Geo-political and Geo-strategic Designs of China and Russia in Central Asia: Implications for USA and rest of the region

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Central Asia is full of natural resources of oil and gas. It has become geo-political and geo-strategic flashpoint for the Russia, China and the least not the least US. All the countries need easy and smooth supply of oil and gas for their respective national economies. It is the lesson of international politics and power game that “Conflicting” geo-political and geo-strategic realties make “unending enmity into cemented friendship”. Russia and China do not like the increasing socio-economic and geo-strategic influence of US in the Central Asian countries. In the every corner of the world, people and countries alike are afraid of the unilateral “Superpower Phobia” of USA. From Bulgaria to Romania, Azerbaijan to, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan to Turkey, Georgia to, Algeria and Nigeria to Afghanistan and the last not the least Iraq the hectic military deployment and establishment of new bases of the US especially after the 9/11 has created colossal geo-political and geo-strategic changes around the globe. The most significant of these changes is the emergence of possible new geo-political and geo-strategic ties between China and Russia.

The U.S. policy of politically and militarily penetrating Central Asia has multiple interrelated geo-strategic purposes too, the main ones being:

  • To increase political influence and military presence in most of the Central Asia region so that to stop “Re-Establishment Of Russian Hegemony” over its ‘Near Abroad”, and if possible to contribute toward Russia’s long-term decline and ultimate disintegration.
  • To use its effective military presence in Central Asia to threaten “China’s western Borders”, thereby to round out U.S. military encirclement of the “Asian Dragon” and thus to gradually decrease its political, economic, and military capabilities as a potential rival and economic threat to the United States in the future. Central Asia, being in the "Backyards" of both China and Russia, is militarily much more important to both the countries than it is to the U.S. Hence both Beijing and Moscow would be willing to take greater risks and, if need be, pay a higher price in military confrontation with the U.S. over issues in Central Asia. China and Russia have only grudgingly tolerated the US strategic presence in Central Asia. Both are clearly concerned that permanent “American Bases” in the region would be primarily designed to limit “Beijing’s and Moscow’s Own Influence” in Central Asia. The US base issue appears to be an increasingly sensitive topic for Russian leaders. Moscow accepted US bases in Central Asia only for the duration of the Afghan anti-terrorism operation, and for not unlimited time. The “Manas Base” being built in Kyrgyzstan base is 250 miles from the western Chinese border. With US bases to the east in Japan, to the south in South Korea, and Washington’s military support for Taiwan, China may feel encircled.
  • To uproot the Taliban and other terrorists in the region. No doubt the region is also rich in energy resources, and the United States has recently supported a new oil pipeline from Baku, Azerbaijan, to Ceyhan, Turkey. The author of “The New Great Game: Blood and Oil in Central Asia” Lutz Klevema is of the opinion that the United States is really after the region’s oil. But others say the U.S. presence in Central Asia is aimed more at curbing the influence of Moscow in the region. “A fundamental objective” of the U.S. government is to prevent any neo-imperial revival.
  • To take steps in Central Asia and its environs aimed simultaneously at increasing the “Diversity Of Oil And Gas Supplies” for the U.S. and at minimizing China’s influence in Central Asia, especially to limit its access to oil and gas from that region.
  • Right after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Washington enticed the Central Asia republics, through financial rewards, into agreeing to joint military exercises with U.S. troops and to block the possible geo-political and geo-strategic influences of China and Russia.

Great power and blame game started with the increasing military bases of US in most of Central Asian countries especially after the 9/11. But now both the countries realized the dangerous multidimensional implications of the US increasing military influence in the region. That was why Russia and China took a joint stance against the US dangerous interests in Central Asia region on the eve of the recent G8 summit. Both the countries again took combined stance against the persistent dirty power politics of uni-polarism. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation [SCO], a grouping of China, Russia and four Central Asian republics, issued an unprecedented statement at a summit meeting on July 5 2005 in Kazakhstan calling on the United States to set a deadline for the removal of its military bases in Central Asia. Three days later, the lower house of the Russian parliament ratified a 15-year bilateral agreement between Russia and Kyrgyzstan to double the number of Russian troops at its airbase at Kant, east of Bishkek.

