xi jinping

China’s Central Asian outreach coming at the cost of Russia

Beijing’s growing influence in the Central Asian Republic (CAR) countries is causing quite a lot of discontent among the various neighbouring countries around the region including Russia. The Communist Party of China’s (Cpc) approach to Central Asia has mostly been driven by its quest to attain natural resources as well to expand the Belt and Road Initiative (Bri). However, as many analysts have noted, such assertive actions in China’s neighbouring region are also hurting Russian interests.

China’s engagement to enhance connectivity and trade between the two regions through infrastructure projects and investment is in every way eating into Russian influence in a region, which has for decades been considered to be Moscow’s backyard. Interestingly, Central Asian countries have begun to see a great deal of benefit in China’s outreach mostly owing to economic development and access to Chinese markets.

The recently hosted China-Central Asia summit in May led by the Chinese President Xi Jinping himself, was indicate of the proactive approach Beijing’s political elites are taking in respect to gaining influence in the region. The two-day conference in May signified the seriousness with which China now seeks to engage with the region given the decades old stronghold held by its Russian counterparts.

Reports from within China have also indicated that billions of dollars’ worth of investments in the energy sector have been poured into Central Asian countries. This is important precisely due to the displacement of Russian monopoly by Chinese investments in the energy sector.

Moscow’s stand on Beijing’s closer engagements in Central Asia has by and large remained complex. Russia has historically considered Central Asia as its traditional sphere of influence and has maintained close political and security ties with the countries in the region, however, Russia’s ability to invest in the region and provide economic opportunities has significantly reduced owing to China’s vast financial resources. Investments in the Belt and Road initiative that took shape initially was quite indicative of how the Chinese side was willing to make space for investment in Central Asia; the declaration of the mammoth project also coming as part of Xi Jinping’s visit to the region in 2013.

This has also led many analysts to believe that Russia may not be all to well with such aggressive moves to displace its influence in its own backyard. Russia has time and again expressed concerns about China’s growing influence in Central Asia, but at the same time has refrained from making aggressive statements and has also gone onto recognize the economic benefits the country possesses.

Apart from such investments, an important segment of the growing relationship between the CAR countries and China has been the emergence of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) with China leading the footing. The SCO which comprises of all the CAR countries barring one has gone on to become a vessel that grants Beijing the weight to manoeuvre its way. This has not only strengthened Beijing regional influence but has also raised concerns over the sovereign decision-making powers the CAR might hold.

However, there is also evidence to suggest that the population within such countries are beginning to realise the depth of the issue. Recently significant protests broke out in Kazakhstan which was opposing a vital BRI project. The argument that followed the protest was much in line to prevent Chinese expansionist tendencies in the country. Much to their attempt Chinese investors began retracting their investments up to 300 million dollars in the country.

These examples however have not been able to adequately address the ill-will Chinese investments undertaken hold within themselves. A prominent tactic in this case has been to capture the political elite by promises of significant investments in their constituencies. By this methods, Chinese companies have assured themselves of natural resources right next to its own country saving up costs into billions of dollars yet expanding exploitative measures at the same time.

The Central Asia regions example is an important one not only for us to deeply understand and study Chinese subversive tactics but is also essential for being able to counter such mechanisms that the Party seems to deploy. The Central Asia region is an essential region that has preserved a rich history of its own, reducing it to a geopolitical contest is not only going to cause a significant pushback from within and its neighbouring regions, but will also lead to many other players finding their stake in a region that may perhaps do well without such endeavours. Thus, China’s advancement in such regions must be resisted from within so that it does not lead to a geopolitical contest among nations.