After the collapse of the Soviet Union, global powers started to take keen interest in the Central Asian region. But one of them, China, has been involved particularly closely. There are several explanations for this. Firstly, we can mention the natural resource factor (mainly natural gas), as pipelines from Central Asia transport oil and gas to meet China’s energy demands; the region’s role as a main transport corridor for China for getting to Europe; its salience for Chinese security interests, some border issues and economic cooperation.
China may pursue several goals in cooperating with Central Asian countries, one of which being to find external markets for Chinese companies active in construction and infrastructure development, as part of China’s ‘Go Out’ strategy. This creates work opportunities for Chinese workers and helps to reduce excess capacity at home in these sectors.
When it comes to the BRI, China is not much worried about short-term profits and expects to lose up to 30 percent of its investment in Central Asia (Miller, 2017). But it still continues to build bridges, roads, tunnels and high speed railways throughout the region in order to tighten its connections with Europe – the final destination of the BRI, where Chinese investment is also on the rise in the transportation and logistics sectors. Chinese companies are planning to install fiber optic and other telecommunication lines across the region to connect Central Asia and China. China hopes that some of these new physical and digital networks will become profitable and simultaneously help create a series of friendly, if not pro-Chinese, regimes along the way.
China provides huge subsidies—at times up to 40 percent of the total cost—to lower freight costs so that rail operations are just as competitive as the far cheaper alternative of shipping. While overland transportation reduces the delivery time of containers by half compared to ocean routes, rail freight is currently not economically viable without Chinese government subsidies.
China’s main line towards Central Asia can be called “non-interference policy”. Beijing strives to represent itself as a great power that respects other countries’ sovereignty, social systems, development paths, and internal and external policies. China’s alternative world model instead emphasizes multipolarity and equal treatment of all countries “no matter they are big or small, strong or weak, rich or poor”.
At the same time, China tries to stabilize the region through investments and projects such as road and pipeline construction. China’s major internal problem, at least according to the government’s perception, is the looming threat ethnoreligious separatism in the Xinjiang province, an autonomous region mostly populated by ethnic Uyghurs, a people of Turkic origin and one the largest Muslim groups in China. It is feared that close contacts with their Central Asian ethnic kin can stir in Uyghurs the moods of religious separatism. Kyrgyzstan that shares a 1,000 km border with China, and Ferghana valley, which spreads across Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, are particularly vulnerable to this scenario that runs the risk of disrupting trade, energy supplies, and, ultimately, threatening its own internal stability, especially in Xinjiang. So as I mentioned before, with the help of big projects such as “One Belt One Road”, transport routes, pipeline constructions, and high value of trade China hopes to stabilize the region and downplay this potential domestic threat.
China claims to create a win-win situation vis-a-vis the Central Asian states. By giving big loans, Beijing makes them dependent on itself. To compensate these loans, Central Asian states have to compromise to Chinese investors and companies in such strategic matters as customs, and provide more favourable working conditions for them.
In order to better understand China’s growing influence in the Central Asian region, we should look closely upon each country one by one.
China’s Economic Interests in Central Asia
The economic importance of China’s role and impact in Central Asia is apparent in each of the five Central Asian republics for whom Beijing has become a major, if not the leading, economic partner through natural resource extraction projects, investments in infrastructure, and low-interest loans. Over ten per cent of China’s oil and gas imports now come from Central Asia. The speed at which trade relations have deepened is staggering. This has brought many benefits to Central Asian countries: their foreign currency reserves have increased; governments’ finances have grown more secure; and there has been a rise in investment and development. In 2013, President Xi Jinping traveled to Central Asian states and announced the upgrade of cooperation between China and Central Asia to a strategic partnership level.
But this economic cooperation isn’t beneficial for all Central Asian countries; while Kazakhstan has been the most positive state out of five in terms of deepening economic cooperation with China, the smaller economies are less optimistic as they perceive that they will simply exchange Russian domination for the Chinese one (Mariani, 2013). On the other hand, China’s need for oil and gas is increasing day by day. In order to meet this oil and gas demand, China began to cooperate with Central Asian countries – mainly with Kazakhstan.
