Conceptualizing Chinese Continentalism

By Kendrick Kuo

Wang Jisi March West

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.

Kent Calder 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

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China’s Inexorable Drive into Central Asia

Raffaello Pantucci

First published by China Outlook, August 5, 2014

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Picture from China Outlook

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.”
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Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO): A Real Force for Change?

By Sarah Lain

Inside the SCO. Photo: Raff Pantucci

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.

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Afghanistan a Building Block for China-India Ties

by Raffaello Pantucci

First published by Reuters, July 30, 2014

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters, images used in the piece can be found here)

The appointment of a former ambassador to Kabul and New Delhi by China to the role of Special Envoy for Afghanistan highlights China’s thinking of what it can do in Afghanistan.

China is not seeking a leadership role in the country, but is rather looking for regional partners to support its efforts. A key partner is being sought in New Delhi where the Narendra Modi administration has welcomed Xi Jinping’s early overtures for a closer broader relationship. The opportunity presents itself that Afghanistan’s two largest Asian neighbours might be on the cusp of closer cooperation to help the nation onto a more stable footing.
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China’s Domestic Insurgency

By Raffaello Pantucci

First published by www.rusi.org, July 23, 2014

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The 2009 Urumqi riots marked a watershed for Beijing’s policy towards the region. Largely ignored by the capital as a backwater that was ruled over by strongman governor Wang Lequan, the scale of the riots in Xinjiang obliged then President Hu Jintao into the embarrassing situation of having to leave a G8 Summit in Italy to come and take charge of the situation. In the wake of the rioting, numerous senior security officials in the province were sacked and a year later the 15-year provincial head Wang Lequan moved back to Beijing. At around the same time in 2010, the government announced a new strategy towards Xinjiang, focused heavily on economic investment and developing the province’s trade links with Central Asia.
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A Roadmap for Sino-Indian Co-operation in Afghanistan

By Raffaello Pantucci, Shisheng Hu, and Ravi Sawhney

First published by RUSI, July 16, 2014

As NATO and Western powers begin to take a backseat in Afghanistan’s future, one of the most pressing questions is what role regional powers, particularly China and India, can play in helping the country to become a prosperous and stable nation.

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Download the paper here (PDF)

Numerous efforts are already underway through multilateral and bilateral forums, yet the key to regional co-operation in securing Afghanistan’s future lies through closer interaction between Beijing and New Delhi.

This paper – which draws on a research project spanning a number of workshops in Beijing, New Delhi and Qatar, and involving influential thinkers and experts from China, India, the UK and Afghanistan – maps out specific ideas that policy-makers in Beijing and New Delhi can explore as avenues for co-operation.

Post-2014 Afghanistan will remain a major regional concern for at least the short to medium term. The earlier that China and India can develop workable collaborative undertakings, the sooner they can forge a stable and prosperous neighbourhood.

The paper is co-authored with Dr Shisheng Hu, Director of South Asia and Oceania Studies at the China Institute for Contemporary International Relations and Lieutenant General (Rtd) Ravi Sawhney, Distinguished Fellow at the Vivekananda International Foundation. Many thanks to RUSI colleague Edward Schwarck for his support in drafting this paper.

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Letter from Bishkek: How Visible is China’s Economic Hegemony in Kyrgyzstan’s Capital?

By Casey Michel

For all of the discussion of China’s economic hegemony in Central Asia it remains nonetheless surprising that the visual evidence of China’s influence can appear so lacking in Kyrgyzstan. Traipsing through Bishkek, skirting through as many Turkish and German and Moldovan restaurants as your stomach will allow, you realize that Bishkek boasts a surprising international reach. In comparison, visual signs of Chinese presence is, on the whole, markedly lacking. Save for the rare Chinese restaurant, there are no Chinese cultural centers standing tall in downtown corners or much visible evidence of Chinese words on posters or shop fronts highlighting their presence.

