CENTRAL ASIA HAS long seen a delicate dance for power and influence between China, Russia and the United States.
At the concluding press conference for the two-day China-Central Asia Summit in Xi’an at the end of last week, Xi outlined a China-centric trade and security network intended as an instance of Xi’s envisioned global alternative to the US-led international order.
The economic elements were familiar: China offered 26 billion yuan ($3.7 billion in loans and grants to bolster trade and the infrastructure to support it, including accelerated expansion of the China-Central Asia natural gas pipeline, construction of a trans-Caspian transport corridor and hubs for the China-Europe rail freight service.
Xi also said China was ready to help Central Asia improve law enforcement, security and defence capability.
What caught this Bystander’s attention was that those elements, unlike the economic ones, were not included in the summit’s declaration.
That may have been because that would have touched a raw nerve in Moscow, which considers Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan within its security sphere of influence. None of the five former Soviet states would be comfortable in aggravating that nerve, even if they might recognise Russia’s power in the region to be waning with the advance of Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative.
Xi’s use of the phrase US ‘coercive diplomacy’ also caught this Bystander’s ear, clearly a counterpoint to the ‘economic coercion‘, the accusation that Washington and its allies level at China.