Russia, European Union, and United States are losing Central Asia to China
EU-Central Asian forum opened in Ashkhabad. Foreign ministers of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan will discuss the Central Asian Partnership Strategy with EU commissars. The document defining the strategy is somewhat amorphous but it is better than what Russia has which is nothing. Russia does not have any strategy with regard to Central Asia at all. Its structures and companies operate solo, competing among themselves and inevitably losing to external rivals and first and foremost to China.
Designed and lobbied by Germany, Central Asian strategy of the European Union rests on two premises - security and diversification of energy export routes. Where security is concerned, it is assumed that dealing with threats (terrorism, trafficking, slavery) is better at their place of origin than on the European borders. As for the latter, the matter concerns TRACECA (Europe - Caucasus - Asia transport corridor) and INOGATE (oil and gas export to Europe) impeded by Russian resistance to the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline project.
There is no saying what is more important for Europe at this point. Dosym Satpayev of the Kazakh Risk Evaluation Group suspects that energy is what Europe is really after but points out that Robert Simmons, NATO secretary general's special envoy in charge of security matters, made another tour of the region recently. "My contacts with European officials of Pierre Morel's level [Morel is EU special envoy to Central Asia] persuade me that Europe lacks a common approach," to quote Andrei Grozin, Chief of the Department of Central Asia and Kazakhstan of the Institute of CIS Countries. "The Europeans themselves admit that the strategy they have at this point is but a transition period document."
Whatever it is, the European Union does fill what niches Russia vacates. Benita Ferrero-Waldner of the EU visited Tajikistan before the forum in Ashkhabad and gave its government the promise to finance defense of the Tajik-Afghani border and construction of the Rogun Hydroelectric Power Plant. The European Union sent 8 million euros worth of relief aid to Tajikistan this March when Russia denied it assistance. Ferrero-Waldner advised Dushanbe to "learn from this bitter experience". Implications are clear.
In the meantime, Moscow, Brussels, and Washington are losing the Central Asian region to China. "Its military influence with the region secured by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Beijing is actively realizing energy projects in Central Asia," Satpayev said. "Atasu-Alashankou pipeline is working. Gas pipelines to China from Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan via Uzbekistan are being built. China aspires for development of the fields in the Turkmen sector of the Caspian shelf and promises $900 million for other projects in Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan. Russia in the meantime has been doing nothing."
Russia has been idle indeed, probably because it lacks a strategy in Central Asia. "That's a problem," Grozin admitted. "With the whole world fighting for Central Asia with its resources, Russian officials view the region as something of little consequence. The problem is, we lack a common national strategy and have all sorts of corporate or departmental ones instead."
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Delo Nomer (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan) reports in the meantime that there are nearly 100,000 Chinese in Kyrgyzstan these days when not a single one was to be found in the country fifteen years ago. The Chinese marry Kyrgyz girls, obtain Kyrgyz citizenship, and buy apartments in Kyrgyzstan.
"China is absorbing Kyrgyzstan. Ordinary economic methods are used in the process. Independent experts claim that trade with China accounts for almost 80% of Kyrgyz foreign trade turnover. It is common knowledge meanwhile that goods and commodities from China are smuggled into Kyrgyzstan more often than not. The Chinese may eventually become so strong here that they will become actually involved in politics and that will alter foreign political orientation of Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz rulers should take measures to defend national interests. Malaysian experience may come in handy. Ethnic Chinese have always been a force to be reckoned with in Malaysian economy. When the danger of their domination of political life as well was perceived, however, the parliament of Malaysia passed a law on proportionality, and that remedied the situation," piece in Delo Nomer stated. "It is necessary for Kyrgyz leaders to consolidate the political elite, work out a common policy, and pursue an active foreign policy. Normal relations with world powers and first and foremost Russia are a must. Drift too far from the latter will make the task of retaining sovereignty and independence all the more difficult."
RBK Daily, No 64, April 10, 2008, p. 2. © Translated by Ferghana.Ru