By Byungnam Jin
On Thursday 9th March, Mr. Alexander Gabuev from the Carnegie Moscow Center joined our simulated think tank course for a discussion with the first cohort of the Tsinghua-SAIS Dual Degree program. Mr. Gabuev is a senior associate and the chair of the Russia in the Asia-Pacific program at the Carnegie Moscow Center. His research interests include Russia’s policy towards East and Southeast Asia, political and ideological trends in China, and China’s foreign relations with its neighbors. Mr. Gabuev has diverse professional backgrounds. He started his career at Kommersant, one of Russia's most influential independent newsweeklies. He worked as a senior diplomatic reporter, and also worked as a member of president Dmitry Medvedev’s press corps.
Mr. Gabuev started his conversation by noting major differences between think tanks and research institutes. First, think tanks conduct researches to influence policy makers by submitting policy memos, reports and publications to the relevant government agencies and departments. Second, think tanks strive to be independent from the government;, particularly, financial independence is crucial to think tanks. To achieve this, think tanks usually depends on public donations and philanthropic funds.
As the role of think tanks in China has increased rapidly in recent years, Mr. Gabuev identified differences between Chinese think tanks and think tanks in western countries, such as the United States and the United Kingdom. The most significant difference between Chinese think tanks and their western counterparts is who their audience. While renowned think tanks in Washington D.C., such as the Brookings Institution and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace mostly conduct public and open researches, the majority of Chinese think tanks and even many of Russian think tanks still work for certain government agencies. This also differentiates their financial sources between of Chinese think tanks and western think tanks. Since most of major think tanks in China are affiliated to with particular government agencies, they usually acquire entire financial supports wholly from the Chinese government. It is no wonder that there is no competition within the majority of Chinese think tanks, since a researcher's performance will never be evaluated by how valuable their ideas or opinions are, but rather by the leaders’ preference. Mr. Gabuev also pointed out that lack of public discussion is a phenomenon often seen within Chinese and Russian think tanks.
In addition to think tank issues, Mr. Gabuev also covered some global issues related to China and Russia during the Q&A session, such as current Sino-Russia relations and the One Belt One Road Initiative. Regarding the future of Sino-Russia relations, he argued that there exist three areas of compatibility between two countries. First of all, in terms of national economies, China and Russia could be mutually beneficial by providing each other with what the other needs: Russia has abundant national resources but needs a huge market and infrastructures, while China has extensive experience in building infrastructures, manufacturing bases and the largest market in the world. Secondly, in terms of politics, both China and Russia are not democratic countries, but rather centralized countries, which incentivizes them not to interfere with in each other’s internal affairs. . Third, global issues faced by both China and Russia are facing together could be provide areas of compatibility in their mutual relationship, particularly cyber security, climate change, and public health, and so on. On many of issues above, China and Russia share similar positions; they are not anti-America but are non-America and non-Western Europe at the same time, which fundamentally drives their interests together.
At the end of discussion, Mr. Gabuev shared his ideas on the One Belt One Road from the perspective of a Russian scholar. According to him, the beauty of the One Belt One Road is that it is not the strategic concept that we often find in the Western world. Since President Xi Jinping announced the initial idea of the One Belt One Road in 2013, there have been various explanations about China’s genuine intention or motivation to have it labeled as: 1) China’s compensation for the U.S.’s “Pivot to Asia,” 2) a part of continuing developing policies especially for China’s underdeveloped regions such as Qinghai and Xinjiang, 3) a way to export over capacity of infrastructure manufactures in China, to stabilizing its industries, 4) a geopolitical maneuver to stabilize Central Asia. Considering the nature of the One Belt One Road, that it is not a strategic approach but project-based approach, it can actually hardly fail – everything China has done since its announcement can be seen as success. China has established 13 think tanks within the One Belt One Road project and it has hosted 15 conferences to promote the value of the “Chinese Dream”. Therefore, the most important task for China would be to articulate a clear timeframe and tangible criteria of success.