China does not seek to disprove but work with and be receptive to others: RIAC Director General
Published: Aug 21, 2023 05:46 PM
Photo: GT

Photo: GT

Editor's Note:

As the competition launched by the US against China seems to continue to intensify, the divergence of the two countries' political philosophy becomes increasingly prominent. What is the main difference between these two approaches to see the world? How has it affected the current global reality? What is behind Washington's "strategic deterrence" mentality? Global Times (GT) reporter Xia Wenxin discussed these issues with Ivan Timofeev (Timofeev), Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC).

GT: What role do think tanks such as RIAC play in Russia? How does RIAC advise the Russian government on the current international situation? 

RIAC is one of the think tanks, and conducting international research is one of the goals of the council. Another goal is to establish partnerships with foreign think tanks. Of course, for us, maintaining relations with Chinese think tanks is one of our top priorities. The council conducts research on various topics, cooperates with different institutes and research centers dealing with specific problems of international relations, and prepares analytical materials for the relevant foreign policy agencies, as well as for businesses, chambers of commerce, and industry, for all those who are involved in one way or another in international activities and international cooperation.

An important role of RIAC is that it is a channel of dialog with experts from foreign countries, and we very much appreciate this opportunity to work with our Chinese partners, it allows us to generate ideas that may be in demand by our governments in the future, to exchange opinions on the dynamics of certain international problems. That is, in general, it is important from the point of view of communication between our countries, strengthening friendship and relations of privileged comprehensive strategic partnership.

GT: What are the main factors that will ultimately determine the resolution of the Ukraine crisis and conflict by peaceful means?

This is a complex question because the Ukraine conflict is caused by a whole complex of contradictions that have been accumulating since the end of the Cold War. It did not arise out of thin air and is an expression of the Euro-Atlantic security problems that we have not been able to solve for a long time. A long-term solution to the conflict will therefore require addressing these fundamental problems as well.

The big question is how ready the participants and key players on the European continent are for a new security architecture that suits everyone. But without addressing the strategic issues that gave rise to this conflict, a long-term solution seems difficult.

In Russia, we appreciate the 12 proposals for resolving the conflict put forward by the Chinese diplomacy. They seem timely and constructive, but their implementation requires the political will of all parties. Without such will it is extremely difficult to reach a new system of Euro-Atlantic security.

GT: From a theorist's perspective, how do you assess China's efforts to attach Chinese characteristics to Western political theories - such as Marxism - so that it works for China's development? What do you think of the Chinese government's effort in "integrating the basic tenets of Marxism with China's specific realities and fine traditional culture"?

I find the Chinese experience very interesting, primarily because China does not seek to smash or disprove Western political theories. China does not seek to show that there are bad Western ones and good Chinese ones. China seeks to analyze the intellectual heritage of the West, to adopt what it considers appropriate for itself. And here we are talking not only about Marxism, which, in general, China has mastered very well and creatively; China has formed its own original Marxist school, which is based on European roots, but has long been independent. But if we look at other theories, we will also see some very interesting trends - for example, the Western theory of political realism. China does not refute it, but tries to work with it, again, from its own point of view. We see in the Chinese theory of international relations some interesting concepts, for example, ethical realism - attempts to put realism on a different track, to give it a different sound.

I think this approach deserves a lot of attention as a philosophy of dealing with philosophy and as a philosophy of philosophy. How we approach the doctrines of other countries and cultures. China shows a very great degree of receptivity and empathy to the intellectual heritage of foreign countries, including the West. That is, while the West, primarily the Americans, reduce their views on China to a simplified scheme of authoritarianism-democracy, the Chinese, do not do this. They try to find a use for Western intellectual traditions, while combining them with the Chinese civilizational heritage. This is also a very interesting experience.

Chinese culture is one of the oldest, and China has a tremendous experience of statehood. If you try to compare the experience of statehood of the US and China, you will find they are not comparable. And it seems to me that the emergence of such empathy and such a desire to harmonize different concepts are just a manifestation of the Chinese national and civilizational code.

Naturally, another important point is that China has developed its own experience of modernization. China has managed to make a colossal leap forward over the past few decades. China has been able to feed, clothe, educate and house more than a billion people. This experience is unprecedented on a historical scale, and China can transmit its experience of modernization abroad and say: "Look, if it worked for us, it could work for you, even if you are a poor country experiencing problems, look at us. We experienced the worst national problems only 50 to 70 years ago, and we made a great leap. We can share our experience and in some places; we can help you."

GT: This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). How do you see the initiative's contribution over the past decade to global economic development and connectivity?

The BRI seems to be an important idea at the global level. We know how much has been done within the framework of this project to modernize port infrastructure and land corridors in Eurasia. And, of course, all these efforts are directed in a constructive direction. They are aimed at economic growth, infrastructure development, and creation, not destruction. And the very fact that this is a constructive project gives it great force.