China’s trade data with Central Asia in 2015
Strategic partnership between Kazakhstan and China was formalised in June 2011. China has sought to obtain a leading role in cultivating and developing energy industries in Kazakhstan, harnessing Kazakhstan’s oil, natural gas, minerals, including uranium, and other major energy resources. As I mentioned before, in order to meet its demands China began to acquire some oil and gas fields in Central Asia. China Natural Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) is one of the biggest Chinese investors in Kazakhstan. In 2005, CNPC bought PetroKazakhstan for $4.2bn. In 2009, CNPC announced that it would lend $5bn to KazMunaiGaz and gained a stake in MangistauMunaiGas, a significant oil developer in Kazakhstan. On 12 March 2003, China Petroleum Corporation (Sinopec Corp.) agreed to pay British Gas US$615 million for a stake in an oil and gas field in Kazakhstan, which came four days after China’s third largest oil company (CNOOC) bought 8.33% of the British Gas North Caspian Sea Project for the identical sum. China also achieved several agreements to build pipelines at the cost of $9 bn.
Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev paid 19 official visits to China, while some high officials from Beijing have also been frequent visitors in Astana. In 2013, during President Xi’s official visit to Kazakhstan, several contracts in total worth $30bn, were signed. China has made a $10bn investmentinto Kazakhstan during the last 5 years, and it is only going to increase.
However, the wider public here doesn’t seem to be particularly happy. The government regulations in favour of foreign investors, mainly Chinese ones, triggered a series of demonstrations and street protests. Chinese companies often bring with themselves cheap work force, decreasing employment opportunities for locals, and this also causes the negative public opinion towards China to gain ground. While many thousands of workers from Central Asia and Kazakhstan immigrate to Russia due to unemployment, Chinese workers are getting the work opportunities, setting anger among locals. While the government and economy on the whole benefit from cooperation with China, these issues make some people feel utterly deprived.
Besides the cooperation in the field of natural resources, China works closely with Kazakhstan upon the largest economic platform – One Belt One Road (OBOR). OBOR consists of two main parts, “The Maritime Silk Road” and “Silk Road Economic Belt”. With the help of Silk Road Economic Belt, China plans to decrease its dependence on sea routes, improve cooperation with Europe through the continent, also securing stabilization of Xinjiang and develop not only the coastal sides but the inner regions, currently less developed, as well. As one of the crucial parts of OBOR, Kazakhstan has built the world’s largest dry port and a free trade zone on the border with China. The Khorgos Dry Portconnects China and Kazakhstan by rail. It is a strategic point for China because of the transportation of goods from China to Europe. Cross-border trade between the two countries had increased one hundredfold in the five years to 2016 and is on track to double this year to 200,000 containers a year, according to Kazakhstan’s foreign ministry. Kazakh officials say their country accounts for 70 percent of China-Europe transit traffic.
In the recent years the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has become a main tool for implementing China’s investment projects and promoting trade with the region. Trade volumes between China and five Central Asian states have increased and gained a strong momentum since 1990’s, reaching $30 billion in 2016. Energy exports and other natural resources have formed the basis of this growth, involving billions of dollars in energy-related infrastructure projects and acquisitions of Central Asian energy assets. Bilateral trade and investment between Astana and Beijing have been particularly robust. As of June 2017, Chinese total investment in Kazakhstan since independence amounts to $42.8 billion, and loans to the country have surpassed $50 billion.
