactions in Europe: one the one hand it is perceived as a geo-economics and geopolitical threat to the EU unity, on the other hand some see opportunities for investments.

The disagreement over how to engage with OBOR could result in long-term consequences, if the EU were to take a half-hearted approach. A comprehensive agenda on how to engage with the OBOR framework is vital to ensure that EU interests are secured and to allow co-designing the new economic corridors. A successful OBOR policy could further stimulate economic growth, highlight the advantages of the Common Market and the EU in general and thereby counteract nationalist uprising.

Furthermore, the EU could benefit from positioning itself as a competent partner in matters of regional integration, which could enhance EU’s normative power in addition to co-shaping OBOR. Despite recent economic, refugee and political crisis, in which EU politics are predominantly driven by internal affairs and concerned with disintegration, EU has long served as the model for regional integration and could provide important lessons from its own positive as well as negative experiences. With a balanced approach, the EU could avert the risk of being resented and perceived as China’s partner in facilitating the mega-regional project by other countries that lack the capacity to position themselves to ensure mutual gains within the OBOR framework. Therefore, it is important to cooperate with various regional mechanisms, countries affiliated to OBOR, as well as China.

Policy Recommendations

The agenda to engage with China-led OBOR should include three complementary components: First, establishing an EU-wide body that exercises oversight over incoming investment akin to US Committee on Foreign Investment will allow pooling of information and increase in transparency of overall investments to EU as well as China’s outbound investment to EU in particular.

Second, active use of EU China Connectivity Platform will allow co-designing the new economic corridors. More specifically, this mechanism could be used to safeguard conformity of OBOR related investments with EU regulations and standards.

Third, the EU should further foster engagement and dialogues related and unrelated to OBOR with OBOR affiliated countries and more importantly other overlapping regional mechanisms. In addition to Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) that could be a useful forum to increase cooperation, EU should also improve its support (Herrero Cangas & Gregersen 2016) to other regional initiatives such as ASEAN, CAREC, SASEC, GTI, 16+1 platform between China and Eastern European Countries. In addition, the EU could enhance its normative power by promoting people-to-people dialogues, cooperation among civil society organizations across OBOR.

In conclusion, by applying a three-level framework, EU could form a comprehensive agenda that operationalizes engagement with OBOR centrality, thereby avoiding a China-centred approach by inclusion of other affiliated mechanisms and states.


Herrero Cangas & Gregersen 2016 “Prospects for supporting regional integration effectively: An independent analysis of the European Union’s approach to the 11th European Development Fund regional programming“, Discussion Paper 192, ECDPM available at: (last accessed: 28.07.2017)

Zhao Hong 2016 “Can China’s OBOR Initiative Synergize with AEC Blueprint 2025?, ISEAS, Perspective No. 62, Yusof Ishak Institute available, (last accessed: 28.07.2017)



Regional Peace in South Asia is the basic necessity for the success of China’s BRI initiative (CfE on “Belt and Road Initiative” contribution)

by Souvik Lal Chakraborty

Disclaimer: This analysis was written a few weeks ago and does not include the most recent developments in South Asia’s and especially India’s relationship to China.                                                                       


China’s ‘Belt and Road’ initiative has tremendous potential to change the current world order and the economic scenario of the South Asian region. There are many procedural and managerial issues, which still need to be sorted out to implement this grand initiative. The aim of this article is to point out a few important issues in the South Asian geo-politics, which can play a major role in the success of BRI. To make the economic leverage of BRI a reality, China needs to assure peace and stability  the South Asian region because without trust at all levels this initiative will remain unsuccessful.


Regional Peace in South Asia is the basic necessity for the success of China’s BRI initiative

China’s multi-trillion dollar dream project ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ (BRI) surely has the potential to change the economic scenario of China and the whole of the South Asian region. But without regional security and peace in South Asia, the success of this initiative is highly questionable.

China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was one of the flagship initiatives, which was undertaken as a part of the BRI initiative. This 46$ Billion investment connects Pakistan’s Gwadar Port in Balochistan province with China’s Xinjiang province. The main problem with this project is that, CPEC runs through Balochistan and Kashmir in the Pakistani region (which the Indians call Pakistan Occupied Kashmir or PoK and claim as their own territory), a highly disputed area between the two nuclear-powered arch rivals, India and Pakistan. The Government of India showed serious objection to this project when it was launched in 2015 but both the Chinese and the Pakistani administration did not pay much attention to India’s concerns and carried on with their development initiative. Indian administration still hasn’t changed their stance on this issue and remains skeptical about China’s intention and motives behind the BRI initiative. Just before China organized its Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) in May 2017, India expressed its opinion that it cannot accept a project which hurts its sovereignty and territorial integrity. The heads of government or dignitaries of twenty-nine countries attended BRF, including Russia, U.S.A, and major European countries along with all the neighbours of India other than Bhutan. But India boycotted this forum and issued a statement just before the start of this forum, which addressed their concern on this initiative.