At the same time, we see how the West is trying to position this project as some kind of deceptive game, some kind of trick aimed at giving China a "hegemonic position" in the region and the world. In other words, the BRI is measured in the categories that are customary for the West itself. But we see that many Western countries once welcomed the BRI and participated in this project. Great efforts were aimed at strengthening the connectivity of Europe and China, first, in the field of maritime transportation. Time will show what will prevail - creation or destruction.

GT: What are the major differences between the political philosophies of China and the US? Is there a conflict between the two?

I see that the key difference is that the US political philosophy involves dividing the world into "us" and "them." One of the parameters of this division is the dichotomy or categorization of states as democracies or autocracies. The camp of democratic states and the so-called autocratic states are distinguished. One can agree or disagree with this concept, but one thing is clear: It is based on the division of countries into two camps - "us" and "them."

On the other hand, Chinese political theory is based on other assumptions - it is based on the view of the world as a community of interconnected states, as a community of common destiny, and Chinese political philosophy tries not to divide the world into "us" and "them," but to propose a doctrine that would imply a win-win for all. Yes, this gain may be uneven. Yes, it may be achieved by different means, because each country has its own opportunities in the international arena. Nevertheless, China does not seek to show that the world is made up of China and other countries, but that everyone in the world is in this together.

The second important difference is that the US views China as a worldview opponent, as an "autocratic" country, as a country with a non-market economy, as a country that needs to improve, that needs to pass an exam, that needs to meet US standards. This is not how China views the US. China treats the US as a great and equal partner that has significant achievements, but whose experience need not be presented as a universal framework. Therefore, to us, China appears to be willing to engage with the US, but not ready for US views to turn into world law. 

GT: In your opinion, if the US does not give up its "strategic deterrence" mentality, will living in peace with each other become an insoluble problem for the major powers?

We have already mentioned that one of the elements of US political philosophy is the division of the modern world into the camp of democracy and the camp of autocracy. We see in US doctrinal documents proposals to contain Russia, to compete with and contain China. Unfortunately, containment and conflict have been longtime companions of international relations.

As the classics of political realism go, "International relations are anarchic." The big question is whether this anarchy can be brought under control. I am afraid that in the foreseeable future, it will be difficult for us to escape from the competition, and in some places even from confrontation in international relations. However, we do see unprecedented new opportunities in people-to-people communication and diplomacy, educational exchanges and commercial ties. All this creates a certain fabric of relations at the human level, which can serve as a safety net in case of the worsening of political relations. Only time will tell how reliable and effective such a safety net will be.

GT: You wrote in the article that "it is also possible that both the US and China will at some point also face the same problem that the Soviet Union experienced - the disconnection of their doctrine from reality." Could you be more specific about the lessons of the Soviet Union?

One of the key lessons of the Soviet Union is that the doctrine that once won the minds and hearts of hundreds of millions of people on this planet was gradually disconnected from the realities of Soviet life. This played an extremely negative role insofar as the gap between the real state of affairs and the broadcasted attitudes was increasingly growing. Ultimately, this was one of the factors that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the deepest crisis we experienced in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The threat of disconnection from reality is relevant for any state, system or social system. At the same time, it takes great courage to accept the realities and find the strength to adapt one's doctrine to the new realities. Unfortunately, we often see that states hide or preserve their habitual schemes, ignoring reality. The courage to recognize new realities, and the need for such courage, is the main lesson to be learned from the Soviet experience.

GT: You stated in your recent article "Political Philosophy: An Attribute of a Superpower" that "The state is able to concentrate considerable power and live solely on the principles of realism... However, naked realism will sooner or later mark the limits of legitimacy." What problems have arisen with the integration of pragmatism and political philosophy in the US?

Pragmatism is an inevitable attribute of any state's foreign policy, so the principles of realism are a kind of "program minimum" of foreign policy. It is difficult to talk about the security of a state if it is not ensured by the military capabilities and economic capabilities of the state.

However, economic and security realism alone is not enough; something more is required. It requires an answer to the question: How can a just world order be achieved? How can you ensure competition between states remains constructive and how can you ensure the result of this competition does not lead to excessive benefits for some and disaster for others? How can extremes and zero-sum games be avoided? For this, the category of realism is no longer sufficient; something else is required.

Americans offer their own view of the world, which involves democratizing and the movement toward markets, with the American model of domestic politics and world order at its center. As we have already discussed, China offers a different view of the world, a win-win game. Russia is also developing its own political theory. Today, it considers the world order as an equal cooperation of different poles, advocating a multipolar, polycentric world, and as a blossoming bouquet of different civilizations, which, at the same time, should and can independently decide what social, economic and political system is most suitable for them.