The gateway project involves the dry port on the Kazakh side and exchange railway stations on either side of the border
In the free trade zone, it is mainly local people who come to buy cheaper Chinese products; often, traders from neighboring countries such as Tajikistan come there too. This zone affects the economic situation of Kazakhstan positively, but there are other matters lying under the free trade zone. Widespread corruption makes business in Khorgos less reliable. “Kazakhstan is like China in the 1980s. There is no rule of law, only rule by law over there,” says one Chinese trader at Khorgos. “Money is the only thing that has any influence there.” (Peyrouse, 2016)
One of the problems between China and Kazakhstan is water management. Kazakhstan has expressed concern about China’s attempts to divert the flow of water from the Ili River in the arid northwestern China, which is contributing to the drying up of Kazakhstan’s Lake Balkhash, the second-largest body of water in Central Asia. China has also diverted the part of the Irtysh River. Although China and Kazakhstan have signed a number of agreements on the use of trans-border rivers, they do not regulate the water intake.
For Turkmenistan, China is the second biggest trade partner. In the past decade, their economic engagement intensified mainly thanks to the trade of natural gas. As a result, an agreement on Expansion of Natural Gas Supply was signed in November 2011. Before that, on 29 August 2008 an agreement which resulted in establishing an Intergovernmental Cooperation Committee was signed. A 1830-km gas pipeline was completed in 2009 which connected Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan before reaching to China. By the end of February 2013, a total of 46.77 billion cubic metres of natural gas had been transported by this pipeline (with a total value of 15.72 bn$). In 2013, President Xi visited Turkmenistan and bilateral relations between the two countries were lifted to the strategic partnership level. They both agreed to expand the gas pipeline in order to boost gas exports to China. China is looking forward to further develop its relations with Turkmenistan. Since Beijing’s new policy aims at decreasing its sea dependency, China should maintain good relations with the neighbouring countries, and get the natural resources from land instead of ocean.
Kyrgyzstan is located at the intersection of geopolitical interests in Central Asia, being the main port of oil entry from Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. That is why Chinese companies are developing infrastructure, mainly road networks and power lines. In the last decade trade with China has grown enormously, and Beijing became Kyrgyzstan’s second largest trade partner after Russia. Chinese officials claim that “China would provide all kinds of support for Kyrgyz infrastructure projects”. In September 2013, the relations between the two countries were upgraded to a strategic partnership level. In the words of a former Kyrgyz cabinet minister, “every small business in Kyrgyzstan is reliant on trade with China.” Particularly important is the re-export of Chinese consumer goods to neighboring Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Russia. So, by investing into infrastructure projects, China manages to form a secured corridor for the transportation of natural resources. Though there is an impression that this game is a classic “win-win”, in fact it is mostly Beijing that gains profits.
China became the biggest investor and second biggest trade partner of Uzbekistan by investing into energy, transport and telecommunications sectors. The Memorandum of Understanding on the Expansion of Trade and Investment and Financial Cooperation was signed on 16 June 2004, while the agreement on establishing an Intergovernmental Cooperation Commission was signed in October 2011. In 2012, 35 direct investment projects worth nearly $4bn were being implemented by Chinese companies. According to Uzbekistan`s data, 347 companies with Chinese investors, including 57 with 100 per cent Chinese capital, operate in Uzbekistan. On 6 June 2012, the-then Chinese President Hu and Uzbek President Islam Karimov signed a joint agreement on establishing strategic partnership. During President Xi’s visit to Uzbekistan in 2013, both sides agreed to further improve cooperation in the energy sector – building a gas pipeline and jointly working on exploration and development of natural resources, mainly oil, gas and uranium. In 2016 a 19.2-kilometer railway tunnel that will boost a closer connection of Uzbekistan’s populous Ferghana Valley with the rest of the country, was launched. The tunnel is the largest of its kind anywhere in Central Asia and the biggest Chinese-led project ever completed in the region. Chinese investments in the region are calculated for the long term, while Uzbekistan can directly profit from them. From Tashkent’s point of view, this cooperation may look very lucrative as for now, but in future Beijing may drive Tashkent dependent on itself for investment – it’s still to be seen.
