The Strategist

China Strengthens Its Presence in Central Asia

10/16/2015 - 17:27

China is increasingly penetrating, especially economically, to Central Asia. According to experts, due to the decline of Russia's influence in the region, as well as the reduction of West’s interest in the region, the growth of Chinese influence may not cause a serious reaction. China itself, which first not intended to include the region its his "empire", now pays more attention to it.

According to analysts of the British newspaper Financial Times, while China's participation in the affairs of Central Asian countries is growing, Russia's influence in the region is falling. What is happening in Central Asia is often compared to the “big game” of XIX century, when the region competed Russia and Britain. Yet, according to the newspaper, the current “big game” can be one-way due to decreased interest of West and weakening Russian influence because of the fall in oil prices and the economic crisis. Now, China is investing billions of dollars in the economy of the Central Asian states. According to the IMF, China's trade with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan has grown from $ 1.8 billion in 2000 to $ 50 billion in 2013. According to experts, in the coming years, China may become the largest trading partner of countries in the region, bypassing Russia.

In Kazakhstan, the Chinese companies now control from one-fifth to a quarter of oil production. In Turkmenistan, China has bypassed Russia, becoming the largest purchaser of local oil - last year China accounted for 61% of Turkmen oil exports. The country is also investing in oil refineries and cement plants, as well as roads and tunnels construction in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. According to the Financial Times, in the next three years, China is going to invest $ 6 billion in Tajikistan, which corresponds to two-thirds of the country's annual GDP. The project "New Silk Road", according to experts, is among other things of the reorientation of Chinese investment in the region. "Previously, China has invested in the oil and gas sector, but now we are talking about the infrastructure, industry, agriculture, tourism and other spheres", - said the expert on Central Asia at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations Ding Xiaoxing. The project "New Silk Road" includes the construction of roads, railways, pipelines, ports and other infrastructure projects in Central, South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Central Africa to Europe. One of the infrastructure projects of China in Central Asia was the establishment of the center of the Sino-Kazakh border cooperation - a dry port in Khorgos.

According to Raffaello Pantucci, Director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute, "this is the “unintentional” Empire of China. In this part of the world, China is clearly becoming the most important player. I do not think they realize what this means in the long term." The penetration of China in the region began in the 1990s. Experts see two main reasons for such a policy in Central Asia. First, at that time, Chinese consumption of oil, gas and other raw materials had been rapidly growing, and the closest region with significant reserves of minerals was the Central Asia. Second, China hoped that the cooperation with the states of Central Asia would have helped it in maintaining the loyalty of the Uighur population of Xinjiang.

Too close co-operation with China is not always popular in the countries of Central Asia, traditionally oriented to Russia and Turkey. China's proposal to lease land in Kazakhstan for agricultural activities in 2010 even aroused popular protests. As the Kazakh political analyst and head of Risk Assessment Group Dosym Satpayev says: "Any attempt by China to increase its influence in Kazakhstan would raise anti-Chinese sentiments." The growing influence of China in the region causes a negative reaction in Russia too. When the strategy of the Silk Road was announced, Moscow took this as a challenge to its own project on regional integration, the Eurasian Economic Union. True, in May of this year, the countries signed a declaration on cooperation between the Eurasian Economic Union and the Silk Road Project. According to analysts, the tacit understanding between Moscow and Beijing stipulates that Russia gives way to economic dominance in the region to China, but will retain influence in military and security matters.