Stability and Development Twin Concerns for China in Central Asia

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Aug. 17 – China has tied its western development to its foreign policy initiatives, pushing roads and communication links west at the same time it is building influence and prestige through programs like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and low interest loans in exchange for concessionary oil and gas rights.

It was announced today that Turkmenistan is expecting a loan from China to develop the South Iolotan gas deposit. This will be the second round of financing for the project that has been contracted to the Chinese state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation.

The riots last year in Urumqi and other cities in Xinjiang made clear to the ruling Communist Party how tenuous stability and their regional developmental plans remain.

As the U.S. Department of Defense pointed out in a report issued on Monday, China’s interests in Central Asia are focused on increasing their regional influence, obtaining much needed natural resources to fuel the economy, and stamping down support for Uighur separatists.

“Beijing has reached agreements with many Central Asian governments to build the infrastructure necessary to transport resources into western China, such as a pipeline that will stretch from Turkmenistan through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan into China,” the report says. “Beijing has also conducted bilateral and multilateral exercises with SCO member states to enhance China’s influence within the SCO and to build cohesive regional opposition to Uighur activities. Internal security forces in Xinjiang could be used in Central Asian contingencies, and army aviation and trans-regional mobility operations could be applied to deploy combat power rapidly to the region in a crisis.”

This regional outreach is what has made Urumqi such a key focal point for Beijing’s strategy, and why the riots there last year were so disruptive. Without a supportive investment climate, Beijing won’t be able to push its agenda with its far western neighbors nearly as effectively. And as can be seen by the bilateral trade figures, that is something that the Chinese do not want.

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