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 Fuad Shahbazov
June 1, 2020, the CACI Analyst
On March 1, 2020, India outperformed Russia and Poland in a US$ 40 million defense deal with Armenia to supply it with four domestically made SWATHI counter-battery radars. The system is developed by India’s Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and manufactured by Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL). It provides accurate information on enemy artillery firing positions weapons up to 75 kilometers away. The decision came amid India’s growing efforts to boost its national “Make in India” brand in the defense industry sector, which could make new inroads into European, Middle Eastern and Asian defense markets. However, the new Indian – Armenian defense deal could undermine Delhi’s relations with Russia on the one hand, and Azerbaijan, Turkey and Pakistan on the other.
By Stephen Blank
July 8, 2019, the CACI Analyst
In late 2018, National Security Council Director John Bolton signaled a revived U.S. interest in the South Caucasus by visiting all three states of the region. While the outcome remains unclear, the visit itself clearly signaled a U.S. interest in reviving a robust presence in the Caucasus. Indeed, U.S. interest should not only stem from the Caucasus’ proximity to Iran and Russia, or considerations relating to energy flows to Europe. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia has seen repeated recent outbreaks of violence and the issues and alignments growing out of this conflict spill over into all the other issues pertaining to the Caucasus that justify a renewed U.S. presence. Regenerated U.S. action to help terminate the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict peacefully is necessary because of the visibly mounting frustration and despair in the war zone.
By Neil Hauer
March 13, 2019, the CACI Analyst
Georgia’s final presidential elections in October and November 2018 served as a microcosm of the current uninspired state of Georgian politics. Although the incumbent Georgian Dream (GD) party and its leader, Bidzina Ivanishvili, were able to triumph over their opponents, the trials they faced in doing so underscored the degree to which they have lost public confidence. Exiled former president Mikheil Saakashvili, who played a major role in campaigning for the candidate of his United National Movement (UNM) party, also appears to be a largely spent force. Georgia seems to be in need of a new political movement that can mobilize enthusiasm, but it is unclear when, or from where, this will emerge.
By Natalia Konarzewska
January 16, 2019, the CACI Analyst
On November 28, 2018, Georgians elected their next president in the second round, in the last direct presidential elections before the country fully switches to a parliamentary system. Salome Zurabishvili, an independent candidate endorsed by the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) party, won the election by securing 59 percent of the vote against opponent Grigol Vashadze from United National Movement (UNM) who received 40 percent. Zurabishvili received the largest number of votes in the first election round on October 28 but did not reach the 50 percent threshold needed to win. Observers assessed that elections were largely competitive but not fair. Some irregularities and incidents occurred during the voting, however, they did not seriously affect the outcome.
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.