The break-up of the former Union of Soviet Socialist[??1] Republics (USSR) brought about the significant changes in the region’s geopolitical arena. It paved the way for outside players, among them is China, to have an impact on the region’s political and economic development. No doubt, compared to the other far-placed nations with vested interests in the Central Asian Republics, China is better placed. The reason lies in China’s contiguity of the Central (African[??2] ) Republics. This paper gives a stereoscopic view of China’s vital interests in the region from political, economic and security perspectives. It also points out the risks and benefits for Central Asian countries from China’s rise of power. It wraps up by making the long-term prognosis for the relations between China and Central Asian countries.
In 1991, the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) broke up. Subsequently, five Central Asian Republics, namely, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan became sovereign. This opened up the region to outside players such as Japan, Turkey, the United States and South Korea. The five Central Asian countries are landlocked. China shares borders with three of the five Central African Republics, namely, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan through the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). These borders have been the centre of disputes dating back to the Sino-Soviet hostility.
China claimed that imperial Russia had seized Chinese land in the 1880s. Thus, in 1954, it prepared a new map that claimed portions of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Central Asia was the epicenter of strategic dominance competition between imperial Russia and Britain in the nineteenth century. Nowadays, the competition for strategic dominance revolves around Russia, the United States and China.
Being a rising power in central Asia, China harbors number of interests. This includes acquiring central Asian hydrocarbon, reinforcing the economic links with the region, managing the radical Islam specifically in within her border and limiting the influence of the United States. China has shown a rapid systematic advance and further established a technical policy aimed at long-term control of business relationships, energy and resources in the region.
However, China is facing strong competition from Russia and this implies that the central Asian states might be forced to choose sides. With this kind of rivalry the central Asian states might be pushed to sustain precarious political balance. Consequently this raises questions on the success of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which has been the main agenda of many commentaries and rumors.
In 2001, Central Asian Republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan joined China and Russia to form the Shanghai Co-operation Organization (SCO). China uses the “institutional linkages provided by the SCO and its conceptual underpinnings in its attempts to participate in matters directly pertaining to the politics, economics and security of Central Asia.” In the wake of 9/11, Central Asia’s geopolitical arena is taking a new direction as the U.S. becomes increasingly influential in the region. China, however, uses the SCO as its bargaining chip to fight insurgency and blend in with the influence of the U.S[??3] . because ‘as one analyst has observed, “without Beijing’s participation in the SCO, there is absolutely no point in having the organization.”’
The use of SCO by China to accomplish its political, economic and security interests in the region is hidden behind the facade of the ‘Shanghai Spirit’ – SCO is an example of a new world order of regional teamwork. The ‘Shanghai Spirit’ helps China walk the right way “of their sway and opportunities in the SCO to coin their policy of political, economic…towards Central Asia.” Central Asia is also important to China as it enables it to balance its geo-political and geo-economic interests. Central Asia, however, is a region torn mostly between Russia and China in their battle for primacy and bilateral political and economic issues dominate meetings involving either president of the two nations. Today, these two nations are the main outside players in the region.
Central Asia has broadly been analyzed to be one of the key regions for great competition of power in geopolitical terms. The original states of this region are rather feeble and not likely to effectively rebel the intervention of states that are more powerful. Therefore China established a realistic advance to international affairs in order to capitalize on its power and influence in Central Asia over United States and Russia. Despite the fact that China has faced strong competition from its rival, it sorts to use diplomacy; this approach has enabled the country to acquire prominent relation with the newly independent states in the Central Asia.
China has many political interests in Central Asia. One of such interests is ensuring that the political predilections of the administrations of Central Asian Republics fall in step with those of China. This is the basic purpose of SCO to China. Shanghai cooperation organization was implemented with an aim of beginning a cautious political and security initiative in central Asia. However, the SCO[??4] , which encompasses Russia and other five states from the region, has proved to be dormant during periods of political instability.
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With the establishment of SCO, china intends to strengthen the territorial integrity, economic rejuvenation and culturally diverse the systems in the region. This was particularly aimed for the states that were struggling to control the rising reactions of Pan-Turkic nationalism, radical Islam and terrorist operations in central Asia. China targeted at ensuring political stability so as to easily secure the western borders in opposition to separatists. Consequently, a politically stable central Asia would ensure that vital things such as weapons, finance, labor and speculations does not penetrate the boundaries of Xinjiang and reinforce the already unstable state in the region[??5] .
