[Academic] Russia and China Presence in Central Asia

Russia and China Presence in Central Asia; 
Rivalry and Cooperation on Economics, Energy and Security Issues

Since the collapsing of the Soviet Union in 1991, there were some significant changes on the constellation of international geo-politics in Euro-Asia, specifically in Central Asia . Even after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Moscow has retained extensive political, economic, and security ties with the Central Asia countries (Weitz, 2008: 52).

Ariel Cohen, argued that Greater Central Asia, which includes Iran and Afghanistan, is vital for Russia as a source of hydrocarbons and other raw materials. This region is also a strategic transit route for Russia pipelines and rail roads which could become part of the “New Silk Road” for formidable developmental engine. However, the region is a major geopolitical battleground between China, which is a regional emerging power, with Russia (Central Asia Program, 2012).

China, as the closest big country with Russia, has some development on its relationship with Russia also with its neighboring countries of the former Soviet Union in terms of trade and political cooperation (Burles, 1999: ix). Burles (1999) also mentioned that Russia and Central Asia become major suppliers of energy resources to China’s rapidly growing economy.

Relations between Russia – China and China – Central Asia can be said as complicated since the leader in Moscow and the capitals of Central Asian countries seen the China’s growing power as a threat (Burles, 1999: ix). From geopolitical perspective, Central Asia has been becoming a “contestation zone” in terms of security, energy resources and commercial opportunities. Burles mentioned that China’s growing presence in Central Asia may be indicative of its impending ascendance in continental Asia, and may provide secure land links between China and states in the Middle East (and possibly even Europe) who share the China’s ambivalence toward American power.

Richard Weitz (2008: 51) mentioned that Central Asia represents the geographic region where the security interests of China and Russia most overlap. However, this shared security interests mean that the newly independent states of Central Asia, such as: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, have not become venues for rivalry between Moscow and Beijing, but rather major unifying elements in Chinese-Russian relations.

With the weakening influence of Russia in the independent state in Central Asia, in this paper, the author would like to describe about how are the current Russia presence and influence in the region, especially its contestation with China as newly leading economic power, especially in terms of economics, energy and security issues.

Economic Potential in Central Asia

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To understand how Russia and China interest in Central Asia, firstly we should understand what the importance of this region is. Central Asia has emerged as one of the world’s fastest growing regions since the late 1990s and has shown notable development potential, that is significant for a region comprising largely of small landlocked economies with no access to the sea for trade.

Dowling and Wignaraja (2006: 16) mentioned four advantages of the region. First, the region contains a significant base of the world’s natural resources (including oil, natural gas, gold, and other metals) and its economic prospects are closely linked to international commodity prices. Second, from geopolitical perspective, it is strategically positioned as a gateway between Europe and Asia and offers extensive potential for trade, investment, and growth.

Third, the region spans a vast geographical area, with widely differing natural conditions. Many economies are landlocked and have harsh climates, both of which impose large transactions costs on economic activity. Fourth, all the economies have had a legacy of socialist-oriented economic policies and several have embarked on market-oriented reforms emphasizing macroeconomic stabilization, trade openness, and private sector development.

Russia Interest in Central Asia

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With this situation, Russian puts its economic goals in Central Asia that includes; ensuring its firms participate in developing the region’s energy resources and Central Asian oil and gas exporters continue to use Russian pipelines. Russian companies and business groups control much of the transportation systems for Central Asia’s oil , gas and electricity.

Richard Weitz (2008: 52-53) mentioned that Central Asia’s landlocked states still heavily rely on the Russia’s transportation, communications, supply-chain and other networks. It relates to the legacy of the integrated Soviet economy. The manufacturers from this region remain similarly dependent on Russian spare parts, technology and services. In other words, Central Asia is an area of special Russian influence. Furthermore, much Russian influence and assistance in Central Asia is legitimate and vital, such as: over drug-trafficking, illegal migration and some forms of security cooperation. Russia has genuine security interests in Central Asia, but it would be more convincing if it did not play the security card when no such threat exists (Nixey, 2012: 8).

In other side, many Russian companies still rely on Central Asian suppliers for essential natural resources, equipment, and other inputs. Russian firms have made some progress in developing suppliers in Russia to replace or supplement sources in other former Soviet states. The recent surge in world oil and gas prices has facilitated a major resurgence of Russian public and private investment in Central Asia.