During the BRF inauguration in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping, made a statement that all countries should respect territorial integrity and sovereignty of other nations. It is very evident that he was indicating to India’s concern over CPEC, which runs through Kashmir in the Pakistani side. Pakistan has remained an all-weather ally of China over the past few decades. This relationship has evolved in the past few years because both these nations have outstanding issues with India. On regard to CPEC, China needs to play its diplomatic cards very carefully. China would surely want India to be a part of this initiative due to the sheer size of India’s growing economy and its market. The recent series of events make it very clear that even the Chinese administrators are capricious in dealing with this issue. India’s leading daily newspaper, Times of India reported on May 9, 2017 that the Chinese Ambassador to New Delhi, Luo Zhaohui, commented that China can consider changing the name of CPEC, if India is willing to participate in this initiative. But this comment triggered anger on the Pakistani side and they asked for an explanation from the Chinese Counsel General in Pakistan. After this incident, Chinese authorities silently deleted the comment of the Chinese Ambassador to rename CPEC from their Embassy’s website.

A few months back, Chinese authorities made it clear that the Kashmir-related dispute of India and Pakistan should be solved between the two countries bilaterally and that they are not going to interfere in this dispute. But when China decided to take the CPEC’s development projects through the disputed area of Kashmir on the Pakistani side, China automatically made itself a party to the dispute directly or indirectly. Indian diplomacy has repeatedly made it clear that they are not going to accept any kind of third party interference in this dispute and it should be resolved between the two countries in a peaceful atmosphere. Therefore China needs to handle this issue very carefully for the successful implementation of the BRI project and to make India a party to it, for its own economic leverage.

The world community will also look forward to China’s process of dealing with Pakistan’s reputation of human rights violation in the Balochistan province where people have repeatedly protested against the CPEC and where the Pakistani administration has suppressed their voices with brutal force. Chinese security forces are increasing their presence in Pakistan to protect the CPEC infrastructure in Gwadar port and in other adjoining areas. This has also raised suspicion for some scholars. Is this another manifestation of ‘neo-colonization’? Common people in India along with the government are also skeptical about the real Chinese intention. China has repeatedly tried to encircle India from all sides by increasing its sphere of influence in India’s neighbouring countries. BRI will also involve maritime connections following the ancient Silk Route model. Therefore it appears to be highly possible that China, in a few years’ time, will try to enforce its soft power to dock its naval vessels in and around India in the signatory states of BRI by just citing security reasons or for the sake of giving a safe passage for the transfer of goods. This is also a major security concern for India.

Keeping in mind the Chinese perspective, it is understandable that the complex and problematic situation in the South Asian region is rather difficult to handle. India and Pakistan have been hostile neighbours from 1947 onwards. China has also some border issues with India which are still not resolved. And the recent standoff between the two armies in Doklam, Bhutan is a new addition in the list of global conflict zones in world politics. According to some school of scholars, the recent standoff in Doklam is an indirect way of increasing psychological pressure on India and Bhutan to be a part of the BRI initiative.

China surely needs to think about its diplomatic stance to deal with India if they want India on board of the BRI initiative. On the one hand Chinese leaders are using soft power to convince India about its involvement in BRI through various platforms and on the other hand the government is indirectly using its news daily Global Times (which is known to be the mouth piece of the Chinese government) in criticizing India’s domestic policies and its policies towards China on a regular basis. This is contradictory.

So, to conclude this article it can be said that the ball is on China’s court when it comes to dealing with the outstanding issues of the South Asian region. China needs to stop thinking of its own economic interests only. China is verbally saying that it respects the sovereignty of other nations but needs to showcase this through concrete actions. It is still not clear what will be the exact management and investment model of BRI but the global powers will surely keep a close watch on China with regards to how it deals with the two hostile nuclear-powered South Asian neighbours, India and Pakistan. Recently Iran and Afghanistan have also warned Pakistan to stop using their soil for “breeding terrorists”, which is destabilizing the peace of the whole region. China needs to address these issues with its ally, Pakistan. Ultimately the success of BRI will depend upon the regional peace in South Asia. There should be an atmosphere of trust at all levels in order to make this kind of grand initiative successful. And China needs to play a much more constructive role in this regard, to make BRI a reality through which not only China will prosper but all the nations involved with it.



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CfP “Regional Integration and Disintegration” contribution: China in Afghanistan

von Karin Chau


Das 2013 angekündigte Seidenstraßenprojekt der chinesischen Regierung „One Belt, One Road“ (OBOR) verspricht neue wirtschaftliche Wachstumsimpulse für die über 60 betroffenen Länder. Besonders für Zentralasien und Afghanistan bietet OBOR die Möglichkeit, Anschluss an Wirtschaftsmächte zu bekommen und in die Wertschöpfungsketten zwischen Europa und Asien integriert zu werden.

Von besonderem strategischen Interesse für die Volksrepublik ist Afghanistan. Geopolitisch gesehen sieht China in Afghanistan einen schwierigen Nachbarn, denn das Land ist durch den anhaltenden Krieg gegen die Taliban geschwächt und darüber hinaus zentraler Ort für einige radikale Islamistenbewegungen, die potenziell Einfluss auf die uighurischen Unabhängigkeitsbestrebungen in Xinjiang haben könnten. Das vorliegende Papier untersucht Chinas Gesamtstrategie im Zuge der Umsetzung von OBOR und die sicherheitspolitischen Aspekte der Sino-Afghanischen Beziehungen.