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.
By Sarah Lain
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.
By Raffaello Pantucci and Li Lifan
First published in the South China Morning Post, May 19, 2014
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.
By Raffaello Pantucci and Edward Schwarck
First published by CIDOB, May 2014
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.
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)
早报记者 黄翱 发表于2014-04-28 07:06
By Raffaello Pantucci
First published in the South China Morning Post, 7 April, 2014
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.
By Raffaello Pantucci
First published in the Financial Times Beyond BRICS, January 8, 2014
A gentle rapprochement is under way between China and the United Kingdom. After almost two years in a diplomatic freeze, David Cameron visited Beijing last month and made an effective play for more trade. For the UK, this is a moment to recalibrate its relationship and play a role in coaxing China towards becoming a responsible international stakeholder. One route to that end is through understanding and working with China’s ‘march westward’ strategy, which has at its heart the re-activation of the ancient Silk Road linking China to Europe.
by Raffaello Pantucci
First published in The Diplomat, October 23, 2013
Two Asian giants met in Beijing this week, with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh making a reciprocal visit to Beijing. The focus of the trip was economic cooperation and plans to get China-India trade to $100 billion by 2015, although it was the border disputes – and in particular the signing of a Border Defence Cooperation Agreement designed to defuse tensions – that captured the public attention.
What was missing from the agenda, however, was Afghanistan, a country in which Beijing and Delhi both have substantial mutual interests and where the two Asian giants could demonstrate their ability to responsibly manage the regional order.
by Sue Anne Tay
Zharkent, Kazakhstan: A long-distance sleeper bus with Xinjiang, China license plates in the town of Zharkent, the last outpost before the Khorgos border with China. The journey from Almaty in Kazakhstan to Urumqi in Xinjiang province can take up to 24 hours. Passengers, made up of largely Chinese, Uighurs and Kazakhs, stock up on drinking water and food supplies in Zharkent before the crossing which could involve long waits at the border.
Khorgos, Kazakhstan: New smooth roads lead to a new custom crossing in Khorgos which remains under construction on the Kazakh side, and is expected to speed up inspection process. The area around Khorgos is set to become a Special Economic Zone (SEZ), with 30-day visa exemptions for businessmen operating in the zone.
Khorgos, Kazakhstan: Container trucks parked on the Kazakh side of the Khorgos border awaiting customs inspections before being allowed to cross into Xinjiang province in China. Bribery and complicated customs procedures are often cited as reasons for long waits at the borders and rising import/export costs.
Southern Corridor highway, Kyrgyzstan: An outpost of the China Bridge and Road Corporation (CBRC) responsible for repaving the Southern Transport Corridor highway from Osh through Sary Tash to the Irshketam Border Pass with China. The sign says “Go to work happy (L); return safe and sound (R).”
Southern Corridor highway, Kyrgyzstan: Chinese construction workers paving new highway roads near the Irshketam Border Pass. Due to the extreme cold in the mountains, Chinese engineers and workers only work between April and October and travel back to China for the rest of winter.
Irshketam border, Kyrgyzstan: Chinese and Uighur drivers on the Kyrgyz side of the Irshketam border waiting to fuel up and rest ahead of their days-long journey at a slow pace through winding highways towards key trade bazaars in southern Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
Southern Corridor highway, Kyrgyzstan: Trucks carrying coal in Chinese-made trucks along the Southern Corridor highway on the way to the Irshketam Border Pass with China. It is one of the key trade routes from China into the region.
Khorgos, Kazakhstan: A Sinooil petrol station near the Khorgas Border Pass with China which is a key trade route between the two countries.
Zharkent, Kazakhstan: Zharkent town’s central and unique mosque was built around 1887 by a Chinese architect, Hon Pik, who was hired by a local Zharkent merchant. Note the Chinese-styled pavilion in typical traditional Chinese colors of vermillion red, yellow and green. The interior design of the mosque is a mix of Chinese, Tsarist Russian and Central Asian influences.
by Sue Anne Tay
Tashkent, Uzbekistan: A young Uzbek university student gives an impassioned speech entitled “My China Dream” as part of the “Chinese Bridge” (or han yu qiao) – a global Chinese language proficiency competition - in 2011. Candidates are coached by their Chinese teachers to recite lyrical speeches as part of the competition which also include a Q&A on Chinese history and culture and a cultural performance.
Tashkent, Uzbekistan: An Uzbek university student rehearses ahead of the cultural performance section of her ”Chinese Bridge” (or han yu qiao) competition. She wears a Yunnan ethnic minority ceremonial dress as part of her act.
Tashkent, Uzbekistan: Chinese ambassador Zhang Xiao, a fluent Russian speaker, was the guest of honor at the ”Chinese Bridge” (or han yu qiao) competition. Here, he poses with the winner and runners-up of the language proficiency contest, along with their Chinese teachers. The winner heads to Beijing to compete in the semi-finals with other international winners of the Chinese Bridge competitions held world-wide.
Jalalabad, Kyrgyzstan: Uzbek students study Mandarin at a Chinese language centre in Jalalabad University. The Centre is paired up with Xinjiang Normal University and is in the process of upgrading to a Confucius Institute which would allow it to officially apply for more funding and resources. Jalalabad is a major trade city in southern Kyrgyzstan.
Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan: A Kyrgyz graduate student of the Bishkek Humanities University does her Chinese homework in the Confucius Institute located within the university campus. In the background, a figurine of Confucius hangs on the wall. The television is hooked up to Chinese satellite to receive more Chinese channels than the limited array of CCTV channels (in Russian and English) available in the city.
Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan: A Chinese-Kyrgyz textbook sits atop boxes of education supplies shipped from Hanban, the Beijing-based headquarters of Confucius Institutes worldwide. Early teaching materials were mainly Chinese-Russian translations due to the pervasiveness of Russian spoken among the educated classes in Central Asia. However, Hanban has dedicated special effort in translating pedagogical materials in local languages like Uzbek, Kyrgyz, Kazakh and Tajik.
Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan: Professor Wang of the Confucius Institute at the Bishkek Humanities University converses with a Chinese-Kazakh language teacher and a Kyrgyz graduate student. He was sent by the Xinjiang Normal University to Bishkek. Confucius Institutes abroad are usually paired up with a Chinese university for teachers and pedagogical materials are dispatched from Hanban in Beijing.
Almaty, Kazakhstan: A Chinese teacher at Al-Farabi Kazakh National University’s Confucius Institute shows off a framed photograph of the China Pavilion for the Shanghai World Expo held in 2010.
Almaty, Kazakhstan: A Kazakh student studies in a brightly decorated language training centre in Al-Farabi Kazakh National University’s Confucius Institute.
By Alexandros Petersen
First published in The Atlantic on July 12, 2013
Central Asia’s beating heart, the commercial hub of the region that cultivated the old Silk Road, is neither of the fabled Thousand and One Nights cities of Samarkand or Bukhara. In fact, the center of this region is not even really in Central Asia. It’s in China.
Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang, the autonomous region that together with Tibet makes up China’s western edge, is a bubbling, gritty metropolis, and probably the most cosmopolitan place between Shanghai and Istanbul. On the surface, Urumqi resembles most second-tier Chinese industrial hubs. But, with its myriad advertisements, signs and business placards in Chinese, Uighur, Russian, Kazakh and Kyrgyz — written in Chinese, Arabic or Cyrillic scripts –Urumqi is no ordinary Chinese city. In fact, it has emerged as the de factocapital of a revived Central Asia, a region poised to assume a higher profile in the world’s energy, diplomatic, and cultural scenes. Continue reading
By Alexandros Petersen
First published in The Atlantic on June 28, 2013
Turkmenistan’s southeastern desert, not far from the border with Afghanistan, is a forbidding place. Its bleak, dusty vistas are punctuated by the ruins of ancient caravansaries: once rest stops on the old Silk Road. But, the silence of that long lost East-West artery is now regularly broken by the rumble of Chinese truck convoys. These are not ordinary tractor-trailers, either: they move slowly carrying massive loads of natural gas extraction equipment, and according to Turkmen officials, the shepherds’ bridges and village roads have had to be reinforced from the impact of their weight. The equipment is headed to one of the top five natural gas fields in the world; Formerly known as South Yolotan-Osman, in 2011 the field was renamed “Galkynysh” or “revival” in Turkmen. The name is apt because this gargantuan reserve of natural gas is the prize motivating CNPC, China’s largest oil company, to revive the old Silk Road — only this time by pipeline. Continue reading
By Raffaello Pantucci
First published in RUSI Newsbrief June 24, 2013
Courtesy of AP Photo/Saurabh Das
On the eve of his visit to India in late May, Premier Li Keqiang published an editorial in The Hinduin which he spoke of China and India as ‘two big Asian countries … destined to be together’. Running under the headline ‘A Handshake Across the Himalayas’, the piece offered an optimistic look at relations between China and India. Only one brief mention was made of the border dispute that had dominated headlines in previous months, brushing the issue under the carpet by stating that, ‘with joint efforts in the past few years, the two sides have gradually found a way to maintain peace and tranquility in the disputed border areas’. This statement would have jarred with Indian assessments of the border incursion as provocative Chinese action aimed at altering the established modus vivendi across the Line of Actual Control, the de-facto border between the two countries accepted in the absence of an internationally recognised border in the region. Nevertheless, the episode passed without too deleterious an impact on Premier Li’s visit, something that senior Indian commentators have interpreted as a sign of China’s victory in this round of tension between the two Asian giants. Continue reading
By Raffaello Pantucci
First published in China Brief May 23, 2013
On April 24, reports emerged from Xinjiang that 21 people had been killed in what was reported as a “terrorist clash” in Bachu County, Kashgar Prefecture (Xinhua, April 24). The incident came as U.S. Ambassador to Beijing Gary Locke was undertaking the first visit to the province by a senior U.S. delegation in 20 years as part of Beijing’s push to attract foreign investment to the province (Xinjiang Daily, April 25). The juxtaposition of the two events highlighted Beijing’s persistent difficulties in taming the province’s tensions. They call into question Beijing’s economics-based strategy while illustrating the ongoing questions about the drivers of radicalization in the province.
Initial descriptions about the events in Selibuya village in Bachu County (also known as Maralbexi) just outside Kashgar, suggested the incident was the product of a “violent clash between suspected terrorists and authorities” (Xinhua, April 24). Three community workers were described as entering a property and finding suspicious individuals with knives. They managed to alert others, but were killed before help could arrive. This lead to a larger clash in which a total of 15 police and community workers were killed while six so-called “mobsters” were shot to death (Xinjiang Daily, April 24;Shanghai Daily, April 24). The 15 dead were heralded later as “martyrs” and identified by their ethnicities as 10 Uighur, three Han and two Mongolians (Xinhua, April 29). Grim pictures released in the days after the funerals seemed to show females identified as cadres with their throats slit (CCTV13, April 30). Continue reading