The SCO declaration demonstrates that Russia and China are taking tentative steps to challenge the US military presence in Central Asia. The hawks sitting in the current establishment of Mr. Bush the President of US in Washington and Pentagon took a swift steps to defuse the aims of joint statements of Russia and China and U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld traveled to the region to shore up support for maintaining its bilateral agreements with the key players of the region. Over the past several years, Washington’s presence in Central Asia has provoked growing nervousness among the regional countries. While the invasion of Afghanistan was camouflaged as a war to eradicate terrorism, the true aim was to realize long-held US strategic ambitions to deploy military forces for the first time into the Central Asian territories of the former Soviet Union and attempt to assert dominance over the resource-rich area. From the bases it now controls, the US is able to exert a continuous threat against countries in the region, including Russia, China and Iran.

But it is seemed that people and even rulers did not impress with the initiatives and promises made by the US Secretary of Defense. Meanwhile, the Uzbekistan’s Foreign Ministry summarily notified the US Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, that US forces would be evicted from the Karshi-Khanabad (K2) air base; the only US military facility in the country. The eviction notice gives the US 180 days to move aircraft, personnel and military equipment from the base in southern Uzbekistan. The notice came days after US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld returned from a visit to Uzbekistan’s neighbors Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. In Kyrgyzstan, observers claim that President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was forced to reconsider because of some attractive offer from overseas that he couldn’t refuse.

Before the Shanghai Cooperation Organization [SCO] meeting, the leaders of both the countries met at the Kremlin on July 1 2005 to discuss their mutual goals and short and long terms geo-political and geo-strategic interests in Central Asia and the agenda of upcoming G8 summit. They thoroughly discussed the Washington’s role in Central Asia. After the meeting there was a strong commitment for having greater cooperation, desire to solve their long-standing border disputes from the legal perspective, and laid the foundation for greater integration of their state-controlled oil companies and banking systems. The "Joint Statement” of the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation Regarding the International Order of the 21st Century," signed by Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 2, addresses U.S. hegemony in several less-than-oblique passages. China also has definite strategic interests in Central Asia. Beijing has financed a network of pipelines in Central Asia to Xinjiang province as an alternative source of oil supplies from the Middle East. US predominance in the region, or US-inspired political instability, could disrupt China’s plans, as well as potentially encourage ethnic unrest in Xinjiang a Muslim dominated area.

Since the establishment of their geo-strategic partnership, bilateral trade between Russia and China has risen dramatically and is expected to grow 20 percent from $21.2 billion in 2004. By 2010, the trade could reach $60-$80 billion. China is planning to increase its oil imports from Russia by 50 percent in 2005 to 70 million barrels. Chinese oil companies are investigating major investments in Russian energy companies. Over $6 billion in Chinese loans have already been provided to Rosneft, the main state-owned oil exporter to China. A central focus of China’s interest is Siberia. Nearly half of all the proven oil reserves of the former USSR are in the region, as are 70 percent of all Russia’s coal reserves. It is Russia’s largest producer of oil, the second largest for coal and a major centre of metal industries. Some 140 out of some 200 largest enterprises in Siberia are weapon manufacturers, whose main customer is China.

Alongside the economic linkage, China and Russia are strengthening their military ties. The two countries are preparing their first joint military excise, to be conducted in China, involving 80,000 troops. Russia intends to send warships, ground forces and long-range bombers. Although both sides have denied that the exercise is aimed at any country, there is little doubt that it is a response to the eruption of US aggression since 2001 and the growing uncertainties in world politics.