Language classes in Bishkek

In spite of Kyrgyzstan’s economic and geopolitical trajectory, if you were walking through Bishkek, Chinese influence would seem an afterthought. In comparison, Turkish flags can be seen flying outside the Hyatt and plastered around the Kyrgyz-Turkish Manas University. Advertisements for English lessons, taught by British and American nationals, are offered at nearly every major intersection. And the Soviet legacy lingers with each passing block, both in architecture and in every passing conversation. Russia remains dominant in the country. Continue reading

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Tashkurgan: The First Stop on a Silk Road of Potentials

By Alessandro Rippa

Tashkurgan is a small town of about 40,000 people (or over 60,000 population if it includes Chinese military personnel, tourists, and businessmen), situated in the south-eastern corner of the Chinese province of Xinjiang. The town represents the seat of the Tashkurgan Tajik Autonomous County, which borders Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. One of China’s remotest counties, placed in a barren high plateau at over three thousands meters above sea level, Tashkurgan has a long and rich history. Here were excavated artifacts produced by some of the earliest cultures of the region. It is believed by some that Tashkurgan – which means Stone Fortress (or Tower) – was in fact the stone tower mentioned by Ptolemy, where western and Chinese merchants performed their trade exchanges. Nevertheless, Tashkurgan’s role as a market town seems reinvigorated today by the presence of the Karakoram Highway (KKH), the road connecting Kashgar to Islamabad that represents the backbone of the projected “China-Pakistan Economic Corridor”. A legacy of the legendary Silk Road, the KKH was opened to civilian traffic in 1982 and has since brought immense changes to Tashkurgan, a once forgotten outpost of the PRC.

Tashkurgan's Stone Fortress
Tashkurgan’s Stone Fortress

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Kazakhstan Defies Russia over Eurasian Economic Union

By Sarah Lain

Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbaev and Russian president Vladimir Putin shake hands after signing the treaty on the Eurasian Economic Union Photo: kremlin.ru
Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbaev and Russian president Vladimir Putin shake hands after signing the treaty on the Eurasian Economic Union Photo: kremlin.ru

On May 29 Kazakhstan, Belarus and Russia signed into existence the Eurasian Economic Union (“EEU”), set to come into force in January 2015. The EEU’s aim is the economic integration of ex-Soviet countries, based on a European Union-style collective model. It builds on the Customs Union, signed in 2010, which implemented a common customs territory and removed internal border controls between the three states. Against the backdrop of a shifting geopolitical landscape sparked by events in Ukraine, and strengthening Russian and Kazakh bi-lateral relations with China, the original vision of the EEU may no longer be viable. Although they wish to show they have a diversified partner base, Kazakhstan and Russia also want to avoid perceptions of any overt economic threat to its shared Chinese partner. This is particularly relevant to Kazakhstan, which has in fact suffered economically from the initial implementation of the Customs Union, as laid out below.

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China Relishes its New Role Fostering Regional Cooperation

By Raffaello Pantucci and Li Lifan

First published in the South China Morning Post, May 19, 2014

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China’s President Xi Jinping (left) and Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev look on next to an honour guard during a welcoming ceremony at the eve of the fourth Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) summit, in Shanghai. Photo: Reuters

The Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, which begins today in Shanghai, largely passes unnoticed most years. But this year it is being touted as a major global event, largely due to Russia’s current awkward relationships elsewhere and China’s growing global profile.

It also offers a window into President Xi Jinping’s vision for China’s foreign policy.

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Transition in Afghanistan: Filling the Security Vacuum – The Expansion of Uighur Extremism?

By Raffaello Pantucci and Edward Schwarck

First published by CIDOB, May 2014

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This paper aims to map out as clearly as possible the current threat from Uighur extremist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and ascertain whether these groups will develop into a regional threat over the next few years.

It will be argued that Uighur Sunni-jihadist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan are unlikely to be able to fill the security void in either country after the West’s withdrawal. Traditionally, these groups have struggled to gain traction within the global jihadist community. China has also done an effective job of building regional relationships that means local governments would block their ascension into power. Furthermore, the number of Uighur militants remains marginal, suggesting that, at worst, they might be able to take control of some small settlements.