The other interest is nipping in the bud the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) that was heading eastwards. The political affairs of Central Asia are very important to China, because through the SCO, it prevents the determent of China’s geo-political concerns since it’s a super-power sharing a border with the region.
NATO disguises its hold and interest of increasing its presence in Central Asia by giving the U.S. military assistance to and training the armed forces of the administrations of Central Asian Republics. For instance, in what was seemingly “Partnership for Peace”, NATO recruited Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan into its force in 1994. A year later and under the watch of the U.S., the Central Asian Battalion – comprised of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan units – was formed. This coupled with US aid in exchange of a guarantee that this region’s countries will advance democracy and cease authoritarian rule, is a great concern for China. Various Chinese scholars observe that Central Asia’s color revolutions “and the Arab Spring are part of an American-engineered plan to democratize the world and destabilize China.” Therefore, China doesn’t have a democratic form of government; instead, it has communism and modern authoritarianism.
China seeks to look for partners who strongly support the ideology of political stasis and opposing the U.S[??6] . call for regime change. The region’s co-operation with China will enable Beijing “to strengthen the secular-minded governments of Central Asia against those who favor Islamic rule.” What is more, China is conscious of “a certain affinity between Central Asia’s authoritarian regimes and its own, and in public, at least, defends them with similar rhetoric…[??7] protect interests by negotiating with authoritarian regimes” The rivalry and mistrust between China and Russia notwithstanding, China’s seeking to preserve the friendliness of the two regimes is its main political purpose in the area. This has led to more unconditional support to the governments in the region to the chagrin of China[??8] , as it’s not content with the generous gestures shown by them.
In the wake of September 11 attacks, however, the outside players such as the U.S. have stopped criticizing the regional’s form of governance for they have a common interest: fighting radical Islamists.
Fighting political assassinations and politically inspired secessionist groups is the next political interest. The regional people and many of those who have a kindred spirit and a similar ancestry with other ethnic groups in the region, sympathize with people fighting for secession. Based on official census data, the region harbors over 300,000 Uyghurs: 30,000 are in Uzbekistan, 46,000 – in Kyrgyzstan and 210,000 – in Kazakhstan.
Georgia’s 2003 “Rose Revolution”, Ukraine’s 2004 “Orange Revolution” and Kyrgyz Republic’s 2005 “Tulip Revolution”; these are among the “Color Revolutions” that were coupled with manipulated elections; and they made Beijing uneasy and wary of the Uyghur agitation being taken advantage of by external players. The Chinese government is wary of the Uyghurs who live on either side “of the border uniting and making a concerted effort [and bring about] a potential breakup of the Xinjiang region” by looking for support from the Central Asian countries. In 2000, two Chinese officials on a visiting mission were killed. Two years later, a Chinese envoy was gunned down in Kyrgyz purportedly by Uyghur secessionists known as Eastern Turkestan Liberation Front. According to Niquet, the internal challenges that China faces can not[??9] be merely resolved in Xinjiang because before 1884, it hadn’t been integrated into Qing Dynasty. China[??10] uses its presence in the region to hinder the Uyghurs making such a quest to the region by being “very active in enrolling the support of its Central Asian neighbors in the crackdown against Uighur ethno-nationalist aspirations.”
The Chinese policy in Central Asia is guided by a desire to have a stable political authority in the region. That desire arises from China’s internal instability in the Xinjiang region. China feels that new political threats might be nipped in the bud –[??11] ever since the Cold War ended –[??12] if efforts are made to stabilize the frontier zones.
Another great political interest of China in Central Asia is the political stability. Chinese officials fear that danger of spread out from Afghanistan or a recurrence of the Arab Spring in Central Asia. Secessionist groups in China, and who have seen action in Pakistan and Afghanistan, worries Beijing of ‘direct bearing on Islamist insurgency in China’s borders.’Yet, another political interest is the promotion of the regional’s different political systems. European unity for many years after the Second World War was a good case study to China. Therefore, that unity ‘rested… [??13] on the complementary nature of the… [??14] political values.’
China’s interest in Central Asian Republics transcends political purpose.
