The Visible Face of “Closed Rivalry” between Russia and China: War of Culture

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In the recent period, it became more clear that Samuel P. Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations” thesis, which marked the first years of the Post-Cold War period, came into question as a “challenge” and “the sign/declaration of superiority” in the power struggle of the US followed in the process of the search for hegemon/building of the hegemon based on “identity”,  in the sense of the West and the “Others”, in fact it has a different and a new meaning rather than “Opposition” in the sense of the “Others.”

Here there are two issues come to the forefront in the sense of the “Others”: 1. transfer from “resistance to challenge” towards the US/West and in this context search for a new international system through its own values against the Western values; 2. a struggle for leadership among the “Others” and illustration of the “culture” as an element of soft power/struggle element and illustration of “language” as a dynamic/carrier element of culture.

Therefore, the clarification of the second issue is seen to determine the name/actor of the first issue to a large extend. At that point, even the issue of having the argument of “common fate/the community of common fate,” open the cogency and sincerity of this discourse in the field up for discussion.

Thus, today the struggle for leadership issue in the transfer of “from opposing to challenging” at the point of the institution of the “hegemon ‘the other’ culture”, which is not expressed loudly today, has become an issue to be dwelled on. Because this struggle has started to have importance especially with the context of “lasting”, for the future of the “Another actors” among the “Others.”

Thence, when we look at the scene of the power struggles among the “Others,” starting from the “inner circles,” many regions in the earth, in a more concrete expression, wandered from Asia-Pacific to Africa, to Latin America, we see a “wide common geography.”

“Chinese World” Against “Russian World” and the Exploration of Confucius

In this new conjuncture, against the “Russian World,” which loses every day, and not including only Slavs, we witness the process of construction of the “Chinese World”, which shows its effect in the field step by step, in a slower way, and tries to replace the other one.

If a clearer explanation is needed, we face with a “Chinese World” Project, which included Western ideology-culture in its historical-cultural codes to a great extent against the “Russian World”, therefore aims to realize a construction and leadership of a World in a global sense with the understanding of “smart power.”

In this regard, it is needed not to see the Beijing’s return from the mistake of “Cultural Revolution”, which fasten on China’s historical and cultural values, basis; solely as her internal feud or as a part of the process of the construction of a new state-society understanding. This change-transformation process is related directly to China’s foreign policy goals and in that sense, we see that the hegemonic culture understanding, which historically influenced nearly whole Eastern Asia, mainly Southern Asia and partly Middle Asia, is being tried to be established again through common projects in those regions.

As the economical-commercial aspect of the “Road and Belt Initiative” emerges as a soft power tool, here we witness that the name of Confucius, which has a global aspect, and nobody can object in the meaning of cultural-humanism, is selected carefully, and released as a common value to the market. Until yesterday, Confucius was accepted as one of the major setbacks of the cultural revolution, yet today it has turned out to be the strongest name of the Chinese foreign policy.

Here, of course I mention the “Confucius Institute” established in 2004. The number of “Confucius Institutes,” which are in business over 150 countries in the World, is in a tendency to increase dramatically. “Confucius Institutes,” whose number was 350 in 2012 and arrived 550 in 2021, follow a parallel way with the increasing power of China.

At the beginning, besides the “Confucius Institutes,” the educational and cultural policies that Beijing applied, makes China’s economic/commercial and political influence to be wider and stronger at the sphere of humanitarian/cultural aspect in the Middle Asia, Southern Asia and Eastern Asia. Moreover, including Russia, it is not expected that regional powers-actors could not compete with it.

This also refers to geo-cultural power struggles, and new frictions in the next period. At that point, a struggle between Russia and China is unavoidable, and sincerely, developments in the recent period escalates this process and gives important clues for the near future.

Russian-Ukrainian War: New Name of the Fracture of the Russo-China Relations

Although Russian-Ukrainian War emerges as Russia-US/West aspect, it is a fact that China takes place in the center of it. However, the issue which is undermined is that this war uncovers the true face of Russian-Chinese relations indeed. Therefore, the truthfulness and future of Russo-China relations is directly related to the future of this war.

