CHINA IN CENTRAL EURASIA: SECURITY INTERESTS AND GEOPOLITICAL ACTIVITY
Jannatkhan Eyvazov, Ph.D. (Political Science), Deputy Director of the Institute of Strategic Studies of the Caucasus, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Central Asia and the Caucasus (Baku, Azerbaijan)
Today, extended geographical links are the most important yet far from the only factor that makes Central Eurasia highly significant for China’s conceptualization of its security. The Soviet Union’s disintegration, which created newly independent states, also generated favorable conditions for China’s progress toward the superpower status. At the same time, Central Eurasia, or rather the advent of anarchy across its political space and the rising ethnoterritorial problems which might well affect China’s northwestern regions, called for fresh approaches to the area. By the same token, its geopolitical importance for China’s relations with its main rivals at the supra-regional level was exacerbated.
In these conditions, China should become more actively involved in the Central Eurasian space freed from Soviet domination, which means that it should join the current rivalry for geopolitical control over the vast area. In this article I want to look at the security interests which form the cornerstone of Chinese policy in Central Eurasia, identify the geopolitical importance of this area for China, and trace the tactical specifics of China’s regional policies.
Geography and China’s Involvement in Central Eurasia
China borders only on the Central Asian part of Central Eurasia yet the total length of its border with the Central Asian states can be compared only with the length of Russian geographic connection to the region; the number of China’s Central Asian neighbors (four out of the total six if we count Afghanistan as part of the region—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan with a total length of 2,908 km) makes it vitally important for China’s security interests. This determines China’s behavior in the region and its security interdependence with the Central Asian states.
It is still unclear whether China can penetrate two other Central Eurasian regions: there is any number of positive and negative answers, which means that a straightforward interpretation of the current state of affairs is impossible. On the other hand, one might wonder: Why is it topical for China rather than for Turkey or Iran? The answer should be sought not so much in the history of the Chinese imperial systems in this space, but rather in the present and future global status of this Eurasian power.
In the past, China was obviously much less active in Central Eurasia than Turkey and Iran even though its Great Power traditions are as rich, or even richer, than those of Iran, Turkey, and Russia. In the past, it operated in Central Asia and was involved in the areas adjacent to its territory. By the beginning of the post-Soviet period (when the anarchic political structure in Central Eurasia was restored), its regional policy was fairly obviously riveted to……………..