The paper will outline what is known about the current state of the Uighur Sunni-jihadist community in Afghanistan and Pakistan; present the available information on their operations; highlight what the Chinese state is doing regionally (and – briefly – at home) to mitigate the threat, and offer concluding thoughts on the likelihood of a major Uighur threat emerging in either Afghanistan or Pakistan, post-2014.

The complete paper can be found here.

 

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Urumqi Attack

By Raffaello Pantucci

First published on the BBC, May 1, 2014

(published Chinese above, English translation below)

潘圖奇

潘圖奇認為,烏魯木齊火車站的爆炸案,顯示新疆局勢惡化。

4月30日發生在新疆的襲擊,正值中國國家主席習近平結束在自治區的訪問。在那裏,習近平說新疆是中國「反恐與保持社會穩定的前線。」過去一年,新疆的暴力事件不斷增加,這次發生在烏魯木齊火車站的襲擊,再次凸顯了新疆的問題在升級。

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China’s Role in Afghanistan

By Raffaello Pantucci (潘睿凡)

First published in 东方早报 (Oriental Morning Post), April 28, 2014

(published Chinese above, English translation below)

维护阿富汗稳定的责任 或将落到中国身上
早报记者 黄翱 发表于2014-04-28 07:06

英国皇家联合服务研究所

高级研究员

“毫无疑问,中国未来应该在阿富汗发挥更大作用。”在长期致力研究中国与中亚各国关系的英国学者潘睿凡看来,随着卡尔扎伊时代的终结以及美国抽身阿富汗带来的不确定,作为在阿富汗有着重要利益的地区大国,中国势必将承担起在阿富汗问题上更大的责任。

“这种重要性不仅仅是对中国以后的经济发展而言,同样也关乎到中国未来的政治和安全。如果未来西方国家对阿富汗缺乏利益关注的话,那么维护该地区稳定的责任就会落到中国这样的区域大国身上。”他说。

东方早报:中国如何向阿富汗人民和国际社会更加清晰地阐述中国的阿富汗战略?

潘睿凡:这其实是一个非常复杂的问题。在中国企业投资项目中,你会发现政策目标和行动之间常常存在根本差异。我与很多阿富汗人有过交流,他们抱怨江西铜业和中冶集团(MCC)只是干守着艾娜克铜矿项目却并不去开发其矿产资源能力,他们对中国未使该项目真正地投入运行很不满。我相信实际情况肯定要复杂得多,我同样也相信中国可以在该事情上做得更多。阿富汗人民真正需要的不仅仅是口头的政治声明,还包括切实的行动。目前,中国在阿富汗地区扮演了重要角色,但却不是最关键的那个。阿富汗人民期望中国扮演关键的角色并能切实完成该角色的使命。还有一点要注意,中国要在巴基斯坦和阿富汗之间中找到一个平衡点。

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Shared concerns mask China’s unease over Russia’s action in Ukraine

By Raffaello Pantucci

First published in the South China Morning Post, 7 April, 2014russia_xpag101_42123189

 

Various Russian media outlets have loudly and repeatedly declared that China supports Moscow’s view on Ukraine. Recently, in an interview on Russian state television, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov characterised China as “our very close partners” with whom he has no doubts.

On the face of it, this interpretation is accurate, but the reality is far more complex, with China uneasy about Russia’s actions though it may share Moscow’s concerns.

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China in Pakistan: An Awkward Relationship Beneath the Surface

By Raffaello Pantucci

First published by RUSI Newsbrief, 15 Jan 2014

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Characterised by soaring rhetoric, at first glance the China–Pakistan bilateral relationship appears to be one of the world’s closest. Yet below the surface calm bubble concerns, with policy-makers in Beijing particularly worried about the implications of the 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan for stability in Pakistan. Western policy-makers should not, however, be optimistic that these concerns will soon translate into Chinese willingness to somehow assume responsibility or leadership in helping Pakistan to develop in a way favourable to the West. Rather, Chinese concerns should be seen within the context of a regional relationship that is likely to grow in prominence as time goes on, ultimately drawing China into a more responsible role in South Asia at least.

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