The economic interests of China in central grew tremendously together with its political calibration,[??15] which markedly elevated the planning strategies of Chinese policy makers. For instance a bilateral credit consignment worth 269 million dollars was signed with the Tajik government when it visited China. The government of China laid forward plans to deal out financial resources for the re-establishment of Dushanbe-Ayni-Shahriston-Istaravshon-Khujand-Buston motorway along[??16] Tajik-Uzbek border that was more than four hundred kilometers long. The CAMP Company from China in collaboration with Export and import bank entered into a contract to establish a new cement plant in Kyrgyzstan's southern town of Kyzyl-Kiya. The principal interest of China in this contract was to create about one thousand jobs, boost its revenue and strengthen its economic ties.
China is aware of the region’s abundance of natural resources among them natural oil and gas, gold, cotton and aluminum. Middle East also has suchlike natural resources but is renowned for its volatility. China is also reluctant to rely on America’s benevolence and assurance of securing the Persian Gulf –[??17] Malacca Straits sea-routes. Thus, in seeking co-operation with the region, China aims at ‘seeking to diversify its sources of crude oil.’ Forging a good co-operation with the region has enabled China enhance its economic interest in the region of meeting ‘its own growing energy needs [by increasing] its investment in’ Kazakhstan’s and Turkmenistan’s energy sector. What is more, good relationship with the CARs will enhance Russia’s aim – and Chinese leaders’ positive reaction to it – of linking its ‘oil and natural gas with those of CARs to export to China.’ Central Asia is a central hub of both the $ 20 billion pipeline carrying oil across the region to China and a new railway line proposed in 1994 by the Chinese President Peng[??18] .
By creating economic ties with the region, China benefits by providing its companies with “business opportunities through furthering trade, developing infrastructure, and providing preferential loans in the region.” In fact, there’s a mutual relationship between China and the region. The region consumes 85% of China’s export products.
The shift of China from exporting to importing oil is another factor that results in China’s economic interest in the region. Thus, China has to be involved in the affairs of the region to insure that it brings stability. Furthermore, the core of its involvement is in assuring that dream of “China Century” is realized. The dream’s future lies on the stability of energy resources, regional stability, and economic growth.
What is more, in the middle of 2009, Chinese [??19] President Hu [??20] Jintao accepted for barter the construction of a $ 2 billion railway in Kazakhstan in exchange for a Kyrgyzstan’s lucrative mine. Consequently, Chinese workers have been able to find employment in that area. For instance, about 30,000 Chinese are employed in assorted Tajikistan’s infrastructure projects valued at approximately $ 720 million.
Another economic interest is boosting bilateral trade with the region among other countries through the proposed $[??21] 18 billion-dollar “New Silk Road” project. Chinese government is involved in many economy-boosting major infrastructure projects with various nations across the globe. The “New Silk Road” project is an example – it is a revival of the “The Ancient Silk Road” that connected China and Turkey. This project involves the Central Asian Republics and other neighboring nations such as Afghanistan and Mongolia. It’s proposed that it will include six highway corridors and will enable bilateral trade between the Central Asian Republics and China through Tajikistan and Kazakhstan to Xinjiang. The route will enable China to carry out the bilateral trade with Turkey approximated to be valued to $ 100 billion by 2020. That dream, however, will only be viable if there’s a maximal co-operation between Central Asian Republics and China.
On top of reviving the Silk Road; by eying Central Asia, China aims at using the region’s markets to stimulate ‘a new prosperity zone in Xinjiang for foreign investment’ by Asian giants such as Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan. Xinjiang’s prosperity will enable to push China’s economic interests to not only in Central Asia, but further, in the Persian Gulf and, possibly, European markets.
Availability of raw materials and energy reserves in central Asia was another core factor that made the region a center of interest to China. Driven by the up-and-coming requirement for energy, the government of China succeeded a securing access to large reserves of oil and natural gas in Central Asia. This action was a foundation stone for the country’s economy. They began by focusing on the establishment of a four thousand two hundred kilometer long set of connections of gas and oil pipelines that originated from the western province of China (Xinjiang) to the main east cost metropolis of Shanghai.