Although most of Central Asian countries are landlocked and have historically depended on the Russia Federation for trade linkages, the growing forces of globalization will be increasingly important for the future trade prospects for this region (Dowling and Wignaraja, 2006: 82). But, for at least the next few years, Russia will continue to derive soft power from its Soviet legacy.

China Interest in Central Asia

Historically, China had ties for centuries with Central Asia, but since the 19th century, Soviet control of the region severed these relations and contacts (Weitz, 2008: 54). After the collapsing of USSR in 1991, China has reemerged as a major player in the region. China provides the Central Asian states vital non-Russian transportation routes through which the states can interact with international markets (Burles, 1999: xi).

Most importantly, China’s growing energy needs represent another force driving its increased interest and involvement in Central Asia. China’s growing interest in securing Central Asia oil and gas could lead Beijing to reconsider its policy of regional deference. Richard Weitz (2008) argued that with the combination of a booming economy and declining domestic energy production, it results China’s importation of an increasingly large percentage of its oil and natural gas. Chinese policy makers have sought to enhance their access to energy resources from Central Asia, as well as Russia (Weitz, 2008: 56).

Another concern of China in Central Asia is its economic relations and cross border trade with Central Asia countries. Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is one of six autonomous regions in China. Its location in China’s western border, make Xinjiang become special in the eye of central government in Beijing. Xinjiang has unique geopolitical situation, where it becomes the frontier of China with Central Asia. China views Xinjiang as a continental bridge which extends China’s reach to Central Asia and simultaneously serves as a buffer to China proper (Warikoo, 2011).

Xinjiang is susceptible to various influences and has had a history of interaction with Russia and Russia’s central Asian republics, which is an economic advantage for China. But in other side it also becomes a serious liability. China’s program to develop the west and Xinjiang’s economic viability hinges on trade with near neighbors. However, as China moves to create infrastructure to integrate Xinjiang into the region, it created an undesired influences into the province.

In order to develop Xinjiang economy, China government also tries to expand its economic influence to Central Asia. Warikoo (2011) explained that central government created special economic zones to facilitate cross border trade of Xinjiang with adjoining Central Asian Republics, in a manner that most of the business and trade remain in the hands of Chinese. Xinjiang also used as a spring board to penetrate and influence Central Asian economy, polity and society (Warikoo, 2011: 181).

Shared Russian – Chinese Interest

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Central Asia perhaps represents the geographic region where the security interests of China and Russia most intersect. Russia and China often compete for Central Asian energy supplies and commercial opportunities. These two governments share a desire to limit instability in the region (Weitz, 2008: 60).

The fact that now the countries of Central Asia still remain economically and politically oriented toward Moscow, albeit to varying degrees. This orientation is the product of Russia’s long domination of the region. But, with the declining of Russian power, Burles argued that China’s influence in Central Asia will be growing. The countries of Central Asia, even regions within individual countries, are slowly reorienting themselves in directions more appropriate to their geographic position, political conditions, and economic needs (Burles, 1999: 51).

China has never expressed any interest in spreading influence when formulating its own policies into Central Asia. However, as China’s economic, political and military power grows, this behavior toward deeper involvement of China in Central Asian affairs is likely to change. As it mentioned before, China’s main policy priorities involve avoiding instability in the region, securing access to energy resources and expanding economic cooperation.

The issue of ethnic separatism and terrorism in their border territories become the major concern of these countries in terms of security. China opposes the spread of extremism movement in Central Asia and supports the region’s security. Beijing’s primary motivation for this action is to minimize the potential for instability emerging in the region that might threaten its domestic stability and economic development (Burles, 1999: xi).

Another issue on regional stability and security is the US military presence in Central Asia, which creates the government of both Russia and China feel clearly uneasy. The regional instability following from the US invasion of Iraq that have seen the deposition of pro-Moscow governments around Russia’s borders have led many influential Russian to see the US presence as a major source of instability in its own rights (Weitz, 2008: 61). Russian and Chinese leaders have avoided directly challenging the American military presence in Central Asia. Despite the overlapping interests of Russia and China, their policies in the Central Asia region still frequently conflict.

As for the energy issues, in some respects, China and Russia should be natural energy partners. Chinese energy demand is soaring and Russia’s oil and gas deposits lie much closer to China than the more distant energy sources Africa and the Persian Gulf (Weitz, 2008: viii).

