19 April 2019
Central Asian nations pursue a multi-dimensional strategy to balance various pulls from the US, Russia and China.
Central Asian nations pursue a multi-dimensional strategy to balance various pulls from the US, Russia and China.

Why Middle Asia will gladly join China’s silk road plan

Although “One Belt, One Road” is commonly regarded as China’s strategy to balance the United States’ pivot to the Asia-Pacific region, its impact on Russia should not be ignored.

The Silk Road Economic Belt starts from Xian, passes through several major cities in Central Asia, then Russia’s Moscow, and finally ends in Europe.

Beijing has always emphasized that China will strengthen its economic cooperation with Russia. Now, Putin’s Eurasian Union and the “One Belt, One Road” can complement each other.

Most Chinese scholars express similar views. For example, Li Jingjie, director of the Institute of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, suggests that Russia is a very important country in the silk road plan and a high priority for Chinese investment. So, the “One Belt, One Road” can only benefit Russia, it is generally believed.

However, the truth may probably be the opposite.

The five Central Asian countries all pursue a multi-dimensional diplomatic strategy in order to balance the influence from the United States, Russia and China.

Because of the huge amount of natural resources in the region, many scholars describe it as “the New Great Game”, comparing it to the rivalry between the United Kingdom and Russia in the 19th century.

China is competing for the region’s natural resources with Russia.

Resource-rich Russia has been importing energy from Central Asia to increase its bargaining power with major energy buyers, especially China.

Russia is also importing natural gas from Central Asia and reselling to Europe at a higher price.
That also explains why Central Asian countries are more willing to sell natural gas to China.

To the Central Asian countries, China’s banking system complements, or can even substitute, that of Russia given the former’s economic strength.

The recent depreciation of the Russian ruble has hurt the Central Asian countries, and China can provide a way out for them.

China is Central Asia’s most important economic partner. In 2012, China’s trade with the region reached US$46 billion, twice the level of China-Russia trade.

China invested US$30 billion and US$15 billion respectively in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan respectively, and also lent US$8 billion and US$1 billion respectively to Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. Meanwhile, the relationship with Kyrgyzstan has been upgraded to strategic partnership level.

Since the annexation of Crimea, Central Asian countries have been alert to the threat from Russia.
There are 4 million Russian immigrants living in northeast Kazakhstan, and the country is worried about that Russia will repeat the annexation of Crimea there.

In addition, Central Asian businessmen are also dissatisfied with the huge influx of Russian products.
Although there is also a dumping of Chinese goods, at least China won’t be a threat to national security.

Nursultan Nazarbayev, the President of Kazakhstan, has warned that if national security is threatened, Kazakhstan would withdraw from Eurasian Union.

A Russian think tank, meanwhile, has also noted that Russia’s influence in the region is declining amid economic sanctions imposed by the West and the slide in the ruble. As Russia’s influence falls, Central Asian nations will be more inclined to participate in China’s “One Belt, One Road” scheme.

– Contact us at [email protected]


Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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