In the context of China’s interests, the term “security” is one big broad umbrella. That is why, if taken literally, it means the susceptibility of China in the face of internal and external threats. In China, however, together with military-related threats, security encompasses political security, economic security and energy security, as well. The last three types of security have been covered in the previous sections, thus, no need to labor the point. This section will focus on military security.
China’s interest in Central Asia is not new. Evidence of this is the “clash of civilizations” between China and the neighboring Central Asia Republics. From the ancient times, China’s interest in the region was threefold: “ensuring physical security along China’s frontier borders with Central Asia, ensuring that no empire hostile to China occupied the Central Asian steppes or the river valley oases, and ensuring that China had unfettered access to the natural resources of the region.” According to the American Center for Strategic and International Studies (2003), that troubled history lead to Beijing’s use of “Three Cs” – co-opt, conquer, and colonize – in guaranteeing a secure Central Asia frontier.
Various military-related conditions along China’s long contiguous border involving Central Asian Republics have led to China fearing Kazakhstan nationalism involving Chinese people, a Pan-Turkic faction and wariness of Xinjiang Uyghur minority. China is wary of the possibility of an insurgence of Islam militants. Events that happened in the 1990s also led to China’s security interest in the region. In that decade, China claimed that the Xinjiang separatists were behind violent and domestic sabotage incidents that rocked Xinjiang. China is also involved in border disputes with the region, though has resolved to settle them with the region. Mostly, China yield but also the region cedes such as in the case of Tajikistan. After 9/11, the U.S. increased its presence in the region and even marshaled NATO-led armed forces such as CENTRAZBAT. China cushioned itself against or aims to resolve these situations by forming the Shanghai Five (now the SCO). The members of the SCO are the Central Asian Republics.
With the declining the U.S. – China relations, China has been curious and wary over the United States’ real intentions in the region since it deployed its forces there in post-9/11. First, by having its grip in the region, China hopes to use it and the opportunity given by the SCO to “advocate its multilateralist vision of a ‘new security concept’ so as to counter U.S.-led unilateralist or alliance-based security structures.”
The urge for China to save itself from a recurrence of a “century of humiliation” is one more security interest. From the 1840s to the middle of 19th century, China was deeply humiliated by the then military heavyweights from the West and Japan. By asserting its presence in the region, it’s able to know the region’s military intents “defend its territorial sovereignty and integrity, resist foreign aggression and safeguard state unification” and get acquainted with the new terrorism threats.
Another security interest of China in Central Asia is quelling the security threats to its central government that have emerged or might emerge in future or be backed from the region. The region, inclusive of the XUAR, has brought about security threats to China’s central government. For instance, the declining Qing Dynasty in the middle of 19th century. In the 1860s, the local Muslim-inspired rebellions took advantage of it and made East Turkestan government. Then, in the early 1930s, the USSR supported Xinjiang Uighurs to form a Kazakh and Uyghur East Turkestan though they later crashed.
The region serving as a buffer zone against foreign military incursion is another security interest. The late 60s and early 70s saw USSR’s social imperialism create a military danger to China after the Sino-Soviet rift. The Soviet Union put lots of troops in along the border with Mongolia; in response, China puts its armed forces in Xinjiang. That’s why, “the impact of foreign military threats...in Central Asia, still influences Chinese security thinking today.”
Central Asia’s more than seven million Muslim and Turkic-Uighurs make XUAR vulnerable to ‘separatism and anti-Chinese influence’. Various anti-Chinese acts such as local riots and Beijing’s 1997 bombing are allegedly linked to Islamist movements and Al-Qaeda. Going by U.S “efforts of hunting those militants in the region since 9/11, China has overseen security along its borders and against such secessionist groups though it is wary of U.S” deep entrenchment in the area. The region is also a pillar to Chinese security in that it is the linkage “to the ever-expanding Chinese sense of its role in as an important actor in global security.”
To a large extent, achieving wide-ranging security, capitalizing on the military, political and economic dimensions of security shows that China has truly attained a worldwide power status. In the recent past, China acquired a wide range security principally by being at the peak of the Asia Hierarchy that no nation was able to challenge directly by 1830s. Since China experienced a lot of supremacy in central Asia in combination with its absolute size, China generally did not encounter any significant security threats from the smaller neighboring states. In fact at one point China was attributed to the centre of regional security system and the centre of the universe.