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization

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The overlapping security interests between Russia and China have manifested themselves most visibly in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (Weitz, 2008: 65). The making of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is become one of the ways to accelerating regional integrations and cooperation between Russian, China and Central Asia countries.

SCO started in 1996 and 1997, when Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan signed a document that established the ‘Shanghai Five’ to deal with border delimitation and fostering trust and good neighborly relations between the five countries. Then in June 2001 Uzbekistan joined the ‘Shanghai Five’ and then they signed the Declaration on the Establishment of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (Kalra and Saxena, 2007). Since its founding, SCO has essentially functioned as a Chinese-Russian condominium that provides Beijing and Moscow with a convenient multilateral framework to manage their interests in the newly independent countries of Central Asia (Weitz, 2008: 65).

SCO engages the Central Asian nations with Russia and China in the region, also observer countries, such as Afghanistan, Mongolia, India, Pakistan and Iran. The aim of SCO is not only about security and balance of power, but also focusing on economic and social integration of the region and has gone to great lengths to create confidence in its desire to promote prosperity and cooperation (Kalra and Saxena, 2007). The goals of the SCO are to encourage trade links, social and political cooperation, find joint solutions to problems of environment, infrastructure, education, and to build scientific and cultural links between member states, the region as a whole and internationally. The future of the SCO lays more and more in the realm of economic and social issues.

However, since 2003 the SCO has sponsored a number of anti-terrorist exercises that involve paramilitary as well as intelligence and law enforcement personnel. China and Kyrgyzstan in 2002 conducted the first bilateral anti-terror exercise within the SCO framework.

Closing

With the weakening of Russia, its influence in Central Asia is declining. This reality becomes a great chance for China to take over Russia’s influence in the region. However, Russia still has a dominant energy presence in Central Asia. Interesting argument from Nixey (2012) it mentioned that if the most Central Asian given a choice between dominion by Russia or by China, they would currently choose Russia. It shows that China should be patient to take this chance fully. The situation might be more complicated with the presence of the US military base in Central Asia, which can disturb the balance of power.

For China, influence in the Central Asia is a means to achieve other domestic and foreign policy objectives such as securing energy resources. But for Russia, influence is, at least in part, an end in itself (Nixey, 2012).

References

[Academic] China Soft Power in SEA?

Berhubung nilai semester 2 kemaren sudah keluar semua (Alhamdulillah), maka paper dan tugas kuliah sudah bisa saya publish di sini. Anyway, maafkan saya yang akhir-akhir ini terlalu malas untuk menulis dan meng-update blog, dan memilih jalur singkat dengan cara upload tugas XD. Selamat membaca, terutama yang tertarik dengan studi China.

Reading Note: China Soft Power in South East Asia

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This reading note is based on the article written by H.H. Michael Hsiao and Alan Yang, titled Soft Power Politics in the Asia Pacific: Chinese and Japanese Quests for Regional Leadership. It was explained about two countries on struggling for leadership in SEA. Located in strategic position, South East Asia (SEA) region and ASEAN as regional organization become significant for strong economic power such as China, Japan and South Korea. Not only its geopolitical situation, SEA has abundance of natural resources that being needed for industrial countries, as well as its market potential.

Since the 1990s, China has strengthened its relations with ASEAN states in fields of foreign aid, trade, finance, infrastructure, business, labor, environment, and development as well as tourism (Hsiao & Yang, 2009). Not only hard power, another approach to spread the influence of a country is by soft power. The essence of Joseph Nye’s concept of soft power is an ability to attract others; such an attraction serves to persuade others to accept one’s purposes without explicit threat or violent exchange. The soft power of a country rests primarily on three resources: its culture (in places where it is attractive to others), its political values (when it lives up to them at home and abroad), and its foreign policies (when they are seen as legitimate and having moral authority) (Nye, 2013).

China’s soft power in SEA, especially in grass-root level, in my opinion is perhaps not yet as successful as Japan and South Korea’s Halyu. Japan soft power diplomacy has been exist for decade, while China relatively new on emphasizing their soft power. From the 2008 opinion poll on Japan’s image in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, it results that Japan is a trustworthy friend for ASEAN countries; friendly to their country; and respondents had positive images of Japan’s economic and technical contribution to their country. These results demonstrate a warming attitude of ASEAN people to Japan and corroborate the efficacy of Tokyo’s soft power diplomacy (in Hsiao & Yang, 2009).

