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The School of International Regional Studies is a research and educational centre seeking to revive international regional studies as an academic discipline in Russia. The department’s world-class professors train the next generation of regional studies specialists while developing an increasingly prestigious research school.
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This was the second time when leading international and Russian experts met to discuss timely topics of regional and oriental studies within the framework of the annual conference.
During last year’s conference, experts discussed regional problems caused by globalization, which was questioned as a “global project”. Also, experts emphasized the need to develop regional and oriental studies as independent scientific and educational directions. The evident features of regionalization and de-globalization of the world order in connection with the economic crisis catalyzed by the COVID-19 pandemic were on the agenda in 2020. It was emphasized that political, economic, and cultural marketing aiming at the promotion of Russia’s interests and national brand in the regions of the world is the main focus of international regional studies.
The statement by Yaroslav Kuzminov, Rector of the High School of Economics, which was made at the opening of the first conference in 2019, that China is at the forefront of science, technology, and education, was substantiated practically. This year’s conference was attended by heads and leading experts from internationally renowned Chinese academic institutions: Li Yongquan, President of the Chinese Association for Russian, East European & Central Asian Studies; Director of the Institute of International Relations, University of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; Sun Zhuangzhi, Director of the Institute of Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies, University of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; Guo Xiaoli, Director of the Far East Research Centre, Hebei Normal University; Huang Yu, Member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), former Deputy Head of the China International Publishing Group; Li Yonghui, Senior Researcher of the Institute of Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies, University of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; Wang Wen, Executive Director of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. Such a high-level representation of the Chinese delegation demonstrates the interest of Chinese regional studies scholars in the subjects of the conference.
The participants and moderators of the sections, Head of School of International Regional Studies Vera Vishnyakova and Head of School of Asian Studies Andrey Karneev, addressed the issues that are determined by trends and challenges of global development: the increasing role of Asia in the world, the agency of Asia and the formation of new macro-regions in its territory, the dichotomy of “East and West” and the philosophical foundations of the Logos and Dao, the future of globalization and increasing trends in de-globalization, the role and place of Russia in the contemporary world processes.
At the opening of the plenary session, Ivan Prostakov, Vice-Rector responsible for international relations at the Higher School of Economics, noted that the question of the “East vs West” relationship is an everlasting one. “We all - both East and West - continue to face global problems and challenges and look for solutions to them. That is our main challenge.” Among the current up-to-date questions are how divided East and West are, how much they act together, and what is Russia’s role in this process.
Sergey Lunev, Vladimir Maliavin, and Fedor Lukyanov, Professors at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, covered in their speeches the issues highlighted by Vitaly Naumkin, the Head of the Joint Department with RAS Institute of Oriental Studies, who posed conceptual questions about the agency of Asia, the meaning of the Asian identity, the extent of consolidation of countries, given their membership in different economic blocks and associations, as well as the issue of Russia’s economic presence in the East underlined by Grigory Logvinov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation, Professor of the Department of Applied Analysis of International Problems at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia.
The discussion that followed elucidated several important nuances that allowed for a profound and comprehensive understanding of the current stage of globalization and regionalization. Sergey Lunev, Professor at the School of International Regional Studies at the National Research University Higher School of Economics and the Department of Oriental Studies at MGIMO University, emphasized the trend of the emergence of a new mega-region - Greater East Asia (North East Asia, South East, Central and South Asia) from an economic and cultural perspective. According to his vision, there is a new degree of economic consolidation in the new mega-region: as a consequence of liberalization of trade and investment exchanges and moves toward financial cooperation new regional initiatives are emerging, for example, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Following these processes, the cultural proximity of the countries of the region is also increasing. However, international relations, military, and political factors are impeding the formation of the new mega-region. This thesis was confirmed by Professor Li, who pointed out that against the background of the rapprochement of Asian countries in the economic sphere, it is difficult to talk about enhancing regional security as many countries not only have not resolved but also cannot maintain a manageable state of the border and territorial disputes.
Sergey Lunev noted that Russia takes part in integrative economic cooperation with the countries of the mega-region. Thus, the Far East and Siberia are more economically Asia-oriented than other regions of Russia. However, Russia has not fully turned to the East because of the remaining Eurocentrism in the views of the Russian elite. Currently, we are witnessing “a strengthening of relations only with China. We could not achieve the same level of rapprochement with any other Asian country in the past eight years.”
