Category: Publications

Why do Kazakhstanis Fear China?

By Umida Hashimova

Photo by Sania Tolken, RFERL
Photo by Sania Tolken, RFERL

At the end of May 2016, Kazakhstan experienced unexpected protests sparked by proposed amendments to the Land Law adopted in 2014 that were to enter into force in June 2016. The changes would have allowed foreigners to rent agricultural land for 25 years, up from the previous 10. There was some misunderstanding over an assumption that the amendments would allow foreigners to own land, which officials say is not the case. It is unlikely, however, that these changes to the law were the primary cause for the protests, instead reflecting underlying discontent with government actions and a popular fear of growing Chinese economic influence in the country.

A major underlying reason for popular discontent was the state of the economy, given that the price of oil had crashed and the Russian economy with it. This led to the devaluation of the Kazakh tenge, and a reduction in the value of savings, salaries, and social benefits. This, along with historical Kazakhstani fears of a more powerful China that might expand its territory into Central Asia under the cover of land deals, were the main significant contributing factors that led people to the streets. The amendments to the national law simply snapped the patience of Kazakhstanis with the state of economy and unsatisfactory government service. Continue reading

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China’s Silk Road in Central Asia: transformative or exploitative?

Silk Road
Jin Liqun, AIIB president © AFP

By Sarah Lain

First published in the Financial Times, 27 April 2016

The Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) builds on China’s long-standing economic investment in Central Asia, and it has the potential to further develop Central Asian economies. However, China’s historical track record of investment engagement in the region raises concerns that the SREB could instead exacerbate economic inequalities and poor governance.

China has long been a key driver of infrastructure investment and construction in Central Asia, covering a wide range of sectors. It has invested heavily in the region’s natural resource extraction, with gas, oil, uranium, gold and copper making up key exports from the region. Continue reading

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The China Knowledge Gap in Central Asia

A textile processing park being built by a Xinjiang firm in Dangara, Tajikistan
A textile processing park being built by a Xinjiang firm in Dangara, Tajikistan

By Dirk Van Der Kley

China’s rise has been the major change to the Central Asian foreign policy environment over the past decade. Yet despite China being a major trader, investor and source of aid for the region, specialist knowledge of China among Central Asian governments, business people and academics remains limited. There are signs that this is changing somewhat in business, but much more slowly in government and academia.

For the last three months I have been in Central Asia, interviewing government officials, scholars, and business people about China’s influence in the region. The lack of China specialists was most clear in academia. Every scholar I interviewed openly acknowledged that there are very few China specialists working in Central Asia. There are several identifiable Sinologists in the region, such as Constantine Syroezhkin at the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies in Astana, but they remain small in number. During an interview in Tajikistan, an academic responded to the question “Is Tajikistan prepared for China’s rise?” by saying “we don’t have a clue…how could we?” On another occasion I asked an interviewee in Bishkek to help set up interviews with China specialists. The answer: “Sure…but who to ask.” Continue reading

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Security and Stability along the Silk Road

By Raffaello Pantucci and Sarah Lain

First published by RUSI, February 29, 2016

Proceedings of a 19 January 2016 workshop on the security context for the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) across Central Asia and the stabilising effects of investment and infrastructure development

Download the report here

On 19 January 2016, RUSI in collaboration with the University of World Economy and Diplomacy hosted a day-long workshop in Tashkent on the security context for the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) across Central Asia and the stabilising effects investment and infrastructure development could have on the region.

The workshop included a specific discussion about Uzbekistan’s role in regional security in light of the SREB initiative, as well as China’s views and approaches to security questions throughout the broader region. The event brought together participants from Uzbekistan, China and the UK, including representatives from academia and think tanks.

This workshop report summarises the discussions from the conference and offers insights into the current state of the Chinese-led project.

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Connecting the Eurasian Economic Union and the Silk Road Economic Belt: Current Problems and Challenges for Russia

russia-china-deals-cooperation2

By Ivan Zuenko

During the Putin-Xi summit that took place in Moscow on May 8, the leaders of Russia and China signed a joint declaration “on cooperation in coordinating the development of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) project and the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB)”. Moscow and Beijing’s declared goal in combining the two projects was to build a “common economic space” in Eurasia, including a Free Trade Agreement between the EEU and China.

