Author Archives: Sue Anne Tay

European energy security and Turkmenistan

By Sarah Lain

First published by The Diplomat, January 15, 2014

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.

Ministry of Oil and Mineral Resources, Turkmenistan. Image Credit: Jim Fitzgerald

Ministry of Oil and Mineral Resources, Turkmenistan. Image Credit: Jim Fitzgerald

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

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Local Tensions Trump Beijing’s Power in Southern Kyrgyzstan

By Casey Michel

Jalalabad school gates

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

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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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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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Remembering Alex and a New Direction

Group Photo Samarkand 01

Since the sad passing of our co-founder Alexandros Petersen, the China in Central Asia site has taken a respectful and bereaved pause. Alex’s loss was devastating to us as well as to the wider community whom he encountered – something we are all too aware of thanks to the many kind messages we received in the wake of the sad news.

However, we are certain that Alex would have wanted us to continue the work in the spirit that he had imagined it.

Alex was a great lover of Eurasia and was particularly fascinated by China’s growth in the region. Together we had travelled much of the region, published numerous articles, captured endless photographs of China’s rising power in the region, and had an amazing time as we did it.

And it is in the spirit of curious and positive investigation that we plan to continue this project, dedicating the site and its work to his memory.

As a next step, we hope to expand the scope and nature of the site, something that Alex was always keen for. When we first established the project site, our objective was to showcase our work on this topic, part of a book project we are still working towards. But the longer-term vision was to transform this site into a hub for research and writing on China in broader Central Asia. In this vein, we hope to begin accepting submissions of original research and writing on this topic, as well as deepen our links to other excellent sources of research and writing on wider Central Asia.

We are working to implement this new direction for the site and would welcome suggestions about how to make this happen. Feel free to contact us via the site or at chinaincentralasia [at] gmail.com. In the meantime we plan to continue our work and to offer up a glimpse into what we consider one of the most under-explored geostrategic shifts of our time – China’s growing influence across its western borders.

A final note about our dear Alex.

Numerous articles have been written about his academic brilliance, erudition, charm, punk rock skills and more. But we would also like to highlight his humorous and sunny disposition that made him such a pleasurable travel and work companion.

Without him here, we will sadly never be able to properly do his wonderful character justice, but we hope that these pictures drawn from our travels will offer people a view into this side of him that is amongst the things we will miss the most.

Thanks again for all your wishes.

Raffaello and Sue Anne

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Featured: “China’s Footprint Beyond Its Western Borders”

On the photography front, our project has been gaining strong traction with both Mainland Chinese and Western outlets. In particular:

Southern Window (南方窗), a leading Chinese commentary magazine, has published our photo essay entitled “China’s Footprint Beyond Its Western Borders” or “西陲之外的中国足迹” which looks at China’s wide array of interests and Chinese trader communities in the Central Asia region.

Based on numerous interactions with local Chinese here in Shanghai, granted a limited research pool, one discovers that layman awareness of China’s numerous western neighbors is quite limited. China’s tourists still prefer to travel to Europe, Southeast Asia and the US, and apart from specific industries (infrastructure, oil, gas etc) and goods trade run from Xinjiang province, the Chinese man/woman on the street does not feel that Central Asia has any significant impact – economic or cultural – on their daily lives.  Continue reading

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A Xinjiang Trade Fair in Tashkent

By Raffaello and Sue Anne Tay

Last week, we have been visiting Tashkent, Uzbekistan as part of our ongoing research on Chinese interests in Central Asia.

Fortunately, on the flight here from Beijing, one of us had the good fortune to be seated amidst a boisterous group of 40 Xinjiang businessmen part of a provincial business delegation attending a trade fair in Tashkent. They had been forced to fly through Beijing from Urumqi – a geographically illogical route – due to the fact that there are no direct flights between Tashkent and Urumqi.

At their invitation, we visited the trade fair earlier this week. Held in an old exhibition hall in the outskirts of Tashkent it was a no-frills affair with basic booths lined up four by four. In its fourth year, the Xinjiang Trade Expo was sponsored by the Uzbek Chamber of Commerce, the Xinjiang government, and the bingtuan (the former People’s Liberation Army (PLA)-managed state owned enterprise (SOE) responsible for much of Xinjiang’s industries). Continue reading

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China Hasn’t Yet Grown Into Its Role

By Raffaello Pantucci & Alexandros Petersen.

First published in the Lowy Institute for International Policy’s The Interpreter on 7 November 2011.

It was a grim, grey Beijing morning as we fought with our taxi driver and traffic to make it to a meeting at one of China’s many official think tanks. We had set up the meeting with the intention of discussing Chinese foreign policy in her western periphery, Central Asia, but were instead asked to present on the pending Western withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Trying to shift things back in our direction, we offered a brief presentation on the view increasingly shared in Western capitals that regional powers and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (the Chinese-instigated regional grouping encompassing nearby Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Russia) could take on a greater role in ensuring post-withdrawal Afghan stability.

In response, we were told that our perspective was exclusively Western; we needed to see things from an Asian point of view. Continue reading

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