This paper is centered around Bernardo Mariani’s briefing on China’s role and interests in Central Asia. Mariani is trying to deep into Chino-Central Asian thematic in order to clear some clouds over possible Chinese domination of smaller ethnic states which are also at the close orbit of Russian Federation and the Western States which see them as the zone of the influence which formerly was the space for the “Great Game” of powers. This analysis tends to develop a frame for understanding the role of China in Central Asian landscape and critique the direction and aims that China has for Central Asian States, does it see it as a strategic zone of influence and living space, is it an equal partnership of independent states, or just a temporary cooperation that will lead to economic absorption. These are open questions that need to be analyzed based on historic context, factual evidence and current political and economic outlook of the world.
Owning quarter of oil production in Kazakhstan and having a lot of investments and credit lines to Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, China has become the vital channel of development, trade and part of functionality in the volatile development in the Central Asian region. Being a very important economic partner, China puts a high emphasis on its long term strategic and lasting presence in Central Asian States. Mariani analyzes the topic based on the consequential and consistent actions of China and the shape and form that it has given to its relationship with Central Asia. He tentatively analyzes the current situation in China and its own internal problems which are not yet resolved. This balanced approach tends to present that China is not that “red dragon” that is trying to buy out the living space for its future generations, rather a country which is deeply concerned about the future of the region and the security of its own borders and assets.
The issue of Central Asia is the area of interests that are shared by Russian and Western powers alongside China. While Russia is trying to hold on its influence of former socialist brother countries, Western countries, especially United States with varying success have been promoting democratic values in Central Asian states. While Russian grasp is also very volatile, with independent republics now trying to bargain for more benefits in return of some strategic concessions, China is seen more as a merchant who is trying to sell its goods and extract resources. Mariani very briefly goes over the reasons why the fear of China actually still persists in Central Asia and in Russian political and media space, he indirectly tries to answer for it with facts, however the issue is not fully explored. While this issue is a great concern on the agenda of each country, explicitly or implicitly. For example, according to the Economist: “Sinophobia is common — even among politicians, when speaking off the record”. Indeed Central Asian states mostly have very underdeveloped civil society, especially speaking of authoritarian countries like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan where government decision are rarely disputed however, the worry persists on all levels of the society and even the indirect spark and support of nationalism and uniqueness of each countries paths and seek of national identity and idea also could be attributed to desire not to be swallowed by big neighbor,economically or culturally. And while Central Asian states are more interested in creating civic nation states, where all foreigners and representatives of other ethnicities will be welcomed, the fear of China puts them on more ethnocentric path.
China is a multiethnic and complex country historically trying to hold on to its values and to develop this vast land with enormous population. China collaborates with each country that it does not have any conflicts with, in the end it has to create economic opportunities for its citizens and enhanced foreign relationships and partnerships are the great way for China to secure some of its weaker positions. China is not part of any power blocks and is neutral in issues of interfering in affairs of sovereign countries, that is decelerated in their agenda and is proven by their politics and decision making up until now. The Uighur problem in the province of Xinjang and general problem of radicalism is not foreign to China’s domestic policy and sometimes even have been a main subject. Enhancing strategic partnership and investing into economies of Central Asian states is a form of a preventive action, in that sense Mariani put all facts straight. Instable Central Asia will certainly have a domino effect and will create hotspots that will influence China as well.
Economic development has become a visit card of the Chinese government in foreign affairs, especially with underdeveloped neighboring countries. China is extending around 60 billion in African countries in grants, loans and ext. Mariani states that China is seeking a win-win situation in which China can benefit not on the expense of other countries but on their development, at the same time developing the cultural and strategic security ties. Then, why not invest in Central Asia, stability of whose will benefit China’s own internal problems. Central Asian states even though separated from Chinese ethnic minority territories still have a vast land and cultural religious ties with minorities living in Chinese plateau. Uighurs, Kazakhs, Chinese Muslims and so on could be a great way of connecting through development and cooperating on multiple levels or could turn into a zone of conflict and ethnic and religious intolerance. That’s why Mariani’s point about China not seeking any hegemony but rather seeking long-term security and sustainable development policy sounds firm and reasonable. Chinese officials do not hide that they see a Eurasian continent as most promising and are ready to secure their position as main economic and trade partner and want to be involved in long term project aimed at taking economic and financial opportunities that are available.
However China had and continues to have its own struggle with identities and would not want to have Central Asian states as its rivals or objects of economic invasion. Well, if the states tend to sell their interests for Chinese money, that’s another story, however even in that case China wouldn’t want to have hostile nations on the borders of their own problematic regions.
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