When we handle the Russian-Ukrainian War Subject in the context of “Russian World” and “Chinese World” the issues below emerge:

  1. Russian Federation (RF) wants to take place as a powerful and independent polar in the New World Order, constructing a new and powerful empire through the discourse of former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)/Tsarist Russia
  2. To achieve this, Russia needs to include the territories of near abroad firstly, and then Eastern Bloc, which is nullified and had been historic, and finally the others. In that sense, Putin’s, and other RF officials’ expressions of the territories of the USSR as Russian land is quite important. Therefore, the idea of Putin, constructed over the discourse of Soviet and Tsarist Russia, was seen as the last way of the survival of Russia indeed.
  3. The highlight on Soviets and Tsarism emerges as a product of the search for common identity.
  4. In that sense, it should be avoided to evaluate the transform of the Russian nationalism in the ethnical sense. An identical/cultural aspect, which includes wider geography into an upper identity, is the matter of fact. The convenience, and encouragement for possessing citizenship/passport to the people who are subject to former Soviet/Tsarist Russia are confirming developments for the findings above.
  5. Consequently, Russian-Ukrainian War emerges as a “war of identity” as well. Ukraine’s objection of RF’s discourse and claims and highlighting Kiev/Ukraine is important for this aspect.
  6. It is certain that Russia’s new policy and war has Chinese aspect as well. Putin being successful is equal to China being smitten for her Western policy, apart from Russia, following an independent policy from China. Russia controlling her near abroad means China losing her near abroad in a vast scale.
  7. Putin’s this aim does not overlap with the dream of Russia, who is worn, and sentenced to cooperate with China.

Central Asia in the Russia-China Rivalry

At this point, one should not ignore China’s approach and reaction to the “January Events” in Kazakhstan before the Russia-Ukraine War. The statement made by the Beijing administration regarding the invitation of the Collective Security Treaty Organization to the country so that the events would not spread further was almost equivalent to drawing a red line against Russia.

While this statement has been analyzed in many places as the Chinese administration’s view of Russia’s attempts to increase its influence on the former Soviet space as a threat to its own interests, it has also been important in terms of revealing the limits/limitation in the relations between the two great powers.

In a more concrete way, the main issue here is that, from the point of view of China, Kazakhstan’s underground, and surface riches, especially oil and natural gas, as well as Russia, which will increase its monopoly position on these, are equivalent to the fact that Beijing is seen as an obstacle. Because Moscow, which has increased its influence in the region, will also be decisive in the future of the projects that China has put into practice, especially the Belt and Road.

Moscow realizes this fact: China is not only constructing a sphere of influence with the aspect of solely economic/commercial and political relations in the former Soviet/Tsarist region. She uses in these countries also use the soft power elements, which constitute the weakest side of Russia and are almost impossible to compete in this sense, very effectively. While Russian schools were closing in the former Soviet area and Russian lost its old charm, the emergence of Chinese schools in different statuses, like mushrooms, is one of the most basic indicators of this. What’s more, Chinese is trying to replace Russian by leaps and bounds. The increasing number of Confucius Institutes as well as Chinese schools in the region are considered as an indication of this.

Therefore, Moscow realizes the process towards “The more Confucius Institutes there are, the more support you can get from China.”

This issue is not only applicable for former USSR or Tsarist Russia’s area. It is also valid for regions previously controlled by Russia alone or together with China. At the forefront of these, of course, are the South Asian-East Asian Countries.

It is possible that Moscow noted Beijing’s call for border regulations to the Central Asian States (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan), including Russia, and emerges as a forced admission. Because with this move, the limits of RF’s power were also tested and China accelerated the process of increasing its influence in its own close environment, which also constitutes Russia’s close environment, through cooperation. Since then, the blood loss of Russia in the region continues.

To put it in conclusion; The Russia-Ukraine War appears as a litmus paper that accelerates Moscow’s realistic situation assessment process in the context of Russia-China relations. Russia faces the risk/threat of losing the power of being rivals to China not only with the economic-commercial sense, but also with the military sense. Cultural aspect is also included in this as referred above.

This point points to a new competition process in the former USSR/Tsarist Russia and Eastern Bloc areas, where there are two main risk-threats for the countries in question. The first is to be a field of competition between China and Russia and in this context to be divided within the country (especially Russian and Chinese teams/power centers). Secondly, losing their national self/consciousness, hence their qualifications of being a nation, and disappearing on the stage of history, Chinese history hosts many examples of this. Many “Chinese”ized tribes are an indication of this.

Therefore, those regions face a “Cultural War,” which is conducted through soft power elements, and was not declared. It is of greater importance to protect the “human factor” that forms the base of the elements of national power, and in this context, the “national consciousness/identity”, in the face of all kinds of “attractive” ways and methods used in this war that crosses borders and aims societies, especially the young population. At that point, the countries of the region to apply a new policy, which focuses on cultural strategies, is inevitable.

