Feng Yujun:China’s Strategy Toward Central Asia: Interests, Principles and Policy Tools
12 Jun, 2019  |  Source:International Relations, 2019, vol. 12  |  Hits:7435

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the five Central Asian countries, namely Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, became independent international law subjects, and Central Asia became a new geopolitical region in the international landscape. After the development of nearly 30 years, China and Central Asian countries have established a strategic partnership, and the multi-dimensional cooperation has been carried out in political, economic, cultural, security fields and so on. This paper will start with an analysis of China’s interests in Central Asia, reviewing the main course of the development of relations between China and Central Asian countries in the past 30 years, analyzing China’s policy measures and policy effects on Central Asia, anticipating China’s future direction in Central Asia.

I. China’s Strategic Interests in Central Asia 

China’s basic interests in Central Asia can be summarized as security interests, economic interests, energy interests and geopolitical interests. Defining interests is the basis for determining China’s strategy toward Central Asia.

First of all, the border issue with the Central Asian countries should be resolved and border security should be maintained. China and three Central Asian countries—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan share a borderline of more than 3,000 kilometers. On the occasion of the Sino-Soviet confrontation in the 1960s and 1970s, a series of border conflicts took place between China and the Soviet Union. China faced enormous security pressures in the north and northwest, and border disputes have become a major obstacle to Sino-Soviet relations. In the early 1980s, the tension between China and the Soviet Union began to ease, and the two countries embarked on negotiations on the border issue including the western border of China. However, when the Soviet Union collapsed at the end of 1991, no concrete results were achieved. Securing border security has become one of the important tasks of China’s strategy toward Central Asia. 

During the late 1990s, extremist forces in Central Asia and the “East Turkistan” terrorist forces echoed with the support of international terrorist organizations and a series of terrorist incidents have been created in southern Central Asia and in Xinjiang, China, causing a large number of deaths and injuries. After the “September 11” incident, new changes have taken place in the situation and terrorist forces transferred from Afghanistan to Central Asia. The task of fighting against the “Three Evil Forces” is more urgent. Cross-border cooperation should be carried out and all regions and countries need to work together. Considering that the northwestern part of China is a Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region inhabited by ethnic minorities in China, there are “Three Evil Forces” of separatism, terrorism and extremism, as well as drug production and trafficking, transnational crimes, which are the most significant non-traditional security challenge for China’s national security. Therefore, it is common need for China and Central Asian countries to cooperate and confront the threat posed by the “Three Evil Forces” and other nontraditional security factors to national security and regional stability. 

Secondly, economic cooperation with the Central Asian countries on the basis of equality and mutual benefit should be developed, promoting them to integrate into the world economic system, exploiting their market. During the Soviet times, the links between Central Asia and the world economic system were very weak. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Central Asian countries entered into the world economic system as independent economies, thus they became China’s new economic partners Central Asia consists of China’s foreign economic cooperation. China has extensive economic benefits in Central Asia, including trade, economic infrastructure, and mineral exploitation and so on. On the one hand, Xinjiang and Central Asia are geographically adjacent and maintained long-time economic ties. Until the late Republic of China, Russian Central Asia was still Xinjiang’s most important economic partner. After the 1950s, two regions’ economic ties were broken up. In the context of globalization, China hopes to promote Xinjiang’s economic development and opening up by expanding economic cooperation with Central Asian countries. On the other hand, after the “Belt and Road” initiative was put forward, Central Asia’s position in China’s foreign economic cooperation has further increased. Central Asia is not only the region with the most achievements in the construction of the “Belt and Road”, but also the key area for the construction of the “Belt and Road” in the future. In the longer term, China hopes that regional economic integration in Central Asia will make more progress, because it will provide more solid regional support for globalization and provide a broader prospect for economic cooperation between China and Central Asian countries. 

The third is to strengthen mutually beneficial energy cooperation with Central Asian countries, obtain the energy resources necessary for China’s economic development while providing investment, technology and a huge and stable energy export market for Central Asian countries. According to BP’s “World Energy Statistics Yearbook”, oil reserves in Central Asia are about 4 billion tons in 2016, accounting for 1.83 % of the world’s total reserves. Among them, Kazakhstan obtains the greatest growing potential of oil in Central Asia, with oil reserves of 3.9 billion tons, accounting for 1.63 % of the world’s oil reserves, ranking 12th in the world. Natural gas reserves in Turkmenistan are 1.75 billion cubic meters, accounting for 9.4 % of the world’s total, ranking third in the world, storage/ production ratio exceeding a century [1]. Due to its rich energy savings and unique geostrategic position, Central Asia’s position in the world geopolitical landscape of energy rises significantly. With the continuous economic development, China’s dependence on foreign energy is increasing. To ensure the realization of energy benefits, China needs to ensure the opening of Central Asian energy resources to China. It is undesirable that any foreign countries control and monopoly on Central Asian energy. China and Central Asia’s energy cooperation are strategically complementary and there are broad strategic prospects in the fields of oil trade, exploration and development of oil and gas resources and oil and gas product processing technology. At present, China and Central Asian countries have formed extensive cooperation in trading,

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