Playing in the backyard Writing

by Nathan Hamm on 9/24/2003

Playing in the backyard
Writing about China last night, I entirely forgot that the SCO was meeting in Beijing at the moment. Fortunately, Robert reminded me.

Prime ministers from the six member nations, in what they
described as a coming of age for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization,
approved the group’s first budget and established its headquarters and
a regional anti-terrorism center. They also signed an outline for
greater cooperation between their economies.
In a region where fighting terrorism is a top priority, China’s
jockeying to ally itself with the Central Asian nations at its western
flank dovetails perfectly with its desire to be the key strategic
player in the region.
In addition, if it gets in on the ground floor of still-undeveloped
neighboring nations, China stands to benefit as both supplier and
investor when their economies €” and their energy reserves in
particular €” eventually take off.
“China’s economy is growing quickly, and China will naturally be giving
out financial aid to further its regional influence,” said Hiroshi
Ohnishi, an economist at Kyoto University in Japan who has written
extensively on China’s links with Central Asia.

As I said last night, I think that these moves by China and Russia are
a response to US involvement in the region. Chris Bodeen, the author of
this article, of course gets some important facts wrong. Such as:

China has many concerns in the region, among them the
presence in Afghanistan (news – web sites) of military forces from the
United States €” China’s economic partner and fellow participant in
anti-terrorism efforts but also a strategic rival. A strong regional
grouping could help offset Beijing’s unease about American troops in an
adjacent country.

Of course, it’s important to note that the US has troops nestled right
up against China in Kyrgyzstan and the large airbase in Uzbekistan. The
US role in the region is much more serious to China than characterized.
More crap:

China also says it is trying to root out terrorists
within its own borders, citing ethnic Uighur separatists in the heavily
Muslim region of Xinjiang in the country’s far northwest.

As in much of the region, China is using this rhetoric to justify
repression that only exacerbates their problems. The Uighur problem is
more political than anything else, but Chinese behavior has opened the
door to outsiders making the issue into one of religion. Thanks China.
China’s proximity and the SCO’s new goals of economic integration and the creation of a free trade zone,
put China into a position to be the winner in the area, at least on its
immediate borders. I have a hard time seeing the Uzbeks being really
cozy with anyone but the US, in their eyes, the best friend is the one
who lives farthest away. I have to add to yesterday’s comment on this
whole Great Game business that I also think there’s a lot more
competition between Russia and China than the US and anyone else.
Kazakhstan has entered into a common market agreement with Russia and other CIS countries, and Kyrgyzstan seems to want to join.
As mentioned above, China wants economic integration as well. If
there’s competition brewing, it is between these organizations. The US
has no such competing proposals, so when it comes time to choose a
camp, most Central Asian states will have to choose between Russia and

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This post was written by...

– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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