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The New Great Game: China’s Growing Clout in Central Asia

A Radio France International article discussed the great geopolitical game unfolding in Central Asia, not between Britain and Russia as in the 19th century, but among the emerging nations of Central Asia and their powerful neighbors – Russia and China.

The French TV channel interviewed historian Emmanuel Lincot to understand this political and economic struggle. Lincot explains that while China had less influence than Russia and Britain in the 19th century, it sought strategic depth by conquering Xinjiang/East Turkestan.

Lincot argues that Beijing has been more successful than Moscow and the West in opening up Central Asia. Chinese companies have built roads and pipelines across the region under China’s Belt and Road Initiative since 2013. There are local divisions in the region, however, with some groups opposing China’s growing clout.

China has bolstered its influence through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, using it to extradite Uyghurs to China. It is also considering construction of small military bases in Tajikistan aiming to combat drug traffickers and Uyghur militants. For Beijing, economic development in Central Asia goes hand in hand with national security.

Lincot notes that China has failed to win trust among the Muslim populations who increasingly resent the new Chinese order. Protests have been occurring in anti-regime states and support is growing for Turkic Muslim groups like Uyghurs.

Russia will need to contend with China’s new assertiveness in Central Asia. Beijing held a China-Central Asia summit in May 2023, signaling China’s intention to draw former Soviet states away from Moscow and into Beijing’s orbit. The US, EU and Turkey are also aiming to boost their influence in this resource-rich region.

Source: Radio France International, May 14, 2024