Tajikistan is the poorest of the five Central Asian countries. However, its long border with the Xinjiang region of China makes Tajikistan a strategically important country. Mainly for these reasons, China has developed road infrastructure (the Dushanbe-Chanak highway), built hydropower plants and power lines. Also, Beijing is a significant source of credit for Tajikistan. In 2004, Tajikistan received from China a sum of over $600m out of the $900m development loans package that had been offered to the SCO member states. In June 2012, it was announced that ten new deals signed by the Tajik president in Beijing “would bring Tajikistan about USD 1bn in new Chinese investment, loans and aid”. In order to improve relations to a strategic partnership level, both countries signed a joint announcement which aimed at boosting bilateral cooperation between the two countries. Today, Tajikistan is deeply dependent on China because of the loans and credits. As a poor country, it is bound to get more and more loans, which allows Beijing to play an increasingly big role in the country’s politics. China had developed a strategy robust in Central Asia, cementing dependence without use of force or even threats but by the loans and investments.
Despite all these, Beijing is still not on par with Russia in terms of soft power. The stipends granted by the Chinese government resulted in a dramatic increase in the Central Asian students’ flow to China, but it is still lower than the number of young people studying in Russia, especially Siberia. Chinese government offers 23 different academic scholarships to Kyrgyzstan, while the number of Kazakh students who studied in China increased from 781 to 13198 in between 2005-2015.
China’s and Russia’s interests in Central Asia are believed to converge in their unanimous willingness to preserve the political status quo. The chaos that started in the Middle East in 2011 and in the Ukraine in 2014 made Russia and China fear potential political instability and protests in the region. And on the other hand, both countries are concerned about the instability which at any moment risks to flow from Afghanistan and Middle East – two of the most insecure regions of the world.
While Moscow nurtured plans to build a pipeline across the Caspian Sea to transport Turkmen gas to Europe, Beijing managed to establish domination in the Turkmen market quite quickly. Today, Turkmenistan is the crucial source of gas for China, and in its turn, totally develops on these exports for foreign currency. China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) received a license to explore and extract gas in Turkmenistan in 2007, and remains the only foreign company ever to acquire such rights. China’s emergence as the dominant actor in the region’s energy and infrastructure sectors, along with its growing presence as the lender of choice for Central Asia (and Russia), has deep political consequences that theoretically should concern Moscow. Ten years ago, the landlocked region depended on Russia for exporting its goods and natural resources to international markets, endowing Moscow with an enormous leverage to maintain a hold on what it considers its privileged sphere of influence. Yet it was China, not the West, that broke Moscow’s monopoly over Central Asian energy export routes with the Central Asia–China pipelines, whose construction began in 2007. Furthermore, it is Beijing’s BRI, not Washington’s New Silk Road initiative, that appears to have greater traction in the region and a good chance of linking Central Asia to external non-Russian markets.
Moscow has traditionally been Central Asia’s main trading partner, but close ties between the region and Russia decreased over the past decade. China’s bilateral trade volume with the region amounted to $30 billion, compared to Russia’s $18.6 billion in 2016. Since 2014, Russia’s economic problems have somewhat weakened its position in the region. For example, in 2016 Kyrgyzstan cancelled a project of building five hydropower plants with the participation of several Russian companies, citing the Russian firms’ inability to secure financing. In Tajikistan, the Russian military has periodically been unable to pay its local Tajik staff at its base there, even though the base serves as a key point for preserving the regional stability. Also in that same year, Moscow promised over $1 billion in security assistance to Dushanbe and to increase its troop presence in the country by 2,000 soldiers. Yet neither appears to happen, which raises questions about Russia’s true capacity and willingness to respond to a security crisis in the region.
