2023 October Conference

The conference “The Rising Soft and Hard Power of China in Central Asia” will take place at the University of Helsinki, Finland on October 19-20, 2023. This conference will bring together senior and junior researchers specializing in China–Russia–Central Asia relations to update our knowledge of China’s rising influence, both in terms of soft and hard power, in Central Asia. The topic of China’s influence in Central Asia is new and vital. Decades ago, scholars only considered Russian influence in Central Asia. But now we are facing a new era in which Chinese soft and hard power are on the rise in Central Asia. Whether this means competition or cooperation with Russia is intriguing. Observers often suggest that there is an informal division of labor between China and Russia, in which Russia takes care of the security domain while Beijing expands economically into Central Asia. As we examine China’s surging presence in Central Asia, the ultimate aim is to discover whether the current division of labor, in which “China invests and Russia protects,” will change and what this would imply for world politics in the future.

Studying this topic requires knowledge of multiple languages (e.g., Chinese, Russian, and Central Asian languages) and cooperation across multiple disciplines (e.g., Chinese studies, Russian studies, international relations). Twelve senior and junior scholars from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Taiwan, Finland, Sweden, Germany, Italy, Australia, and the USA will present their latest work on this issue.

Our keynote speaker is Dr. Robert Hamilton, Research Professor of Eurasian Studies at the US Army War College.  Panel 1 focuses on the broader picture, exploring the relations between China, Russia, and Central Asia in present time. Panels 2 and 3 focus on the soft power dimension of China–Central Asian relations. Soft power used to be the primary way in which China exercised its influence in Central Asia. Panel 2 offers three exciting case studies on China’s soft power influence on Kazakhstan, whereas Panel 3 examines academic collaboration and the knowledge production of China in Central Asia. Because China has increased its use of hard power slowly and carefully in recent years, Panel 4 is dedicated to rising security and military issues. At the end of the conference, we will have a closed-door meeting to discuss vital issues, such as how to collaborate and network to deepen our research on China and Central Asia. The invited experts will brainstorm how to improve our methods and theories in studying China’s rising influence in Central Asia.

This conference is organized with the generous financial support of the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation in Taiwan. Chinese Studies at the Department of Cultures and Aleksanteri Institute at the University of Helsinki are co-organizers of this conference, with the support of Finnish China Law Center and Finnish Central Asia Network (which is part of Finnish International Studies Association).