Identity through foreign policy: Russia and China in the Middle East
Understanding national identity through foreign policy provides a strong means of ascertaining the prevailing social constructions within a great power nation state. There is a growing need to understand the national identities of Russia and China without pre-theorising or depending on asymmetric comparative studies with regional states. China and Russia are frequently compared to their regional neighbours which undermines understanding their unique identities. There are also frequent misunderstandings of contemporary Chinese and Russian national motives, often likening the modern Russian state to the Soviet Union, or attempting to understand China as a challenger to US unipolarity. Both great powers exhibit common characteristics of authoritarianism, both have recently endured massive social and national changes, and both have global interests that manifest in the Middle East such as securing vital geostrategic resources, both states are conscious of their native Muslim populations and to be recognised as a great power identity both must demonstrate influence in the Middle East. Yet, there have been significant differences in agendas and outcomes of their foreign policy decisions. This thesis seeks to use a constructivist framework to discern Russian and Chinese identity through comparison of their respective foreign policy. Contrary to “neo-realist” and “neo-liberal” arguments that accept state interests as rational, determined by the international system, and not determined by identity, this thesis seeks not to pre-theorise but to identify how their respective actions towards three key case studies in the Middle East; the Syrian Civil Conflict, the Iranian Nuclear Framework, and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, indicate their prevailing social constructions. This thesis compares Russian and Chinese attitudes and actions towards these cases. Despite their similar disposition and principles towards international relations these two nations had significant points of difference. Drawing upon foreign policy analysis and a comparative model this thesis finds that despite the commonalities between the Russian and Chinese nations, Russian identity as great power, unique Eurasian power, and an alternative to the West, ensures a defiance of its relatively weak economic position to engage in positions of leadership in the Middle East, whilst China’s identity constructions that are common with Russia, its great power, civilisational, and alternative to the West constructions manifest despite an increasingly influential and material position in the world order, has provided little incentive to engage in meaningful ways throughout the Middle East’s recent conflicts.