Security interests of China in Central Asia
There are several security issues in the region concerning China, such as regional ethnic tensions and a negative spillover from Afghanistan. Spreading Islamic separatism and its negative effects to the Chinese region of Xinjiang, the separatists’ efforts of seeking sanctuary, getting financial, technical and training support from Central Asia and Afghanistan are the main ones. These tensions have only intensified since the NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. But for now, Chinese military engagement is limited due to the Russian influence. Since the independence of Central Asian countries, Russia has always played a pivotal role in security issues, retaining a network of military bases throughout Central Asia. China’s efforts are on the state-to-state level, being not enough to deal with this main problem. It does not extend to humanitarian and human security issues. However, in order to solidify its influence, Beijing should seek cooperation at people-to-people level. As for now, the locals are mostly against the Chinese dominance over the region. Historical ties with Russia make Russian influence more understandable and tolerable, while economic privileges recently given to China instill fears (not always unsubstantiated) of the national interests being sacrificed to Beijing. Despite these problems, China has repeatedly stated “its determination not to deploy its military in Central Asia, regardless of the threat to Chinese citizens or investment.” During the 2010 Kyrgyz unrest which caused great concern in China, it stood upon this “non-interference” policy. China may have massive economic hegemony over Central Asia, but in the field of security its influence is not so effective and encompassing (Mariani, 2013).
China’s growing presence has been seen as a stabilizing factor in the region by Central Asia’s political elites. They believe Chinese investment in infrastructure will help to turn over their economies, promote broader economic development, and create jobs—all of which could help stabilize struggling economies that are currently dependent on natural resource extraction or remittances from migrant laborers. They see the BRI as part of a broad vision for increasing regional cooperation. But with the exception of Kazakhstan, Central Asian states have not developed any large-scale plans of their own to modernize internal infrastructure or to create new economic opportunities and industries that could benefit from the BRI’s vision of cooperation. This raises the question of whether they can truly develop into more sustainable economies capable of taking advantage of the new infrastructure projects, or whether the BRI will simply transform Central Asia into a series of transit states. Russia is not particularly interested in such development for these countries since it can reduce Moscow’s ability to influence the region. China is not pushing them to do so either, because Beijing’s priority is to ensure the BRI industrialization on the Chinese side of the border, while some Chinese analysts predict that these border regions will become major industrial areas soon. This raises key questions about the overall goals of the BRI and whether it will be effective in improving standard of living in the region - former Soviet Central Asia, or promoting stability in Xinjiang.
Chinese investment in Central Asia is often done in nontransparent ways that generally benefit the elite. Chinese economic development model is amenable to corruption and brings about negative attitudes towards Chinese workers among locals. This model cannot fully resolve the key social security problems – high level of unemployment and corruption. Given that China’s investment efforts in Central Asia are largely aimed to support its Go Out strategy, find work opportunities for Chinese companies and citizens abroad and link China with markets in Europe, it is unclear whether these efforts can lead to a broad-based rise in living standards or the creation of jobs for the Central Asian citizens— both being crucial for long-term regional stability. Socioeconomic dissatisfaction in the region forces young Central Asians into lives as migrant workers, mostly in Russia but also in Turkey, Europe, and North America, where they appear to be at a greater risk of radicalization than at home. Although extremist threats certainly do exist in Central Asia, local community and broad-based family networks have helped to steer vulnerable young men away from extremism. In fact, recent high-profile terrorist attacks with links to Central Asia— Boston (2013), Istanbul (2016), New York (2017), Stockholm (2017), and St. Petersburg (2017)— were committed by people who got radicalized after emigrating from the region. This suggests that the lack of economic opportunities in Central Asia is not just a domestic issue for regional states but may also have broader security implications for Russia, Europe, and other places of destination for Central Asian migrants. So we can see that Chinese implications on economic issues do not solve the unemployment problem, which it derives to increase the security issues.