The joint statement emphasized non-interference in internal affairs, mutual respect for other nations’ sovereignty, and stresses the role of "multi-polarity in dealing with conflicts. The text of joint statement again stressed, “the peoples of all countries should be free to decide their domestic affairs and emerging world affairs and conflicts should be decided through rigorous dialogue and consultation on a multilateral and collective basis. The use of military power to solve any regional and global conflict should be discouraged. Any country especially supper power should not divide countries into a leading camp and a subordinate camp (one of the characteristic of US foreign policy). It is further desired that the international community should establish an economic and trade regime that is comprehensive and widely accepted and that operates through the means of holding negotiations on an equal footing, discarding the practice of applying pressure and sanctions to coerce unilateral economic concessions, and bringing into play the roles of global and regional multilateral organizations and mechanisms.

China National Offshore Oil Company Ltd [CNOOC] fired back its successful bid for the purchase of California-based Unocal, putting an end to its 40-day merger bid for the US Company, which triggered an unexpected political storm in the US. But “Protectionist” measures already taken by US, EU against the textile products of China and recently Japan against US steel products show the other side of the WTO and globalization of international markets and philosophy of free trade. Both the countries wish to present an alternative marketplace for developing countries to sell their goods. China has been able to successfully use the widely expected expansion of its domestic market to sell that alternative source of revenue to countries annoyed by the I.M.F. or World Bank, from South America to Africa. Now it hopes to further cement such a relationship with the states of Central Asia.

In the joint statement, China and Russia sent a clear message to the other members of the SCO that US poses a potential threat to Central Asia’s sovereignty and China and Russia can offer a similar economic and security package, only it will be designed to preserve the current status quo not to encourage market economies or democratic reforms. Most of the sates of Central Asia are now more than eager to coordinate with the regional power brokers i.e. China and Russia, keeping in view the increasing poured money of US in their domestic elections to get desired results, undue influence in their national decision making regarding the distribution channels of oil & gas and the last not the least occurrence of military bases. The six nations of the SCO China, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan met in Astana, Kazakhstan on July 5 2005 discussed the changing political situation in Central Asia and adopted anti-terrorism resolution to control terrorism, separatism and extremism. India, Pakistan and Iran participated the meeting as observer.

The environment of the SCO meeting was most influenced by the reaction to Uzbekistan’s violent suppression of the May rebellion in Andijan. Western criticism of Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s tactics brought to the surface the fears that the clan-based governments of Central Asia might fall in a wave of "color" revolutions, similar to that of Ukraine’s "orange" revolution. Russia and China provided blanket support for Karimov after the suppression, while Washington could only offer baseless criticism, fearing that intense criticism of Karimov would result in the loss of access to the Karshi-Khanabad air base, or K2, used to support U.S. operations in Afghanistan; nevertheless, the loss of this base now appears a likely scenario. After the joint statement of SCO Washington used every possible tactics to threaten the Central Asian countries. Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine’s governments promised to be loyal to US in the region. Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan shifted their support to China and Russia in order to protect their sovereignty from U.S. meddling.

Conclusion

Right from the beginning of human civilization, “Power” has had been playing vital role in the formation of a tribe, society or a country. The lust to gain more power has been the hallmark of modern political history too. Country needs to have power in order to counter the greater power “Dracula” and that merciless march/process goes on and on.

Conflicting geo-political supply &demand and geo-strategic compulsions use to force countries to search a “Safe Heaven” on earth. In the game of power politics principles have no meaning and matter of “Survival” dictates the songs of democracy, human rights, justice, global brotherhood, war on terror, hot pursuit of resources, and the last not the least international peace. It is also bitter reality that power does justify all the ill intentions and wrong doings of a power-holder. In the rapidly changing regional and global geo-political and geo-strategic scenarios especially in the Central Asian Region the risen “Economic Dragon Power” China, and the “Old Lion” Russia has initiated some meaningful geo-political and geo-strategic steps to counter the increasing military and influence and greater socio-economic participation of US.

Beijing, Moscow and Washington are once again using Central Asia, the setting for the "Great Game" between Tsarist Russia and Victorian England over 150 years ago, as their game board in a region rarely neglected by the world’s great powers. In the contemporary version of the game, Washington approaches each state bilaterally, offering incentives to support the operations in Afghanistan while undermining the consensus put forth at the recent SCO meeting.

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