The weakening of the West’s global domination and the growing unwillingness
on part of the US to defend the liberal order have increased the importance of
regional-level international politics. For the past decade, China and Russia have
stood out among rising powers attempting to rearrange their neighbourhoods. A
significant part of International Relations scholarship regards this drive for regional
predominance as a natural and unavoidable consequence of rising material power.
Analysing China’s and Russia’s flagship regional initiatives, the New Silk Road
and the Eurasian Economic Union, this article offers a more nuanced explanation
of rising powers and their role in contemporary international order. The article
argues that China and Russia have different visions of regionalism and distinct
views on how a regional order should be arranged. China defines regionalism in
functional rather than territorial terms and sees its project as inclusive. The Chinese
ruling elite regards the New Silk Road as a way of reinforcing China’s links with
the outside world and as furthering the benefits it harvests from globalization.
Russia, in turn, interprets regionalism in spatial and historical terms, seeing it
primarily as a way to reorganize the post-Soviet space. The Russian elite considers
the Eurasian Economic Union to be a protectionist measure against globalization
and a barrier against the influence of other actors. China defines principles
on which cooperation is based in vague terms and emphasizes the flexibility and
openness of its project. Russia opts for universal and legally binding norms, which
reinforces the defensive nature of its regional project.