Yet local governments still see China’s presence in the region as a potential guarantee of regime security. Beijing has no expectations of any political liberalization that may loosen Central Asian regimes’ hold on power. It doesn’t make any overt effort to question Russia’s role in the region, avoiding the zero-sum dynamics that has led to numerous conflicts between Russia and the West and could otherwise cause tension in the region. Central Asians even see Beijing as a hedge against potential Russian aggression; they are keenly aware that Chinese investments and Moscow’s growing dependency on Beijing raise the costs to Moscow of conducting any sort of destabilization campaign in the region, along the lines of what Russia has done in Ukraine. This latter concern is most deeply felt in Kazakhstan, a country with a large Russian border, significant ethnic Russian population, and growing fears of Russian meddling. For these reasons, China has become a priority destination for Kazakh President Nazarbayev and his senior officials, as well as their counterparts from across the region.
The tense situation in the Chinese province of Xinjiang, populated mostly by Muslims of Turkic origin, is one of the more important factors behind Beijing’s eagerness to tie the governments of the Central Asian states closer to China. In the years following the gaining of independence by Central Asian in 1991, the Uyghur activists stepped up their activities; for example, in the year 2000 the Chinese armed forces in Xinjiang claimed to have confiscated 4,100 kg of dynamite, 2,723 kg of other explosives, 604 illegal small arms and 31,000 rounds of ammunition in comparison to much lower confiscations in the 1990s (Stobdan, 1998). The amounts smuggled are probably much higher than the official statistics tell us, but it is apparent that even with this amount of weapons any determined organized group could wage an effective terrorist/guerilla war. The strong historical ties between the Muslim population of China and Central Asian republics trigger China to take precautionary measures. Before the 2001 events China warned the Central Asian countries not to support, protect or train the rebels from Xinjiang. This warning might have exerted a negative effect on the Chinese prestige in Central Asia. But all the states considered this warning and today there isn’t any state in the region that dare to support any separatist organization.
In order to deal with such kind of security issues, China uses the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) extensively. The SCO is the only intergovernmental body addressing security issues that involves China. It helps China to strengthen its political ties with Central Asian states and stabilise the neighbourhood of Xinjiang, building up a collective discourse on the common non-traditional security threats they face, including terrorism, transnational crime, and natural disasters. At the first SCO summit in 2001, SCO member states signed the Shanghai Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism, which identifies the fight against the “three evil forces” as the major task of the organisation. Since then, the SCO member states have signed various security cooperation documents, such as the SCO Convention Against Terrorism, the Anti-drugs Cooperation Agreement, and the Agreement on Joint Fight Against Crimes. There are several agreements between China and the Central Asian states that regulate the combat against separatism and terrorism and the character of military cooperation in the border regions. Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have agreed to assist China in her struggle against separatists from Xinjiang in any way, and have on several occasions struck against Chinese rebels in direct military operations.
But China’s military cooperation with other SCO countries mainly focuses on bilateral and multilateral counter-terrorism exercises, which are conducted on a regular basis. The first one was took place in 2002 in Kyrgyzstan, in 2010 a joint anti-terror exercise involving 1,000 Chinese army and air force officers and soldiers took place at the Matybulak base, near Gvardeisky in Kazakhstan. At the 2012 annual SCO summit held in Beijing, a rule was adopted providing for a collective response to events “threatening the peace, stability and security of a member state of the SCO or the entire region.” Theoretically, such a rule gives SCO member states the right to intervene politically and diplomatically, although not militarily, in each other’s internal affairs in the event of an outbreak of internal conflict. It was a significant development whose practical impact, however, remains to be seen.
These bilateral and multilateral agreements and exercises aren’t enough to strengthen the military presence of China in the region. In particular, SCO has failed to coordinate joint activities against drug trafficking, or to become a forum to discuss water disputes. It has never managed to react to large-scale crises in any one of its member states. Although Russia is also a founding member of the SCO, it has been using another organization to strengthen its position in Central Asia – Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). This leaves a little room to China for extending its military presence. On the other way a big military intervention, such as building military bases like Russia does, or deploying Chinese troops, would be totally opposite to Chinese policy of non-interference. But in order to take action against the Uyghur movements, and extend its military presence in the region, these trainings are not enough – China should give up its non-interference policy at first, without which security cooperation on the issues of wider regional scale cannot be fully efficient.
