Chinese Adventures in Central Asia: Tension and Opportunity
The Silk Road – a linkage once connecting the economies of Europe and Asia – is back in fashion. And everyone from Washington to Moscow to Beijing is talking about it. The leaders from the five Central Asian countries, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, are rubbing their hands, knowing that it is the chance of a lifetime for their countries to shine and for their private fortunes to grow.
Landlocked between China, Russia, Iran, and Afghanistan, Central Asia was, until the collapse of the Soviet Union, a forsaken domain. However, its vital importance for the stability of the larger region and its rich energy deposits have brought it to prominence. Over the past decade, and with the support of the major geopolitical players, Central Asia’s geographical position has ceased to be a problem. On the contrary, today it looks like its key asset.
China, in contrast to the United States and Russia, in particular, was a latecomer in terms of building economic relations with Central Asia. Since the turn of the 21st century, however, Beijing has learned quickly the valuable offerings of the region and has firmly anchored itself there. By promoting regional development, China is not only opening new markets for its goods. It also wishes, through trade and economic growth, to counter the three evils: terrorism, extremism, and separatism. This especially pertains to the western province of Xinjiang, where the rebel Uyghur movement has its roots. Uyghurs are ethnically, culturally, and religiously tied to Central Asians. Thus the region, with which China shares a 3000 km border, is a strategic rear for Beijing.
Beijing’s strategy focuses primarily on energy and infrastructure-related investment, rather than security, in which its direct competitors, Moscow and (until recently) Washington, have the upper hand. Within the past decade, China has established itself as the primary source of capital inflowing to the region...