China’s rise as a regional power in Central Asia’s is noteworthy. However, its presence in the region is a double-edged sword because while it leads to the considerable benefits in the Central Asian Republics, its actions have unintentional consequences in the region.
One of the benefits is ending Russia-dominated monopoly in the region’s natural resources and energy-for-loans agreements. After the Central Asia Republics became sovereign, they got vast fields of natural gas and oil. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the wherewithal to explore them and sell to foreign countries. To make it worse, the USSR-era pipeline, whose purpose had to move natural gas from the region to Russia and Europe, remained in the possession of Russia. Thus, despite the region’s sovereignty, it had to let Russian-owned Gazprom control the resource.
The China-Central Asia pipeline – expected to have a capacity of 65 billion cubic meters yearly on its full completion – opened in 2009, however, ended that monopoly. What is more, recognizing its powerful stance in the region, “this governance structure makes China the exclusive arbitrator of nay future disputes about the pipeline’s operations and supply among the Central Asian states.” In 2009, China signed new energy-for-loans with the region’s Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. Though China develops more from Central Asian Republics through its ‘“win-win” talks of relationships…the other party will also “win” by gaining access to China’s vast market, a multi-faceted trade relationship and other political and economic benefits.’ In future, energy-for-loans will determine the direction of China’s policy in Central Asia and its economic future for the loans will be used in not only the current hydrocarbons contracts but also in “its industrial investments…Energy-backed loans are a very important instrument in this respect.” James Bellacqua also holds these sentiments.
It is worth noting that Central Asia is a landlocked region. For that matter, China plays a vital role in enhancing the access of the region’s products and enabling the importation of products unavailable locally since this country has a seafront. There is also a mutual inter-trade between China and Central Asia such as through Kyrgyzstan whereby the country re-exports 75% of the goods it has imported from China. The extent of such trade is so crucial that it “has become Kyrgyzstan’s second largest economic activity after gold extraction.”
China understands the political instability in the region and is undeterred in its resolve to invest in the region. This is of benefit to Central Asia Republics in the sense that it doesn’t categorize the region, like other Western companies do. Except Kazakhstan, the rest of the Central Asia Republics are considered by lots of Western companies as “risky countries where investment conditions are unfavorable and unpredictable.” China, however, has refrained from holding such perceptions. This has greatly benefited the region for China has provided the Central Asia Republics with a solution in their efforts to “seek pragmatic, foreign partners who are undeterred by the political environment.” To add a feather to its cap, China has been relentless in its efforts to support Kazakhstan’s, Uzbekistan’s and Tajikistan’s applications to become members of the coveted World Trade Organization.
Another benefit is in the fact that China becomes the region’s donor and provider of public goods. China has been significant in financing development and infrastructure projects in the region such as those linking the region with areas along the Chinese border. Moreover, this country has backed the creation of a regional development bank. China has financed and invested in infrastructure like roads, railway lines, and generating and transmitting power and other bilateral projects reported in the SCO’s 2012 summit such as a cement factory.
The first risk is in preventing other West-backed pipelines from venturing into the region. China might use the new energy-for-loan deals to “actively discourage alternative gas pipelines from the area” more so those that might be in a position of threatening “to erode Chinese leverage over Central Asian pricing and volume.” That is why, currently, China negotiates bilaterally with Gazprom over prices using the low prices it disburses to the region. Furthermore, it’s a bobby-trap to the region and a type of “modified” monopoly because Chinese-owned companies might be reluctant to back a Trans Caspian pipeline connecting Turkmenistan with European markets paying better prices.
Another risk is that the region is becoming dependent on China. The region may be emerging from its dependence on Russia and submerging into dependence on China. Consequently, because of its high debts it owes China substantial. For instance, after shedding its dependence on Moscow, Ashgabat risks substituting dependence on Beijing as its patron’ for it owes China ‘$ 8 billion in debt and promised a substantial part of its future production.’ This risk might also arise from the energy-for-loans agreements for ‘it is unclear how Beijing will wield its financial clout.’
