«Большая игра» 2.0 в Азии: Китайский дракон и его новая дипломатия

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Ярмолинский Юрий Михайлович,

аналитик Белорусского института стратегических исследований

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Central Asia is back in the “game”

With the threat of instability looming over Central Asia, the need for regional cooperation has increased significantly.

central-asia

Zbigniew Brzezinski, an American strategist, called Central Asia the “Asian Balkans”, highlighting its unstable and potentially explosive nature. Events in KazakhstanTajik Gorno-BadakhshanUzbek Karakalpakstan, and Kyrgyzstan confirm that external forces are still behind the unrest in Central Asia.

The arc of instability of the “Asian Balkans” permeates all the countries of the region, including Xinjiang. This correlates with the Greater Central Asia project, which involves the creation of an end-to-end security system led by the United States (US) and gaining control over resources.

Using the tools of “soft power”, the US and their western allies penetrate the critical areas of the target countries, and through “multidimensional” scenarios, they engage in rivalry and competition to gain supremacy in the region. Nationalism with a Russophobic, anti-Eurasian, and Sinophobic bias is actively fueled.

Using the tools of “soft power”, the US and their western allies penetrate the critical areas of the target countries, and through “multidimensional” scenarios, they engage in rivalry and competition to gain supremacy in the region.

Taking into account the trend towards regionalisation, which is quite apparent with the creation of new blocs a  nd alternative payment systems to that of the West, a serious challenge is the reformatting of the existing commodity models of the economies of the Central Asian republics, where American and British capital are deeply embedded.

The Afghan factor

The real threat to regional security is posed by Afghanistan. In case of an escalation, the instability in the country which has soared since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan could lead to a surge in Islamic radicalism, drug trafficking, and an influx of refugees into Central Asia and Russia.

With the start of a special military operation in Ukraine, the idea of invading Tajikistan was also revived. Recently there was news about the formation of a cell “Tehreek-e-Taliban Tajikistan”.

According to a recent UN report, the presence of al-Qaeda remains in the south and east of Afghanistan, which was confirmed by the death of Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul.

The conflict in Central Asia, on the southern flank of the CSTO, with the involvement of Russia, is an old “blue” dream of western strategists. Thus, it can be predicted that pressure on Central Asia along the line of the West will continue.

A proactive strategy 

In the context of the current situation in Central Asia, China and Russia, although partly competing there, are increasing the level and quality of cooperation. Unlike other players, the interests of Beijing and Moscow largely coincide, since both of them see the benefits of increased regional integration at this complex “crossroads” of East and West, North and South.

The conflict in Central Asia, on the southern flank of the CSTO, with the involvement of Russia, is an old “blue” dream of western strategists.

In July, Russia announced a US$10-million grant to Kyrgyzstan to support the budget. Another 8 million will be provided for fire and rescue equipment for the local Ministry of Emergency Situations. China will also assist by extending US$7.5 million to the Ministry of Defense of Kyrgyzstan.

The President of Kyrgyzstan received the heads of delegations of the 24th Conference of the Special Services of the Turkic Speaking States (TURKON). Predictably, its agenda was focused on Afghanistan. To stabilise the situation there, Bishkek actively advocated the use of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) mechanisms. It is curious that despite the foreign policy neutrality and non-bloc status, Uzbekistan is present in TURKON. Within the framework of the 15th meeting of the Kyrgyz-Chinese intergovernmental commission on trade and economic cooperation, a corresponding programme until 2030 was signed. The issues of developing bilateral strategic partnerships, as well as ensuring global and regional security and stability were the subject of the meeting between President Zhaparov and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

Kyrgyzstan also agreed with India to increase mutual trade, provide reliable alternative routes to access transport and logistics networks in Asia to develop the North-South transport corridor and, in particular, increase the efficiency of using the Iranian port of Chabahar, which India has been actively developing since 2015. In June, Kyrgyzstan ratified the Memorandum of Understanding on grant assistance with India to implement quick-impact social development projects. In accordance with the memorandum, signed in October 2021, the Government of India is to allocate US$1.5 million in grants to Kyrgyzstan. 

