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Qualitative expansion of the countryʹs presence in the ʺfar arcʺ markets – a pragmatic choice and a trend of time

Belarus will definitely and confidently get through its "turn to Asia"

It is natural and logical that the "turn to Asia" concept accompanied by BISR is attracting more and more attention from home and foreign expert communities as evidenced by the different tone of publications and other third-party interest in this discourse, which is a positive trend in itself. Although our institute forms only a theoretical basis and an interdisciplinary platform for discussions on this issue. The genuine engine here is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is evident from the geography of meetings and other events on the news feed of this department.

Качественно расширить присутствие страны на рынках дальней дуги — прагматичный выбор и тренд времени
Сollage of Ivan Haiduk

An altered horizon

At the same time, attempts to link the growing share of Asia (and the far arc as a whole) in the external agenda as a simple response to losing the collective West, are not fully adequate to objective reality. It is clear that the "turn to Asia" is not a linear process. It is proceeding according to more complex laws, whose nature is the subject and object of research. Therefore, it is not entirely correct to position it as a U-turn and an attempt of a civilizational exit from from European spiritual and cultural values. As the author wrote before — this is a pragmatic choice of a sovereign state in favor of opening new horizons.

For Belarus, the question of choosing between Europe and Asia has not and has never been in the agenda. Because it is unprofitable, irrational and even potentially dangerous due to our geopolitical (read "European") position. The optimal format is the concept of Greater Eurasia including also the western part of the continent.

In fact, Belarus has long ago entered Asia, and this is an objective reality. We are talking about the qualitative expansion of our presence, its country diversification, escaping commodity mono-dependence and trade imbalances in a number of countries, improving the efficiency and operationalization of initiatives based on the development of a comprehensive national strategy.

Of course, the current focus on the Asian vector is partly reinforced by the renewed aggravation of relations with the West. This is just one of many factors, but far from determining. The main driver of these processes is a strong economic progress in Asia, which is also recognized by Western experts.

At the same time, there is indeed an issue of intellectual justification of the need for an economic "turn to Asia". First of all, it lies in the plane of the traditional Eurocentricity of the collective consciousness of Belarusians, who for various reasons are more committed to diverse ties with the West. Therefore, the arguments for rising Asian markets, quite modern and rational, that is, at first glance, conditionally "pro-Western", remain at the level of fashionable rhetoric, although the attractiveness and prospects of Asia are apparent to many.

But a river cuts through rock – gradually, the attitude and thinking are transformed. To increase the dynamics of these processes, it is vital to have a proactive foreign economic strategy for Asia which would proceed not from our offer to these markets (the approach does not work a priori), but from their real needs. It is advisable to develop this strategy on a broad research basis - through implementing situational analyses, preparing statements, articles, etc., "dissecting" step by step economic phenomena in Asia, prospects for the development of industry markets, new product niches, etc.

Of course, such work should be supplemented by the activity of many specialists in Government, industry, science and education, business, media, and the expert community. There should also be no illusions about an easy and quick result. We need to be ready to resist traditional thinking and economic interests, bureaucratic inertia. There will also be resistance from outside, a few signs of which are already apparent.

The White House: shifting the vector

It should be noted that the growing Asia is of interest not only to small and medium-sized states, but also to key geopolitical players. In this regard, it is appropriate to recall the somewhat forgotten "Obama doctrine".

In October 2011, in the magazine Foreign Policy, the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her article actually justified the geopolitical doctrine, which later became widely known as the "Pivot to Asia": "By virtue of our unique geography, the United States is both an Atlantic and a Pacific power. We are proud of our European partnerships and all that they deliver. Our challenge now is to build a web of partnerships and institutions across the Pacific that is as durable and as consistent with American interests and values as the web we have built across the Atlantic. That is the touchstone of our efforts in all these areas. Our treaty alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines, and Thailand are the fulcrum for our strategic turn to the Asia-Pacific".

Consequently, the "turn to Asia" is considered by American elites purely as an urgent need to implement national interests in a changing geopolitical framework. At the same time, the United States did not link the success of its "maneuver" to Asia with the quality of relations with traditional transatlantic allies, primarily the European Union. Except, perhaps, adjusting the term from "pivot" to "rebalancing".

In the future, the White House went on to consistently shift the main vector of its foreign policy from Europe to Asia. The dynamics of these processes may slowed a little during Trump tenure but now they are increasing.

The American "pivot to Asia" stimulated the European Union to intensify its foreign policy (primarily in the economic sphere) in the same direction. However, the consequences of the economic crisis and problems with the formation of unified approaches limited the space of "European maneuver". Foreign policy resources were diverted to the settlement of the migration crisis of 2013-2015, as well as the Crimean events of 2014.

These and other reasons made the Europeans unable to fully synchronize their foreign policy strategy with the United States. In addition, Brussels positioned its movement to Asia as a partner, but not as a kind of new force, which out of sync with the American approach.

After the Democrats' victory in the 2012 elections, Secretary of State Clinton and President Obama went on "rebalancing" America's geopolitical interests from Europe to the Asia-Pacific, thereby recognizing its being the epicenter of the historical transformation of the world.

Thus, the "pivot to Asia" (or "Asia-Pacific rebalancing") has become for the United States a kind of tool for updating foreign policy in the spirit of new trends of the time, but not a retreat from other regions of the world. However, this approach has ¬implicitly highlighted the devaluation of Europe's role as the main geopolitical partner. And although now Biden's team (unlike Trump) is trying in every possible way to ostentatiously demonstrate a return to multilateralism in working with a global network of allies and partners, including the EU, the content and priorities of foreign policy have not changed fundamentally. Its core are solely and exclusively national interests.

Goal, strategy and team

Undoubtedly, the modern world is interconnected, interdependent and represents communicating vessels. However, these patterns should not be exaggerated and even more so put in absolute correlation in terms of cross-geographical competitiveness, unification of business standards, unity of supply chains, etc. As experienced experts from among entrepreneurs say, in the East, basically everything is determined by personal ties and mutual obligations. Therefore, if there is a clear goal, a clear strategy and resources, a professional and motivated team, Belarus will definitely and confidently get through its "turn to Asia". And the accompanying constructive expert discourse will only contribute to the reformatting of mass consciousness and objective reality.

The context of the above-mentioned fits very well with the lines of the famous Russian poet Eduard Asadov:

In any business with plenty of complexities

There's only one approach to the problem:

Desire is the multitude of options

And reluctance is the multitude of reasons.


Yuri YARMOLINSKY, analyst at the Belarusian Institute of Strategic Research