China’s rise in Central Asia is not a new phenomenon. For the past decade, Beijing has gradually moved to become the most significant and consequential actor on the ground in a region that was previously considered Russia’s backyard. In September last year, President Xi Jinping announced the creation of a ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’ running through the region. Although this declaration is the closest thing seen so far in terms of an articulation of a Chinese strategy for Central Asia, it nevertheless offered more questions than answers.
To understand China’s approach to Central Asia, a wider lens needs to be applied to explore both the detail of what is going on and how this fits into a broader foreign policy strategy that is slowly becoming clearer under Xi Jinping’s stewardship.
A country that could benefit from Russia’s cancellation of South Stream is Turkmenistan. A country that holds almost 10% of the world’s gas reserves, and is home to the globe’s second largest gas field, Turkmenistan certainly has enough gas to supply more markets. After various gas supply disputes with Russia, and a general weakening in geopolitical relations, there is no doubt the European energy security would benefit from a boost in supplies from Central Asia.
Recent steps indicate Turkmenistan is showing renewed signs of interest. In November 2014, Turkmengas signed a framework agreement with Turkey to supply the Trans Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline project (TANAP), a section of the Southern Gas Corridor project, set to be completed by 2018. The project proposes to transport 16 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas a year from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II field in the Caspian Sea to Europe via Turkey, aiming to reach a capacity of 31 bcm by 2026.
There are very few details in the public domain about the Turkish-Turkmen deal. And it all sounds a bit familiar. It is not the first time that such a Turkish-Turkmen agreement to cooperate has been signed, and it is unclear if anything concrete has actually been decided.
Furthermore, there are many challenges to Turkmenistan’s participation in the project, the key one pertaining to the long-standing dispute over Continue reading →
The conclusion of the 14th Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit hosted in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, on 11-12 September 2014 resulted in the signing of key documents that set out procedures for accepting new members, including requirements that applicant states need to fulfil in order to achieve full SCO member status. Consisting of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the SCO has not expanded since its evolution from the “Shanghai Five” in 2001. Despite this, discussions relating to SCO membership expansion, specifically in relation to India and Pakistan’s potential entries, have been on the SCO leaders’ table for a number of years. However, it was only at the recent SCO summit that the organization’s leaders have come closer to agreeing on the admission process for new members.
Russian President Vladimir Putin in particular supports SCO expansion. At the Dushanbe summit, he proclaimed the progress over SCO membership enlargement to be of great importance, emphasizing that when Russia takes the SCO chairmanship at the next summit in Ufa in 2015, Continue reading →
Central Asia is emerging as a region that could test the influence of India and China. Although New Delhi is following Beijing’s lead and expanding into this resource-rich and strategically important region, it is set to play second fiddle.
Parts of this article were adapted from the authors’ “China and Central Asia: A Significant New Energy Nexus” in The European Financial Review, April 30, 2013, accessible here.
Over the past decade China has aggressively developed its energy cooperation with Central Asia, which has an abundance of oil and natural gas deposits, and relative political stability. Through its energy relationship with Central Asia, China not only diversifies its access to new energy sources but also gains greater flexibility in playing regional geopolitics that advances its broader national interests.
(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of IHS Jane’s)
China’s northwestern Xinjiang province has again made headlines in 2014, largely because of a number of brutal attacks carried out by militants within the province’s Muslim Uighur population. Among the most notable attacks, 29 people were killed in a 1 March knife attack at a train station in Kunming; on 22 May, 39 people were killed in a market attack in Xinjiang’s capital, Ürümqi; and in July, the Chinese authorities reported that 59 “terrorists” and 37 civilians had been killed in Shache county during an attack on a police station, followed by the murder of a Uighur imam.
The death toll among the militants may, in reality, be much higher as a result of the authorities’ hardline security response. Although the Chinese government interprets such attacks as a product of religious extremism, many Uighurs view them as protests against the discrimination they experience at the hands of the authorities.
According to a poll conducted by the Sharq Research Centre (a Dushanbe-based think tank focusing on migration, economic, social and political issues in Tajikistan), Tajiks view China (the dragon) and India (the elephant) differently. According to results from the Sharq poll, people in Tajik cities in the early 2000s tended to look to India as a friendly nation while they saw China as a potential threat. Over a decade later, little has changed in these perceptions, with Tajiks continuing to view China predominantly with suspicion.
Xinjiang will soon see the launch of its first high-speed railway train that will run from Lanzhou city in neighboring Gansu province to Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang. The government has hailed this as a significant move that will boost Xinjiang’s economy through more open trade, tourism and connectivity into Central Asia as part of the leadership’s vision of the new Silk Road Economic belt. Yet, the Guardian has countered that the high-speed railway in Xinjiang may end up exacerbating the growing economic inequality in the province.
Dushanbe’s local drivers have been complaining about the city government’s actions in organizing the head of states’ summit for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) which has just taken place on 14 September 2014. The complaints are numerous: The city’s second main street, Ismoil Somoni Avenue, is partially closed; the right lane of the roadway between the President’s Office and the Avicenna memorial is under renovation. This avenue connects with another main road in the city: Rudaki Avenue, where all government institutions are located. The city authorities informed local news agency Asia Plus that the roadway will be closed for 10-12 days; with an increasing number of cars in the city, local taxi drivers believe this could be dangerous for Dushanbe’s roads.
September is the busiest month for India’s foreign office. By the end of the month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have visited Japan and the United States and hosted Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Chinese President Xi Jinping. In this list of big-ticket names, Mr Xi’s visit, scheduled for the 17th of this month, is the one diplomatic visit that is likely to be most closely watched.