Prof. Dr. Mehmet Seyfettin EROL
1969 Dörtyol-Hatay doğumlu olan Prof. Dr. Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, Boğaziçi Üniversitesi (BÜ) Siyaset Bilimi ve Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden 1993 yılında mezun oldu. BÜ’de 1995 yılında Yüksek Lisans çalışmasını tamamlayan Erol, aynı yıl BÜ’de doktora programına kabul edildi. Ankara Üniversitesi’nde doktorasını 2005’de tamamlayan Erol, 2009 yılında “Uluslararası İlişkiler” alanında doçent ve 2014 yılında da Profesörlük unvanlarını aldı. 2000-2006 tarihleri arasında Avrasya Stratejik Araştırmaları Merkezi (ASAM)’nde görev yapan Erol, 2009 yılında Stratejik Düşünce Enstitüsü’nün (SDE) Kurucu Başkanlığı ve Yönetim Kurulu Üyeliği görevlerinde bulundu. Uluslararası Strateji ve Güvenlik Araştırmaları Merkezi (USGAM)’nin de kurucu başkanı olan Prof. Erol, Yeni Türkiye Stratejik Araştırmalar Merkezi (YTSAM) Uluslararası İlişkiler Enstitüsü Başkanlığını da yürütmektedir. Prof. Erol, Gazi Üniversitesi Stratejik Araştırmalar Merkezi (GAZİSAM) Müdürlüğü görevinde de bulunmuştur. 2007 yılında Türk Dünyası Yazarlar ve Sanatçılar Vakfı “Türk Dünyası Hizmet Ödülü”nü alan Prof. Erol, akademik anlamdaki çalışmaları ve medyadaki faaliyetlerinden dolayı çok sayıda ödüle layık görülmüştür. Bunlardan bazıları şu şekilde sıralanabilir: 2013 yılında Çağdaş Demokratlar Birliği Derneği tarafından “Yılın Yazılı Medya Ödülü”, 2015 yılında “APM 10. Yıl Hizmet Ödülü”, Türkiye Yazarlar Birliği tarafından “2015 Yılın Basın-Fikir Ödülü”, Anadolu Köy Korucuları ve Şehit Aileleri “2016 Gönül Elçileri Medya Onur Ödülü”, Yörük Türkmen Federasyonları tarafından verilen “2016 Türkiye Onur Ödülü”. Prof. Erol’un 15 kitap çalışması bulunmaktadır. Bunlardan bazılarının isimleri şu şekildedir: “Hayalden Gerçeğe Türk Birleşik Devletleri”, “Türkiye-AB İlişkileri: Dış Politika ve İç Yapı Sorunsalları”, “Avrasya’da Yeni Büyük Oyun”, “Türk Dış Politikasında Strateji Arayışları”, “Türk Dış Politikasında Güvenlik Arayışları”, “Türkiye Cumhuriyeti-Rusya Federasyonu İlişkileri”, “Sıcak Barışın Soğuk Örgütü Yeni NATO”, “Dış Politika Analizinde Teorik Yaklaşımlar: Türk Dış Politikası Örneği”, “Krizler ve Kriz Yönetimi: Aktörler ve Örnek Olaylar”, “Kazakistan” ve “Uluslararası İlişkilerde Güncel Sorunlar”. 2002’den bu yana TRT Türkiye’nin sesi ve TRT Radyo 1 (Ankara Radyosu) “Avrasya Gündemi”, “Stratejik Bakış”, “Küresel Bakış”, “Analiz”, “Dosya”, “Haber Masası”, “Gündemin Öteki Yüzü” gibi radyo programlarını gerçekleştirmiş olan Prof. Erol, TRT INT televizyonunda 2004-2007 yılları arasında Arayış, 2007-2010 yılları arasında Kanal A televizyonunda “Sınır Ötesi” ve 2020-2021’de de BBN TÜRK televizyonunda “Dış Politika Gündemi” programlarını yaptı. 2012-2018 yılları arasında Millî Gazete’de “Arayış” adlı köşesinde dış politika yazıları yayımlanan Prof. Erol’un ulusal-uluslararası medyada çok sayıda televizyon, radyo, gazete, haber siteleri ve dergide uzmanlığı dahilinde görüşlerine de başvurulmaktadır. 2006-2018 yılları arasında Gazi Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nde ve Ankara Üniversitesi Latin Amerika Araştırmaları Merkezi’nde (LAMER) de dersler veren Prof. Erol, 2018’den bu yana Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nde öğretim üyesi olarak akademik kariyerini devam ettirmektedir. Çok sayıda dergi ve gazetede yazıları-değerlendirmeleri yayımlanan; Avrasya Dosyası, Stratejik Analiz, Stratejik Düşünce, Gazi Bölgesel Çalışmalar, The Journal of SSPS, Karadeniz Araştırmaları, gibi akademik dergilerde editörlük faaliyetlerinde bulunan Prof. Erol, Bölgesel Araştırmalar, Uluslararası Kriz ve Siyaset Araştırmaları, Gazi Akademik Bakış, Ege Üniversitesi Türk Dünyası İncelemeleri, Demokrasi Platformu dergilerinin editörlüklerini hali hazırda yürütmektedir. 2016’dan bu yana Ankara Kriz ve Siyaset Araştırmaları Merkezi (ANKASAM) Kurucu Başkanı olarak çalışmalarını devam ettiren Prof. Erol, evli ve üç çocuk babasıdır.