What made China is not successful enough for its soft power in SEA? I argue that beside of different starting time, another factor that might be very important for China to be more influential is its domestic political situation. Chin (2013) mentioned that the lack of serious political reform in China caused its soft power has not directly translated into more supportive views of its quest for status and legitimacy. With respect to the latter, it will be increasingly difficult for the government to prevent its domestic record on political and civil freedoms from affecting China’s international credibility.

In article titled “What China and Russia Don’t Get About Soft Power?”, Nye argued that for a rising power like China whose growing economic and military might frightens its neighbors into counter-balancing coalitions, a smart strategy includes soft power to make China look less frightening and the balancing coalitions less effective. China makes the mistake of thinking that government is the main instrument of soft power. In today’s world, information is not scarce but attention is, and attention depends on credibility. Nye’s view on soft power springs is largely from individuals, the private sector, and civil society. So that for China to succeed, it will need to match words and deeds in their policies, be self-critical, and unleash the full talents of their civil societies.

China might be powerful economically, but it seems that from soft-power influence, it will be a long way for China to “conquer” SEA social and culturally.

References:

[Academic] India’s Growing Importance in Asia: Look East Policy

#India gak cuma tentang Bollywood en kari :). Dalam postingan kali ini, ku-copaskan tulisanku seputar kebijakan India tentang “Look East Policy”. Selamat membaca 🙂

India’s Growing Importance in Asia: Look East Policy

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After the end of Cold War and the fall of Soviet Union, India was change its foreign policy orientation with a policy called “Look East Policy”. Look East Policy shows India’s efforts to develop extensive economic and strategic relations with Southeast Asia countries for creating and maintaining regional power in this area, as well as to counter China’s strategic influence (not only in economic, but also in military and security aspects). In 1990’s, there was a global trend towards regionalism and the increase of China’s influence in Southeast Asia, so that India need to swift their previous policy towards this region.

One aspect that should be understood very well about India’s Look East Policy is its geopolitical situation (Chanda and Gopalan, 2009). India faces big challenge to create and develop relations with its neighbor countries in South Asia and West Asia. For West Asia and Middle East, these regions has unstable political situation, while South Asia, Central Asia and Afghanistan lack the potential for cooperation (Hong, 2007). The India’s failure in South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) because of the lack of political trust and economic progress, interestingly are used by China to build closer relations with India’s neighbors such as Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Burma (Hong, 2007).

To grow up bigger, India needs to build relations with more powerful and stronger economic potential. As from security point of view, India has serious problem in some disputed area with Pakistan and China which can change the shape of South Asia.

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Although India is still relatively weak in terms of economic and political power, it seems that this Look East Policy is quite offensive in term of India’s efforts on spreading its influence. Zhao Hong mentioned that India realized that if it wanted to have a significant role as a major power, India should complete its transition from a “South Asian regional power” to an “Asian major power” and eventually become a “major world power”. India also must develop political and economic relations with ASEAN and use them as a bridge with which to connect itself to East Asia (Hong, 2007). ASEAN countries realized that with the rise of India, they can reduce their dependence on Japan, the Western countries, and China in trade and economic relations.

With that reasons, India established some bilateral and multilateral cooperation with Southeast Asia countries, such as; with Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam (CLMV), BIMSTEC, Mekong-Ganga Cooperation. India also trying to become ASEAN’s dialogue partner in many forums such as ASEAN Regional Forum, ASEAN – India Summit, ASEAN+6, East Asia Summit, and ASEAN-India Partnership for Peace, Progress and Shared Prosperity.

One of interesting part from Hong analysis is about the impact of the India factor on the future of Sino-ASEAN relations. He said that this condition may well depend upon the extent to which India’s economic potential can be translated into political and strategic influence. Balance-of power politics will continue to inform Sino-India rivalry in Myanmar, Vietnam, and other ASEAN countries.This India’s policy also related to the US, where China was also concerned that the United States might manipulate India’s evolving relations with ASEAN in order to contain China or “smother” China’s attempt to exert its influence in the region (Hong, 2007).

Reference:

Hong, Zhao. 2007. India and China: Rivals or Partners in Southeast Asia?, Contemporary Southeast Asia Vol. 29, No. 1 (2007), pp. 121-42.