A governance risk might also arise. China being a generous donor to the region notwithstanding, its donation is fraught with problems that make it a time bomb. The reason is in the transparency of Chinese projects in the region that is veiled by “lack of monitoring standards and aid conditionality, as well as its direct dealings with regimes.” For instance, the building of Tajikistan’s Dushanbe-Chanak highway was reportedly linked with the First Family and on its completion officials started charging tolls to those using it, thereby, edging out the low-income nationals from using it.
Another risk is that there is the lack of cooperation between China and other donors in the region. China does not coordinate with international donors or those from the West. From a quasi-proverbial perspective, where two elephants fight, the grass suffers. The region is torn between two warring factions.
A risk also arises from China’s generous donation. Other donors in the area may be chagrined and pull out of the region because China’s “sheer scale [of] lending and assistance dwarfs existing commitments from other international sources.” To its advantage, China would have monopolized the region’s aid quarter and international sources may be reluctant to give a helping hand in tough situations and China is not at the region’s beck and call.
The region falling under the sway of China is another threat. Chinese presence in Central Asia is something that looks inevitable. However, just like its neighbor Russia, Central Asia is wary because the ever increasing Chinese influence appears “inexorable and represents a serious geopolitical concern for the local republics…could fall under the sway of this powerful neighbor.”
Another threat is China dominating the economy of the region. Just like the neighboring Russia, Central Asia Republics are afraid that China will dominate the region’s economy by offering stiff competition and become a threat to their economic-sovereignty. However, this has already started by ‘the invasion of Central Asian markets by Chinese goods’ which have meted out a severe blow to their national production and the increasing figure of the ‘Chinese farmers buying up Tajik land [and are] strengthening the popular opposition to a feared “Chinese expansionism”’; another risk is the disparity between the wages of the two region’s workers might lead to political and security threats. This is a “dangerous factor, which is fuelling local discontent and creating a potential threat to the political stability and security of the weaker states namely Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.”
Lastly, there is a risk of Central Asia’s oil reserves shriveling. Just like its counterparts, who have vested interests in the region, such as India, the U.S and Russia, China is very much after its share of the bargain. The natural gas and oil resources are not renewable and China has rapidly increasing energy demands a Pavlovian response to its rise of power. This might lead to a serious risk of diminishing the region’s oil reserves.
Without a scintilla of doubt, the relations between China and Central Asia will have long-term effects. We can only, however, speculate on these effects by analyzing the current trend, hopes and aspirations between the two parties such as through the SCO. The following are some of the long-term impacts that will result from their relations.
One of them is the possibility of leading to energy rivalry between Asia and Europe. The increase of conflicts centered on Central Asian hydrocarbons has lured major outside players from the European Union, the United States and other big oil companies from the West. Thus, going by the ever-increasing presence of China in the energy market of Central Asia, it “could gradually set the stage for an energy rivalry between Asia and Europe.” However, China’s political acquire of hydrocarbons in the region will never make it a major player in the Kazakh’s oil sector at any time in the future. Instead, it will end up capturing “large parts of the Uzbek and Turkmen market which are less competitive and more neglected by large Western companies compared to Kazakh markets.”
Furthermore, China will either dominate the Central Asian hydrocarbon market or be more influential in it compared to Russia, its archrival in the region. For many years to come, China will continue to depend on Central Asian oil and natural gas. Russia’s presence in the Central Asia is not aimed at going after the region’s oil and gas, rather is a way of preserving its own hydrocarbon deposits by putting Central Asian exports under control. In that sense, Russia’s dominance over the region exceeds that of China though it is reduced in a way. Therefore, “if China is not destined to become the premier actor on the Central Asian hydrocarbon market, it will soon, if not already, have more influence than Moscow in other crucial sectors, such as trade.”
What is more, the future of Central Asia will depend on the relations between China and Central Asia. China has continued to invest in various infrastructures in the region ranging from hydropower, transportation and telecommunications. These “long-term implications of China’s engagement for landlocked Central Asia…will enable all the Central Asian states to escape from the increased isolation that they have experienced” as a result of loss of Soviet-era infrastructure networks.
