As two of the world’s largest, most influential, and most powerful countries, China and Russia have been known to clash when it comes to their interests. One of the battlegrounds in this competition is the Central Asian region, where both countries seek to increase their geopolitical influence. In this article, we will explore how this competition is leading to strategic maneuverings among Central Asian countries and what implications it has for the region.
1. A Struggle forsupremacy in Central Asia
The great steppe of Central Asia has been an area of competition and conquest for centuries. It has been the key to power and influence in Asia and beyond, from the days of the Silk Road to today, and the power struggle between nations for supremacy continues.
The increasingly globalized world has further elevated the importance of Central Asia’s geopolitical position. With access to vast minerals, farmland, and the world’s largest landlocked water supply, the region offers new opportunities for economic development. In recent times, China and Russia have both played strategic games in the region, jockeying for ascendancy.
- China: China has been heavily involved in the region, primarily working to expand its influence in the areas of energy, infrastructure, trade, and regional security. It has been seeking closer cooperation with its Central Asian neighbours, signing numerous agreements, participating in joint military exercises, and investing in infrastructure projects.
- Russia: In response to China’s deepening interests in the region, Russia has worked tirelessly to re-establish its regional presence. It has been strengthening ties with its Central Asian neighbours and has recently strengthened its military presence in the region by boosting the defence budget and deploying military personnel.
The struggle for influence between China and Russia in Central Asia is ongoing and could shape the geopolitics of the region for years to come.
2. The New Cold War between China and Russia
Strength in Unity
The strained relationship between China and Russia has been thrust to the fore of current event discourse in recent months, with analysts around the globe debating the extent to which the ties between the two neighbors have been severed. Despite signs of discord, both Beijing and Moscow have striven to create an impression of shared solidarity and not outwardly antagonize the other – though news of lingering disagreements has still made headlines.
The modern collaboration that strives to replace former tensions is mostly shaped by two key components:
- Economic Interdependence
- A Shared Ideology
Military and trade partnerships have long been established between China and Russia, where cooperation in both regional and international affairs provides each nation with mutual benefits, such as market access. Moreover, both governments have strikingly similar stances on vital topics such as the response to terrorism, the importance of non-interference in nation’s internal affairs, and the combat of US imperialism. Ideological affinity has thus played a major role in forging their alliance further, helping to create a seemingly impenetrable shield against shared external threats and reaffirm the need for a united front in this new Cold War.
3. Competing Ambitions at Work in Central Asia
Central Asia is an intricate patchwork of ambitious nations looking to further their own interests within a finite and often hotly contested space. Surrounded by history, beauty, and strategic potential, the independent nations of Central Asia have much to duke it out over.
The exact details may vary, but all the Central Asian countries are driven by ambition. They compete for access to crucial resources, seek to establish and maintain political influence, and strive to remain viable traders in global markets. At the same time, each nation looks to project its own culture outwards, looking to reassert itself within the international arena while still protecting its own people and interests.
- Tajikistan seeks to use water resources to further development and bolster its fragile economy.
- Kazakhstan looks to use a balance of market economics and state intervention to remain competitive.
- Kyrgyzstan is the only Central Asian country in which parliamentary rule is encouraged at the expense of a strong central government.
- Turkmenistan seeks to use its extensive natural gas reserves to establishe itself as a major player in the energy sector.
- Uzbekistan looks to invest heavily in infrastructure and economic reform while strengthening its control over local legislatures.
These competing ambitions often bring out the best in each nation, but can also cause tension and occasional conflict. As the Central Asian nations of the 21st century continue to grow and strive, they demonstrate an unparalleled dedication to their people and goals. This is an inspiring display of national ambition that resounds in the international community.
4. The Race to Win Over Central Asian Nations
In the midst of their race for global supremacy, Russia and China have both become heavily invested in Central Asia. After years of dictator-led governments, an opportunity to influence the politics and economics of this vast and relatively untapped region has attracted attention from all corners of the world, creating a competition that both Russia and China have been eager to partake in.
For example, in 2019, China had signed a $400-billion agreement with Kazakhstan to build a modern city. This ambitious project is the largest achieved by China in Central Asia to date, and Russia is now seeking to counter it by providing its own investments across the region. Within this timeframe, both countries have been asserting their presence through considerable investments in energy, infrastructure, and other projects. Russia has also deployed its military and employed its soft power to strengthen cultural ties with the Central Asian people.
- China has a clear upper hand in terms of investments and has steadily been solidifying its presence in the region for years.
- On the other hand, Russia is using not only economic but also military and soft power in an attempt to become the top power in Central Asia.
This competition between Russia and China is only a fraction of a complex web of relations that define the Central Asian region. Although it has seen ups and downs, the bilateral ties between these two countries will likely continue to play a key role in determining the region’s geopolitical and economic future. Ultimately, Central Asia’s continuing stability and progress – and the prosperity of its citizens – may depend on an appropriate balance between the two countries’ influence.