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 by RUSI Newsbrief, 15 Jan 2014
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.
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
By Alexandros Petersen
In a year of potential flux across Central Asia, one trend should remain constant: China’s relentless expansion of influence in the region. As Western forces withdraw (in one configuration or another) from Afghanistan, the Manas Transit Center closes in Kyrgyzstan and the United States diplomatic, development and security cooperation efforts are precipitously decreased in the area between the Black Sea and the Pamirs, leaders in the region are preparing for a reality in which they will have to balance Russia’s bombastic pugnacity with China’s economic steamroller. While it would be ideal for the locals, so to speak, to carve out their own geopolitical and economic space, this task is made more difficult with the loss of a non-Eurasian great power as a potential partner. Continue reading
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 Alexandros Petersen
First published in The Atlantic December 2, 2013
Outside Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, lie two major transit hubs. To the west is the Manas Transit Center, the United States’ main waypoint for soldiers coming in and out of Afghanistan. And to the north is the Dordoi bazaar, said to be the largest re-export market in Central Asia, a funnel for cheap Chinese goods to the relatively rich consumers of Kazakhstan and Russia. The Manas Transit Center is set to close in 2014, marking the end of Washington’s major security presence in the region. Dordoi, meanwhile, will be open indefinitely, an enduring symbol of the region’s Chinese-dominated future. Continue reading
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.
Alexandros Petersen discusses China’s ‘inadvertent empire’ in Eurasia at the Jamestown Foundation’s conference: U.S. Relations with Central Asia After 2014 and the New Silk Road. Video available here.