Central Asia is a platform for competition between the US and China, while Russia is busy in Ukraine
Central Asia is experiencing competition between the US and China. As the Chinese economy grows, so does Chinese influence in the heart of Eurasia. Beijing’s long-term strategy is more effective than the US policy, whose influence, on the contrary, began to decline in the Central Asian region.
Traditionally, it was believed that in Central Asia, the struggle was only between Russia and the United States. However, there is a third player, China. It is increasingly represented there. The relations between the Russian Federation and the PRC are friendly. Therefore, the Chinese influence primarily displaces the American one.
Central Asia has rich natural resources. This region is an important land transportation hub between China and Europe. For Beijing, supplies of natural gas from Turkmenistan, oil from Kazakhstan and the stability of its western borders are important. The United States and Western countries are generally interested in supplies of uranium, oil, gold and other resources from Central Asia.
Potentially, the republics can become a major transport hub for China’s trade with third countries. Therefore, Chinese investments in infrastructure projects are constantly flowing into the region. At the latest economic summit in China’s Xi’an in May, Xi Jinping promised the heads of the five Central Asian republics investments worth tens of billions of dollars.
The United States is trying to prevent the countries of Central Asia from becoming a strong rear of their two main geopolitical opponents. It seeks to attract the region’s states to the notorious sanctions. It generally limits economic ties. Western countries traditionally try to create a layer of pro-Western elite and bring it to power.
The struggle for influence in the region is in full swing. Russia is forced to focus on the European direction due to the military conflict in Ukraine. China takes on the function of reducing US influence at its borders.
Will China’s political line in Central Asia change depending on how its relations with the United States develop?
Conceptually, China’s policy will not change in the Central Asian region and in the world as a whole. The Chinese will not make concessions to the United States. The United States legally recognizes Taiwan as part of China. However, they are not believed.
Beijing knows what flirting with the United States can lead to. It is impossible to create a G2 (“Big Two”) model, meaning the division of the world into American and Chinese spheres of influence. The US will not cede the role of the hegemon. Therefore, a clash between them is inevitable. In Central Asia, China will continue to increase its presence.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s recent visit to China failed to change the vector of Chinese policy. Beijing will adhere to and pursue the same policy, although perhaps in a softer way with regard to the United States of America. Overall, their attempts to win China to their side, to make it a junior partner, were not crowned with success.
On the other hand, China will continue to support Russia because the collapse of Russia is the inevitable collapse of China itself. Having ground access to commodities and energy from Russia and Central Asia is strategically important for China.
Why there is resistance to Chinese projects in Central Asia?
The United States is not indifferent to the fact that China is systematically penetrating into Central Asia. In the eyes of the “zero-sum” approach by Western powers, any success of China in that region is their loss. They see China as “conquering” it and generally dominating the region.
The emerging conflicts, such as the January riots in Kazakhstan or the unrest in Uzbekistan’s Karakalpakstan, did not arise by chance. The West could have well inspired them in an attempt to undermine the regimes in Central Asia that are oriented towards Russia and China.
The same is happening in Kyrgyzstan. A railway route within the framework of the One Belt – One Road project from China to Kyrgyzstan, then to Uzbekistan and further up to Europe should pass here. Of course, this project does not suit the United States, and they are trying to subtly undermine the regional regimes.
Do the US investment in Central Asia counter Chinese ones?
The United States acts with the hands of Europe. During a visit to Kazakhstan, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier announced that they had agreed on a $50 billion investment deal for the production of green hydrogen. This amount exceeds the amount of Chinese investments.
Promoting a green economy is a tool that the United States uses. They act in this matter through Germany and Europe as a whole. Josep Borrell said similar things when he came to Kyrgyzstan. This is a common theme of negotiations during the visits of European emissaries. Americans are trying to win over the region’s countries to their side and neutralize the influence of Russia and China.
The fight against re-exports, which they constantly shout about, is already being waged. Recently, they imposed sanctions on the Russian-Kyrgyz Development Fund, freezing its assets in Belgium. Some Uzbek and Kazakh companies are subject to targeted sanctions. In this matter, the Americans are acting cautiously. Because they understand that they can, even more, alert the Central Asian republics and push them into the arms of Beijing and Moscow.
Whose “soft power” is more effective – Chinese or American?
China’s soft power operates more effectively. It is expressed primarily in the policy of economic expansion and long-term loans on favourable terms. In this regard, US policy cannot compete with China’s.
China is firmly entrenched in Central Asia. In terms of soft power, the West has suffered a crushing defeat. Beijing dominates because it approaches the issue more skillfully, economically tying the region to itself.
Possibility of another player (India or Japan) entering the competition
China is so firmly entrenched here that there is no room for competitors. In some segments, India or Japan can strengthen their positions. But on the whole, Delhi and Tokyo cannot seriously oppose Chinese economic and political expansion. They were simply late, they started late. This is also evidence of the effectiveness of Beijing’s policy towards Central Asia. Countries of the region are mainly ex-USSR states and still have strong ties with Russia.