Summing up, Sergey Lunev argued that expanding cooperation with the mega-region promises Russia significant advantages in infrastructure development of Siberia and the Far East, living standards improvement, and better integration of the Russian Trans-Urals into the dynamically developing Asia.
Fyodor Lukyanov, Research Professor at the National Research University Higher School of Economics and editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs, gave his opinion, differing from that of Sergey Lunev, on the “Russia’s Pivot to the East” concept. Fyodor Lukyanov stressed that the goal of the “Pivot” was to attract the attention of the Russian elite to the development of the Russian eastern territories in connection with the economic rise of Asia. A certain success has been achieved in this direction.
Fyodor Lukyanov also noted that it would be more appropriate to speak of Asia’s agency if the West’s attempts to extrapolate its liberal order to all regions of the world were successful rather than unsuccessful. However, today the contradictions between countries, peoples, and historical narratives in Asia itself persist, and the liberal order has returned to the cultural and historical sphere of the West, which is what we are witnessing now. Asia, which has felt quite comfortable in the absence of explicit strategic conflict, according to the Prime Minister of Singapore, finds itself in the unpleasant position of being unwilling to choose which world leader to follow: the United States or China, favoring their collaboration.
From a philosophical point of view, the question of Asia’s agency was examined by Vladimir Maliavin, Research Professor at the National Research University Higher School of Economics. He noted that Eastern reality is not reducible to a substantive unity, and the emerging concept of “Asianism,” contrasting with China’s concept of the “New Celestial Empire”. Moreover, Asianism emanates from the peripheral and marginal forces of East Asia, who aspire for East Asia to be a liberal union.
Issues about the conflicting interests of the United States and China, China’s new opportunities, and the strengthening of Russia-China relations were noted by all participants during the plenary session. Professor Li Yongquan emphasized that while the American financial elite sees China as its main adversary, the U.S. military-industrial establishment perceives Russia as such. By defining the processes of globalization, the U.S. intends to continue to dictate the rules of world politics.
All speakers agreed that the United States under the Biden-Harris administration would seek to strengthen its role in Asia and contain China by renewing the ideas of the transatlantic partnership and strengthening its global leadership, including by means of building relationships with the European Union.
Summing up the plenary session, Academician Vitaly Naumkin, Sergey Luzyanin and Andrey Baklanov, Professors at the Department of Foreign Regional Studies of the National Research University Higher School of Economics, noted the importance of the topics raised at the conference and the need to find answers to the fundamental questions at the current stage of globalization: Are “East and West” together or against each other? Does the fact of signing the agreement on RCEP lead to a reduced role of the West in global processes? What measures should be taken to strengthen the economic presence of Russia in Asia?
The work at the sections and roundtables, chaired by Deputy Head of School of International Regional Studies Evgeny Kanaev, Sergey Luzyanin and Andrey Baklanov, was interesting and fruitful. On the second day of the conference on December 17, 2020, the roundtable “How Different Countries Tackled Crises: Lessons from the Past”, chaired by Dean and Academic Supervisor of Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs Sergey Karaganov and Head of School of World Economy Igor Makarov, was a unique academic event. There was a review of the experience gained by countries that have implemented anti-crisis economic reforms at different stages of their development, elements of which could be useful in today’s conditions. The topics of the papers ranged from Italy in the 1920s-1930s and China in the early 1950s, to Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Republic of Korea in 1997-1998, to Argentina in 2001-2002. This broad regional coverage allowed the roundtable participants to systematize long-term, strategic responses to the crises that are relevant to shocks of the present and the future.
The conference concluded with the youth section, which aimed at promoting dialogue between the future opinion leaders in Russia and its Asia-Pacific partners. The section was organized and chaired by Deputy Head of the Joint Department of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences at HSE University, Senior Lecturer of the School of Politics and Governance, Faculty of Social Sciences, HSE University, Grigoriy Lukyanov. The topics of the presentations and discussions concentrated around the key-research question of the conference and the extended conference agenda.
Noting that young experts made a significant contribution to the second conference, we emphasize that such events have become an established practice of the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs aiming at developing the leadership potential of its students and graduates in line with the plans of the HSE University to support academic mentorship, seamless education and the development of interdisciplinarity in research.