China-Central Asia: Responsible Statecraft According To Plan

(MENAFN- Asia Times) Francesco Sisci,
a Sinologist
and senior researcher at the Center for European Studies at Renmin University of China, is a highly accomplished China hand and award-winning academic who has contributed much to our understanding of economic trends and Political thinking in China and across Eurasia over the past years.

As a regular contributor to
Asia Times,
sisci has written
scores of articles that were remarkable for their prescience and insight.

He went well beyond the conventional wisdom of the time when he wrote, in 2016, that“the
rise of Asia, after the rise of China, is the future of the [European] story.
Europe, with or without
EU, is more and more a part of the larger Eurasian continent that is emerging with China, which in turn has kindled the growth of the rest of Asia and is powered by
new, fast, and cheap communications and transportation.”

His gift for such smart and pithy formulations helps account for why so many people follow his writing.

Which is why this writer was disappointed by his essay published on May 22 in
Asia Times
“russia's zugzwang and gorbachev vindicated” ; it contains some
inaccuracies about Central Asia's relationship with China, and vice versa.

Sisci writes:“Last week's summit of the five ex-Soviet Central Asian republics (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan) in
Xian, China,
indicates that
China wants to step into
the [Central Asian] region sensing that Russia is losing its
grip there.”

One is left with the impression that China up until last month had been asleep at the switch and only recently roused itself to exploit the presumed vacuum in Central Asia occasioned by Russia's distraction elsewhere.
Such a view is puzzling, because China's diplomatic and economic engagement with the Central Asia Republics has been deep and sustained for the past 30 years.

Sisci also seems oddly unaware that Sino-Russian relations have only deepened since the 2001 treaty of good-neighborliness and friendly cooperation between china and russia .

Reporting on the China-Central Asia Summit held on May 18-19 in Xian, silk road briefing
noted :“The Central Asian and Chinese governments approved US$3.72 billion in regional grants, signed 54 major multilateral agreements, created 19 new regional platforms and signed a further nine multilateral cooperation documents.”

These agreements did not materialize overnight.

China announced its strategic Belt and Road Imitative to the world in Astana, Kazakhstan, in 2013.
Since then, transport corridors and logistics hubs have proliferated across Eurasia.

What's more, oil and gas have been flowing eastward from the shores of the Caspian for more than two decades, and, as
aljazeera reports ,“two-way trade between China and Central Asia hit a record $70 billion last year, with Kazakhstan leading with $31 billion.”

Sisci understates the case rather severely when he says China“wants to step into the region” as if it were virgin territory.
In fact, the China-Central Asia Summit capitalized on and enshrined years of economic cooperation and level-headed diplomacy.

Multilateral platforms

fails to grasp
the multilateral nature of the China-Central Asia Summit, that is, its prevalent ethos of“all for one and one for all,” which the participating states see as a complement to bilateral relations, not as their poor cousin.

The regional heads of state – Presidents Xi Jinping of China, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan) Sadyr Japarov of Kyrgyzstan, Emomali Rahmon of Tajikistan, Serdar Berdimuhamedov of Turkmenistan and Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan) – would not have agreed to meet in Xian
on a whim, or without having prepared for the event well in advance.

They saw it was the culmination of a long diplomatic process aimed at long-term regional peace and prosperity.

Years of preparation and a

With that in mind, the xian declaration of the china-central asia summit asserted:“The parties are unanimous that the development of fruitful multifaceted cooperation between the states of Central Asia and China meets the fundamental interests of all countries and their peoples.

“Against the backdrop of changes unprecedented in a century, the parties, based on favorable prospects for the peoples of the region, reaffirm their desire to jointly create a closer community of a common destiny for Central Asia and China.”

To underscore the fruitfulness of the Xian Summit, for example, the Ministry
Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan announced that“President Tokayev returned with some
47 business and investment-related deals totaling some US$22 billion with Chinese enterprises and investors.”
Kazakhstan hailed the Central Asian Summit and Tokayev's state visit to China as constituting a“new level of cooperation between the two countries.”

Similarly, Turkmen President Berdimuhamedov, making his third trip to China in 18 months, underscored that“Turkmenistan attaches great importance to and is willing to
further strengthen its Comprehensive Strategic Partnership
with China.”
China and Turkmenistan had been working together long before the outbreak of the Russo-Ukrainian war.

president japarov noted
that“Kyrgyz-Chinese relations are at the highest level today.”
Tajik President Rahmon also expressed satisfaction with the state of Sino-Tajik relations.
In short, China has been deeply engaged in Central Asia for a long time.

January 2022 unrest in Kazakhstan

Commenting on
president xi's keynote address , Sisci says:“It is unclear if India, Russia, Iran, or just the United States should be considered [as forces of] 'external interference' [in Central Asia].”
that as it may, he then goes on to
assert that“In January 2022, shortly before the Ukrainian invasion,
Russia supported a coup in Kazakhstan
[my emphasis], and some Kazakh leaders ran to Beijing for help.”

The historical record is clear.
Kazakhstan, with the assistance of the members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russian-led military alliance that includes Armenia,
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, put down
attempted coup in January 2022 against Tokayev's duly elected government.

It was the CSTO that supported the Kazakh government against the attempted coup –
a coup backed by the CSTO against the Kazakh government.

As for some Kazakh leaders running off to Beijing, it is not clear precisely what Sisci means by this.
Suffice to say that President Xi stressed on January 10, 2022,
in a personal message
to President Tokayev, that“China firmly opposes any forces undermining Kazakhstan's stability, threatening Kazakhstan's security, and damaging the peaceful life of the Kazakh people.”

As Uzbek President Shavkat mirziyoyev said at the Xian Summit:“Today, Central Asia is different – it is united and strong, open to dialogue and full-scale partnership.”

Bilateral and multilateral relationships between the countries of Central Asia and China are stronger than ever. That is good news for some, and bad news for others, but what is clear is that, as a Chinese proverb says, a meter of ice does not form in a single

China did not step into Central Asia to fill a power vacuum.
Rather, the China-Central Asia Summit confirmed that – like it or not – Eurasian integration marches on, thanks in part to Central Asia's responsible statecraft over the past decades.

Francesco Sisci responds: I am very grateful for the generous comments and I certainly have the monopoly of truth and righteousness, therefore I'd be very happy to be proven wrong. This is the way I learn.

Still, a couple of points. Surely, I didn't express myself clearly in the Zugwang story. Yes, China's strategy in Central Asia started a long time ago and gained momentum with the BRI. Yet I think it is important to see when things take a different twist, and the recent summit, it seems to me, moved in a different direction, something that by exaggeration I called replacing Russia influence in Central Asia.

It is an exaggeration at the moment but remarks a change in direction that appears to me clearly. Again, I may be wrong and I won't belabor it, as I already tried to make my point in the article.

China is right in trying to walk a fine line with Russia, but the power vacuum is there and needs to be taken care of. Russia in January 2022 sponsored a coup in Kazakhstan; it doesn't seem to me that now it has the same clout in the region.

I see major political defeats for Russia in the west, where the political goals of the Ukraine invasion have been shattered, and in the east where China, rightly, is moving ahead more quickly than before. We shall see in a few months if I was wrong.

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