A Steadily Tightening Embrace: China’s Ascent in
Central Asia and the Caucasus
By: Raffaello Pantucci
Chinese engagement with Central Asia and the Caucasus has been on a steady ascent. China accords considerably more importance to Central Asia than to the Caucasus, and the absolutely central aspect of Chinese engagement is Xinjiang. Still, the economic push into Central Asia has continued, in spite of a slowdown in investment lately. Among outside powers, Russia is the only power that Beijing considers a genuine competitor, and even then that relationship is seen through the lens of cooperation at the larger, strategic level. China does faces challenges in Central Asia: one is the refocusing by various militant groups that now treat China as an adversary. Another is the risk that Beijing may inadvertently clash with Moscow’s interests in the region.
The narrative of China’s engagement with Central Asia and the Caucasus has been one of steady ascension and embrace. There is a clear difference between the two regions from Beijing’s perspective, with Central Asia a region which is intimately tied to China, while the Caucasus remains at one remove. The Central Asian relationship was initially marked by concerns and instability, but it has over time developed into an increasingly close relationship. As time has passed, Central Asia has also played an interesting role in Chinese foreign policy thinking, providing an environment in which Beijing can test out new foreign and security policy approaches in a relatively pliant environment. For example, the first international security organization outside UN structures that China was instrumental in creating, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), focused on Central Asia. And even more importantly, President Xi Jinping chose to inaugurate his keynote foreign policy concept, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), in then-Astana (now Nursultan), Kazakhstan.
By Richard Weitz
July 14, 2021, the CACI Analyst
A century ago, the Italian author Luigi Pirandello wrote a three-act play entitled “Six Characters in Search of an Author,” which explored the difficulty of differentiating between illusion and reality. The analyst of the recent border clash between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan faces the same challenge. The event, which saw the most serious fighting between independent Central Asian republics, offers several plausible explanations with divergent policy implications.
By Ruth Ingram
April 16, 2021, the CACI Analyst
Reports of atrocities against the Turkic people of Northwestern China have been increasing in number since news of internment camps first hit the headlines in 2017. Calls have been growing to call these out as acts of genocide. However, the jury is still out. Activists and governments were initially content to label the catalogue of brutality “crimes against humanity,” and a “cultural genocide,” but as revelations of systematic intent by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have gained traction, pressure is mounting to label it a full-blown genocide.
By Stephen Blank
December 14, 2020, the CACI Analyst
China has offered the Taliban investments in energy and infrastructure projects in return for the conclusion of a peace deal with the government in Kabul. In return for peace, China would commence building a major six-lane highway road network across Afghanistan. This road network would facilitate regional trade with Central Asia and permit direct land access from China to Iran. However, this network would also serve as a means for China to project direct force into Afghanistan, Central Asia, or Iran if needed.
By Emil Avdaliani
November 24, 2020, the CACI Analyst
In recent years, China has made significant economic inroads into Central Asia. A recently opened new transportation route linking Xinjiang to Uzbekistan could have large geopolitical repercussions. Although many questions remain as to how effective the corridor will be, particularly as the Kyrgyz section of the railway is still not completed, its likely continuation is via the Caspian towards the Black Sea ports. The route, a part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), indicates the project’s success in Central Asia, which will be stoking apprehensions in Moscow.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.