Logistics as a regionalisation tool

Joint projects in the field of transport and logistics contribute to raising the level of Central Asian integration. Their importance has grown significantly after the breakdown of global and regional supply chains due to the COVID-19 pandemic and western sanctions against Belarus and Russia.

Kyrgyzstan also agreed with India to increase mutual trade, provide reliable alternative routes to access transport and logistics networks in Asia to develop the North-South transport corridor and, in particular, increase the efficiency of using the Iranian port of Chabahar, which India has been actively developing since 2015.

Central Asian countries have, therefore, taken multiple initiatives. Kazakhstan is interested in joint investment projects within the framework of the Trans-Caspian route with the modernisation of railways and ports, as well as building up the tanker fleet. Similarly, Uzbekistan is actively promoting the construction of the Mazari-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar railway. In Bishkek, the construction project of the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway, which should connect the PRC with Uzbekistan, going to Turkey via Afghanistan and Iran, has been classified as a national and priority project. The relevant document will be signed at the September SCO summit in Samarkand on 15th September.

The connection of this corridor with the Transcaucasian hub will create a single interregional transport network. That is why Tashkent is interested in restoring the Zangezur corridor, which can provide the shortest land route from Asia to Europe.

Uzbekistan is also showing interest in the transit potential of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, as well as in the ports of Turkey and Azerbaijan along the North-South and East-West international transport corridors, where production, logistics, and marketing infrastructure is being created.

Cooperation in the field of transport and transit between Turkmenistan and Iran has also gained new momentum. In June, the first container train carrying sulfur from Kazakhstan to Turkey passed through Turkmenistan and Iran. This became possible after the signing of an MoU, in May, between Iran and Kazakhstan on the launch of the Central Asia-Turkey-Europe corridor.

After joining the SCO, Iran will be able to use Kyrgyzstan as a corridor, which, in turn, will gain access to the countries of the East and South-East through Iran. The meeting of the Presidents of Iran and Tajikistan at the end of May 2022 gave impetus to the development of the Iran-Afghanistan-Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan transport corridor. Dushanbe is interested in access to the Iranian ports of Chabahar and Bandar Abbas for the transportation of goods. Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan also see those harbours as gateways to the Indian Ocean.

Non-alternative integration

In the context of growing external pressure and attempts to destabilise Central Asia, the attractiveness and role of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), the SCO, and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which provide a military-political “umbrella”, and open up new economic opportunities, is growing.

Kazakhstan is interested in joint investment projects within the framework of the Trans-Caspian route with the modernisation of railways and ports, as well as building up the tanker fleet.

In this regard the upcoming expansion of the SCO geography by joining of Iran, as well as granting the status of dialogue partners to Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the Maldives, is natural. The United Arab Emirates, Syria, Myanmar, Cambodia, Nepal, Azerbaijan, and Armenia also wish to become member states.

In light of the current geopolitical realities, only multilateral mechanisms can really help restore the regional economy, as well as create a reliable shield when it comes to security.

Belarus’ role

Against the backdrop of the processes in Greater Eurasia, the forthcoming start of the official procedure for the admission of Belarus to the SCO in Samarkand looks like a natural event. However, membership in such a respectable organisation imposes a serious responsibility. The main task is to effectively use the SCO resources in the national interest. It is obvious that Central Asia has the potential to become a new hot spot, to which Belarus will have to respond adequately. This requires the presence of in-depth experts on Asia, who know the local elites, the structure and nuances of doing business, understand public sentiments, can see the whole range of threats and challenges, and whose opinion the country’s leadership can rely on whilst making certain decisions.

In this regard, Belarus hopes for the support of India, as a part of SCO`s family, including in the spirit of the results of the 7th round of bilateral political consultations recently held in New Delhi.

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