For decades, harsh political realities have clouded Sino-Indian relations. China and India are nuclear-armed neighbours with a contested border running more than 3,000 kilometres. They went to war in 1962 over their border dispute. The countries have competing claims over Indian-administered Arunachal Pradesh – known as South Tibet in China – and military build-up continues on both sides. China’s tacit support for Pakistan has long been a cause for concern in India, while New Delhi’s sheltering of the Dalai Lama continues to irk Beijing. But with a new leadership at the helm in both countries, there is room for this relationship to improve. Continue reading →
Kyrgyz school children hang around the main entrance of school in 2011, the broken iron gates are a result of the violent riots in 2010. Photo by Sue Anne Tay.
Khairulo Mamadaliev talks in trajectories. He talks about the linkages of southern Kyrgyzstan, especially of Jalalabad, where Mamadaliev, an ethnic Uzbek, has spent most of his 43 years. He talks of the region’s past, to its directions shifted and ethnicities sifted. It’s an area he’s immensely and gregariously proud of, and he has no problem taking visitors through and narrating the shape it has taken.
But reaching the recent stretch of that narration is not a part he enjoys sharing. He’ll light up about Babur’s march through Osh on his way to beginning the Moghul Empire in 16th-century India, or the centuries-old Chinese artifacts found in the region. But anything recent, anything following 2010 ethnic riots between majority Kyrgyz and minority Uzbeks that saw nearly 500 citizens – mostly Uzbeks – die, and his voice coarsens.
“You see that?” he asks as we drive down Jalalabad’s Lenin street. We slow down as he points to a small beige building, roof caved, fenced off from passersby. “Uzbeks lived there. Uzbeks built that. And the Kyrgyz burned it to the ground.” Continue reading →
Kyrgyz traders in Karasuu bazaar, Osh region, loading a shipment of televisions that came in from Xinjiang. Photo by Sue Anne Tay
China’s economic influence in Kyrgyzstan has been growing rapidly over the past decade. Thanks to Kyrgyzstan’s early membership in the WTO and its generally free economic environment, the country became a major importer, re-exporter and transporter of Chinese goods. As a result, bazaars have become major economic lifelines for Kyrgyzstan, concentrating great amounts of wealth and benefiting hundreds of thousands of people.
Although Chinese economic presence in Kyrgyzstan (and the wider region) is yet to translate into political influence, there are indirect political consequences for Kyrgyzstan. Over the past few years, shuttle traders importing Chinese goods have been at the forefront of the debate as to whether or not Kyrgyzstan should join the Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan Customs Union (CU). There are mixed feelings towards the union.
People have used a variety of phrases to describe the emerging phenomenon of Chinese relations with Eurasia and the Middle East. The most prominent to emerge from China itself was Peking University professor Wang Jisi’s “March West” (xijin) strategy (pictured above). This vision was outlined in a widely read Global Times essay in October 2012, which highlighted the benefits of Chinese engagement with Central Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East as the U.S. withdraws from the region. What is missing, however, is an overarching phrase to describe such geopolitical shifts. The purpose of this piece is to propose the idea of ‘Chinese Continentalism’ as a way of describing China’s unfolding relations with its western neighbors on the Eurasian landmass. Chinese Continentalism as a concept will hopefully be both a theoretical contribution to the way international relations scholars think about China’s engagement in the Eurasian landmass and a framework for understanding the changing dynamics in the region.
Chinese Continentalism is a nod to Kent Calder and his work The New Continentalism, where he outlines the post-Cold War geopolitical logic of multilateral configurations in Eurasia. Calder posits that economic growth in Asian economies has created a symbiotic relationship with energy producers in the continent’s western regions. Geographic proximity was not enough to draw these partners together because of Cold War divisions; but with the Soviet Union’s collapse came a reshaping of the continental order.
In a similar vein, Chinese Continentalism describes the logic behind Beijing’s turn toward its Eurasian backyard. Chinese Continentalism cannot be explained merely by Continue reading →
In a speech last September at Nazarbayev University in Astana, Kazakhstan, China’s President Xi Jinping coined a new strategic vision for his country’s relations with Central Asia, calling for the creation of a Silk Road Economic Belt. Coming at the culmination of a sweep through Central Asia during which he signed deals worth $56bn and touched down in four out of five capitals, the declaration may be something that has now received a new moniker from President Xi, but the economic and geopolitical reality that it characterizes is one that has been underway for some time.
President Xi’s declaration of the Silk Road Economic Belt needs to be understood within a wider context, particularly in his October 2013 speech at a work conference on diplomacy in which he set out his first formal statement on foreign policy. There he highlighted the priority he wanted his administration to place on border diplomacy: “We must strive to make our neighbours more friendly in politics, economically more closely tied to us, and we must have deeper security cooperation and closer people-to-people ties.” Continue reading →
Nestled in an area of Beijing populated by restaurants and shops identifiable mostly in Cyrillic, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) headquarters is housed in the old Japanese Embassy. It has the look of an in-progress refurbished building with plastic still covering the carpet. The member states’ flags flutter proudly outside the prominent entranceway, and an enormous gate surrounding the building is guarded attentively.
Since its inception as the Shanghai Five in 1996, the organisation’s main focus has been to stamp out the “three evils” of terrorism, separatism and extremism. Currently, the member states of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and (since 2001) Uzbekistan hold annual summits, at which they discuss matters of security, counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics and plans for joint military exercises. However, the exact substance of what goes on within the headquarters’ walls is not entirely clear. There are few visible members of personnel inside and a laid-back atmosphere prevails. Most significant strategic discussion-making appears to take place at the summits in regional capitals rather than at the Secretariat itself. This has left the SCO open to accusations of inefficiency and a lack of concrete action on its objectives. The organisation’s representatives announce actions and strategy in vague terms. But the SCO is not valueless. In light of the drawdown from Afghanistan, it has the potential to do much more to secure stability in the region.