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Thanks to an influx of investment and a sharp surge in transit volumes, additional funds have begun to flow into the budgets of the Central Asian countries. This has led not only to economic growth, but also to increased competition between states in the region. The West’s deepening conflict with Russia and China, as well as the collapse of the traditional Western-dominated system of international relations, has led to a power vacuum in the region. Russia is busy with other problems; the US and the EU are not as strong as before. The old rules are dying out, and new ones have not yet been formulated. For some elites, geopolitical chaos is a threat to their position, but for Astana and Tashkent, which are gaining strength, chaos is a staircase, a chance to rise to the top.

Intraregional competition has been intensified by a sense of instability and growing competition between external players. Local elites regularly receive either tempting offers or dark hints from Western players who want to prevent the growth of influence of China and Russia in Central Asia. For example, the United States has repeatedly offered assistance in solving the problems of local airports and airlines, provided that the latter do not come under the control of Russian or Chinese companies. Washington did not raise any objections to the options of transferring strategic facilities to companies from Qatar or the UAE.

https://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/central-asia-competition-or-cooperation/

To what extent are Russia and China cooperating instead of competing in Central Asia to increase their influence in the region? Western news media like to portray that Russian and Chinese interests are completely not in conflict with each other, but I find it hard to believe, so I would like to know to what extent the two countries are cooperating in gaining a stronger foothold in the region despite certain conflicting economic and geopolitical interests.

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    Frame challenge - Central Asia is also a source of headaches for both countries so they also try to limit their exposure, not just grab as much of anything as possible.
    – alamar
    Commented Feb 27 at 13:54
  • BRI synergies. Pipeline deals. Joint missile defense. Complementary economies. Common powerful enemy in the US which has expressed desire to overthrow both countries' gov's. At the strategic level, cooperation is about as clear-cut as you will get in geopolitics. Ofc there is incessant commercial rivalry at the micro level, and China typically gets the better of it. Kazakhstan a case in point. But when US, er... someone unknown, comes in to fool around with a color revolution attempt in 2022, it mysteriously just goes away. Joint interests at work.
    – Pete W
    Commented Mar 8 at 23:53

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The question mentions cooperation and competition. In my opinion, the competition part is inaccurate. Although China seems to be harvesting Russia's influence in Central Asia, this is more like a deal or compromise, at least in the context of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The specific matters can be found on the Internet, so I won’t go into too much detail in listing the evidence.

First of all, changes in the regional situation have forced Russia to compromise with China on many levels, including economic, political, and military. The conflict between Russia and Ukraine prompted the West to impose the most comprehensive round of sanctions on Russia, which made Russia realize the importance of China, which is geographically and politically close to Russia. Facts have also proven this. Western sanctions have not destroyed the lives of the Russian people, nor have they destroyed the Russian economy. Western goods were replaced by Chinese goods printed with Chinese characters. The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has undoubtedly deepened Russia's dependence on China.

Second, Russia’s relations with Central Asia have actually deteriorated. After the coup in Kazakhstan, the largest country in Central Asia, a non-pro-Russian government came to power. Relations between the two countries gradually deteriorated. Since resources are the main export products, the highly overlapping export products also lack a favorable condition for maintaining relations between Central Asia and Russia.

Third, Russia and China are threatened by the same force. NATO's de facto eastward expansion has made Russia suffer from proxy wars. The United States and its Asia-Pacific allies are constantly making small moves around China, which is also disturbing China. Since there is a common enemy, the conflict will naturally be ignored for the time being, at least until the situation around Russia stabilizes.

In short, if this issue was raised before the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, we can analyze many signs of distrust between China and Russia. But now Russia has no time to take care of these, and only cooperation and compromise with China are left. Whether there will be new cracks in Sino-Russian cooperation still needs to be analyzed based on the new international situation after the Russia-Ukraine conflict ends.

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  • Kazakhstan did not actually have a pro-Russian government. All of ex-USSR republics absolutely have their own interests in mind, and only then they try to balance between Russia, China, EU and other players. In this respect, nothing really changed.
    – alamar
    Commented Mar 5 at 10:45

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