Since China’s economic power in Central Asia is not matched by equally ambitious plans to enhance its security or political footprint, China has been able to prevent public tensions with Russia in the region. China has conducted some small arms deals and has been active in providing border and military security assistance to several Central Asian states, but it concentrates these efforts on the region’s weakest states: Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Both are countries of concern for Russia, and Chinese security efforts there are minor compared to Russia’s, given Moscow’s military bases in the both. Chinese weapons sales to Turkmenistan have not upset Moscow either, given the long history of tension between Russia and Turkmenistan, as well as Ashgabat’s close economic ties to Beijing through energy sales and loans. China has also supported counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan. In December 2017, China appears to have moved towards establishing a more permanent security presence in the region. Afghan officials recently claimed that Beijing agreed to finance and build a base for the Afghan armed forces in the province of Badakhshan. The province borders China’s Xinjiang province via the narrow Wakhan corridor, but because it is impassable by most vehicles, the easiest way to reach Badakhshan is through Tajikistan—a route Chinese military vehicles have already used to conduct patrols in Afghanistan. This will likely increase Chinese security presence in the both countries. The Chinese Ministry of Defense has denied Afghan officials’ claims, and says that construction of the base has not yet started. If realized, the facility could lead to more Chinese activity in Afghanistan, as well as through and along the Tajik border. This move suggests that China is increasingly willing to act on its own, particularly on the territory of its weaker neighbors, to combat terror threats and serve as a regional stability provider.
Nevertheless, Beijing mostly appears concerned with addressing direct threats to the Xinjiang province, rather than increasing its security presence in Central Asia more broadly. Yet it is unclear how long Beijing will defer to Moscow on most Central Asian security issues. At some point it may need to develop a capacity to protect its economic interests, companies, and citizens working in the region, particularly given the gradual weakening of Russia there. With its declining economy, Moscow has less bandwidth and fewer resources to devote to security concerns in Central Asia. It also has a poor track record when it comes to trying to stabilize the region. When ethnic clashes ravaged Kyrgyzstan in 2010, Russia failed to intervene, despite a formal request by the Kyrgyz government for the CSTO assistance during the crisis. For now, however, China appears content to shore up its interests through economic soft power rather than hard power—an approach that has successfully kept friction between Moscow and Beijing to a minimum in Central Asia.
In virtually all of Central Asia’s newly independent states, ruling elites are deeply concerned with remaining in power and are ready to seeking help from outside. There are now two major outside powers capable of establishing dominance in Central Asia: Russia and China.
Currently, China seems more profitable country to cooperate with. By giving loans and infrastructure projects that can make the economic situation better, China is also taking advantage of these countries with these loans, making them more dependent from China day by day. By investing to Central Asia China plans to create an economic corridor for further enormous projects, while also tries to stabilize its own Xinjiang province. For the future plans of Belt And Road Initiative (BRI), China mostly invests into building road infrastructure, pipelines, railways and also communications. The increasing demand of energy supplies made China to cooperate in the oil and gas sector with Central Asian countries and began to decrease its ocean-side dependence and turning to west.
Though China currently uses soft power to pursue its policy goals in Central Asia and seems to be voluntarily abstaining from any military presence, it is inevitable that in the near future China will pursue attempts to step up efforts in this direction, capitalizing from the weakening position of Russia in the region. However, the much declared win-win dynamics is real- rather not for the wider population of Central Asian but for Chinese and Central Asian ruling and business elites.
Mariani, Bernardo (2013). China’s role and interests in Central Asia. Saferworld, October 2013
Miller, Tom (2017). China’s Asian Dream: Empire Building Along the New Silk Road. ZED Books: London, 2017
Peyrouse, Sebastien (2016). Discussing China: Sinophilia and sinophobia in Central Asia. Journal of Eurasian Studies (2016): 14–23
Stobdan, P. (1998) China's Central Asia Dilemma. Strategic Analysis (1998): 22-3