From a geopolitical perspective, the increasing Sino-Central Asia relations will frustrate the efforts the assorted aims of the European Union and the United States. Other than aims of getting a share of the region’s hydrocarbons riches, these efforts include international stability and democratization. It’s worth noting that China, the same as Russia, is reluctant to liberalize civil society. Thus, the strengthening of Sino-Central Asian relations could in the long-term, “have a fundamental impact in Central Asia, meaning a strengthening of Islamism.” This could have a great impact on the region going by the United States’ post-9/11 efforts of fighting Islam militants, such as through the Iraq war. It might result in the vulnerability of the region. This vulnerability could be caused by the Islamist messages among Muslims – a Pavlovian response to the United States’ involvement in the Iraq war. Therefore, “the absence of a strong Western presence in the region, which…Beijing refuses [through its increasing presence in the region] could thus contribute to the heightening of regional instability.”
Another long-term impact is de-industrialization – the disappearance of the region’s last processing industries. China imports virtually everything from Central Asia, ranging from hydrocarbons to leather among other products. Mostly, it imports them in the form of raw materials. Thus, it behooves one to wonder a number of questions. Why can’t it import the products as finished or processed products? Aren’t there processing or refining products in Central Asia? And if, yes, what is the future of these industries?
In the long run, the evidently developing Sino-Central Asia relations will bring about the likelihood of Central Asian economies being heartened into “restrictive specializations [of] being nearly exclusive exporters of raw materials. [And in the long-term] the new states run the risk of having their last processing industries disappear” (de-industrialization) which will ultimately “be factors of social destabilization [and] may well accelerate the rapid pauperization of the lower strata of the population.” What is more, China triggering de-industrialization and pauperization notwithstanding, the development of the Sino-Central Asia relations will in the long run provide the region with realistic economic alternative to disentangle itself from the tutelage of Russia.
The Sino-Central Asia developing relations could in the long run greatly influence the matters of the whole world in terms of developing its economy, security and stabilization. Powers that were once under the same bloc undergo enthusiastic rivalry and endless contradiction nowadays; going by the aforementioned fact, and that that both China and the Central Asian Republics are located at “geographic positions that have very important strategic meaning [they could] exert immediate influence on the economic development, security and stability of the whole world.” China and the Central Asian Republics can be in a position to create relations all powers concurrently regardless of ideological and geopolitical perspectives. To add a feather to the cap, that’s Sino-Central Asia relations, in the long term, there will be improvement of science and technology among the parties.
As the relations between China and Central Asian Republics continue to increase, both parties will have to change their economic cooperation to sustain long-term development: they will have to stop barter trade, frontier trade and embrace remittance trade, as well. Currently, the trade between China and the region is more of barter trade. A good example is the energy-for-loans agreements. Both parties will have to substitute that give-and-take action economic cooperation with ‘more suitable and effective methods of trade that barter.’ This is something that China has foreseen because it has already seen its significance: “as our trade with neighboring countries [such as Central Asia Republics] is developing, it is changing from barter and frontier trade to the international norm, remittance trade, and this creates a more stable basis for long-term development.”
In the long run, the increasing relations between China and Central Asia will be jeopardized by the following factors if left unchecked. One of them is the economically weak regions of China. A good example is the country’s northwest region. This region is “one of the backward parts of the country, that its economic basis is weak. Therefore, the quality of its human resources is poor has a major effect on” Sino-Central Asia’s economic teamwork and trade. China will be likely to miss big opportunities from Central Asia such as huge market full of genuine outlook if it does not come up with polices that will endear big Chinese companies to not only its north-western part, but also Central Asia. The other factor that China must do is the ensuring that it has maximal cooperation with Central Asia so that it will “take advantage of and open up those [rich] resources.” That is why, in future, Central Asia’s economy will rely on its natural resources such as for the importation of consumer goods for everyday use. China will, thus, be required to invest heavily on the creation of light industry. Lastly, China will be required to guide Central Asia during its dealings with Pacific countries and help ensure “more active economic cooperation and trade contacts in the Pacific region.”
Sino-Central Asia relations in the long term will weaken the economies of the Central Asia Republics. Central Asia’s economies cannot be in a position to compete against China’s. Consequently, the Central Asia Republics is settling to the role of supplying China with raw materials and purchasing consumer goods, which are sub-standard based on Chinese standards. This is as a result of Central Asia trading with industrially undeveloped Chinese regions such as Xinjiang instead its industrialized coastal regions. Unfortunately, it “will lead to the gradual, but steady exhaustion of the Central Asian states, as a result of the drain of capital and loss of processing industries.”