The positive implications of such a connection are obvious. Cooperating with China can provide Russia and other post-Soviet countries with much-needed funding and technologies for the implementation of large-scale infrastructure projects, primarily in the sphere of transcontinental logistics. It is this auspicious aspect of the EEU-SREB merger that has attracted the most attention in academic papers published by experts. Continue reading

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Europe: The other end of China’s Silk Road

By Raffaello Pantucci

First published by EU Observer, May 18 2015

61/365 March 3 - Still on Top

All of the attention around Xi Jinping’s recent European trip was focused around his visit to Moscow in time for the May Day military parade.

By focusing so singly on the Moscow stop, however, the importance of the route he took was missed.

Coming soon after the President’s visit to Pakistan in which he laid out the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), this trip affirms one of the key routes of the Silk Road Economic Belt – running through Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus to ultimately end in Europe.

This final link is the key which Europe needs to wake up to, to understand that this Chinese outward push is one that is both a reality and one that can advance European interests.
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The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank: a Test of Leadership for the US and China

By Qingzhen Chen

First published by RUSI.org, April 17 2015

Picture from China Daily

China has established a global financial institution that focuses on building roads, railways and other key infrastructure projects crucial to development in Asia. Though there are concerns raised by the United States, the formulation of the AIIB ties China further into a multilateral system.

China has emphasised tirelessly that the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), its new financial institution initiative, is an open and inclusive multilateral institution. The United States has presented the main opposition to the AIIB, but recently many of the US’s allies have joined the financial institution as founding members.

The AIIB is a test of leadership both for an existing superpower and a rising power. The sharp difference between the US and many of its close allies’ reaction to the China-led AIIB shows the US’s dominance over leading financial institutions is waning. However, a lot remains to be decided as to how the AIIB will work and how far it will test the US’s dominance in this field.

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The Bear and the Dragon

By Sarah Lain

First published by RUSI Journal, March 13, 2015

After the deterioration of Russian–Western relations over Ukraine, Moscow has shown itself keen to reinvigorate its relationship with Beijing as a preferred partner – especially but not exclusively in the all-important energy sector. In addition, the two countries’ common ambitions for a multipolar international structure enhance the mutual benefits of a strong partnership. Yet, Sarah Lain argues, the Sino–Russian relationship is characterised by increasing inequality, as Moscow finds itself needing Beijing more than Beijing needs Moscow.

For the full article, please click here.

Picture from the National Defense Magazine
Picture from the National Defense Magazine

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Will China Bring Peace to Afghanistan?

By Raffaello Pantucci

First published by RUSI Newsbrief, February 27, 2015

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After years of fence-sitting, Beijing appears to have finally decided to admit that it is willing to play a role in Afghanistan’s future. While the exact contours of the part it seeks to play are still uncertain, China’s willingness to be seen to be involved in brokering peace in Afghanistan is surprising for a nation that continues to profess non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs as the core of its foreign-policy credo.

It also remains unclear exactly how China can help to bring the Taliban to the peace table: while it may have the links to both the government in Kabul and the Taliban, it is uncertain that it knows how to bring them together, beyond offering a platform for talks. This activism is nonetheless likely to be welcomed by Western powers. Yet high expectations are not warranted; even if China does ultimately prove that it knows what to do with these talks, its efforts in Afghanistan will ultimately seek to advance its own interests rather than those of the West.
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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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China’s Energy Security Strategy in Central Asia

By Fakhmiddin Fazilov & Xiangming Chen

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.

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China’s trade and energy cooperation with Central Asia has been expanding over the last ten years. Photo by Sue Anne Tay

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.

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Tajik Views of the Dragon and the Elephant in Dushanbe

By Umedjon Majidi

Shirkati Karim Ltd (private company), Chinese health centre. Picture by Umedjon Majidi
Shirkati Karim Ltd (private company), Chinese health centre. Picture by Umedjon Majidi

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.

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Kashgar, Nanjiang

By Benjamin Shook

View of Kashgar’s new city. Photo by Sue Anne Tay

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.

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Positive Prospects for Sino-Indian Relations under Xi and Modi?

By Amitha Rajan

Xi and Modi meet for the first time in Brazil. Source: @PMOIndia
Xi and Modi meet for the first time in Brazil. Source: @PMOIndia

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

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China’s Inexorable Drive into Central Asia

By Raffaello Pantucci

First published by China Outlook, August 5, 2014

China_xi_turkmen

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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