Central Asia’s geographical location and the absence of a good transport infrastructure with the industrialized parts of China will not only increase transportation costs but also minimize the benefits of economic cooperation and consolidate the present arrangement of economic relations. There is a possibility of transport infrastructure being ignored. As a result of that, “Central Asian countries [will] continue to be isolated from international movements of funds” and evidence of this prediction is in the sense that “whereas China (including Hong Kong) receives about 12% of the world volume of direct foreign investment, the figures for XUAR and Central Asia are only 0.9% and 0.4%, respectively.”
In the long-term, the Sino-Central Asia relations will lead to an increase in the costs and expenditures of administration as a result of the many trade barriers. It is worth noting that there are many trade barriers existing between China and Central Asia, known as ‘the spaghetti bowl effect’. With time, the regimes in Central Asia Republics will yield to new ones. Based on the “difficulty of maneuvering in the diverse and relatively complex regimes of differing trade agreements, as well as cases of incoherence in agreements with additional members, [it] will result in increased costs and administrative expenses.” The situation will move from bad to worse because the most of the countries in the region strive to increase the transportation costs of goods, such as bribery and extortion, passing through their land.
Eventually, the relations between China and Central Asia will evolve to a new alliance. This will be inevitable. Currently, Central Asia and China are deepening their trade cooperation through the construction of a Turkmenistan-Northern Afghanistan-Xinjiang pipeline. The new partner is unavoidable. At this point in time, the large China National Petroleum Cooperation has started negotiating with Afghanistan authorities to enable a secure pipeline in their territory. However, in future, Afghanistan could “be split between a Pashtun south and a Tajik and Uzbek north…the operations will continue under the protection of a new Northern Alliance.”
To sustain the China-Central Asia relations in the future, the two regions will have to create a Cohesion and Integration Commission. The relations between China and Central Asia are marred by tensions such as spates of clashes involving the workers in the region and their Chinese counterparts. For instance, in October 2013, reports from a gold mine under the management of Zijin Mining Group, Taldy-Bulak. The reports claimed that the region’s residents had resolved to set the company office. It was alleged that it was a Pavlovian response to a horse that had been killed by the company. Then, early this year, a fracas arose between Kyrgyzstan’s workers and their Chinese counterparts. The fracas was centered on a local who was caught robbing. In the wake of the fracas, about 100 people were involved and 20 Chinese workers left with injuries, with two of them in critical conditions. Thus, so as to ensure that such situations are nipped in the bud, the authorities of either region will have to forge a commission to tackle them.
The developing relations between China and Central Asia will bring about the growing military-security cooperation thereby leading to cross-border security. This will make Central Asia to be under no security threat from China at any time in the future. For instance, there is an evidence of this - in February, 1995 official statement Kazakhstan promised never ‘to use nuclear weapons against Kazakhstan’ at any time in the future. What is more, it can be deduced so from the Kazakhstan visit of China’s Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces and that of Kazakhstan’s chief of the General Staff of Armed Forces to China. Moreover, the efforts made by China and three Central Asia Republics it borders with regarding border disarmament in 1992 and 1995. Furthermore, President Hu’s remarks concerning the CICA Forum where he emphasized on the need for carrying out dialogues and strive for a mutual understanding, is a conclusive proof.
The future of Central Asia’s economy will be in the hands of China’s increasing geopolitical influence. For instance, there is a likelihood that the problems that China is currently facing will spread out and cover the Central Asia region. China’s problems are a population that is aging, slow-paced urbanization, rural regions being backward, its service quarter being underdeveloped, an education systems that is under-funded, inefficient banking sector, and outdated corporate government structure whose financial markets are poorly developed.
Lastly, the glue that holds China-Central Asia relations (the SCO) will have to integrate military-political commitments in its framework. The presence of the United States’ military in Central Asia is increasing day to day. Though it is a Pavlovian response to the 9/11 attacks, it might be used as a channel of achieving to the United States’ vested interests, which are similar to those of China. Thus, the SCO must find a way to counter or neutralize military presence. This, however, will only be achieved by developing the SCO in the future so as to “add a military-political dimension to this organization”; nowadays, ‘the probability of formalizing military-political commitments within the SCO frameworks is insignificant’ but this does not rule it out in the future.
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