RUSSIA, INDIA, AND CHINA IN CENTRAL ASIA: TOWARD CONFLICT OR COOPERATION?

Philipp STOLLENWERK


Philipp Stollenwerk, MA (International Relations/Political Science), Higher School of Economics/University of Kent (Canterbury, U.K.)


Introduction

Since the beginning of the 21st century, the rise of Asia and, in particular, the success stories of her biggest players, Russia, India, and China (RIC), have become a central topic of the academic community. Economists and businessmen have lauded and enthusiastically described the unprecedented economic opportunities these huge markets offer. But several experts also expect that, in the future, the three countries will, despite their cultural and historical diversity, deepen cooperation in the political sphere as well in order to support domestic economic development and increase their influence on the international stage. Efforts in this direction have been made in recent years at several annual trilateral meetings, as well as at the two BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) summits in Ekaterinburg (2009) and Brasília (2010). The idea of trilateral relations between Moscow, New Delhi, and Beijing was proposed by Evgeny Primakov, Russias former foreign minister and prime minister, on a visit to India in 1998. China and India were not very enthusiastic about the idea at first, but after three meetings of their foreign ministers at international forums, an annual trilateral forum mechanism was established in June 2005. As China expert Jean-Pierre Cabestan suggests, it was the commonly faced threat of terrorism after 9/11, as well as Americas increased presence in Central Asia, that brought the countries together to discuss security cooperation in the trilateral format. Some Russian specialists believe that the strengthening of relations inside the triangle is caused by the increase in Islamic extremism and apprehensions about the prospect of a unipolar U.S.-led world.

Although relations among Russia, India, and China today seem to be better than ever before and are becoming increasingly institutionalized, several experts point to Central Asia as a potential area of rivalry among the three powers.

This article seeks to respond to the question: Russia, India, and China in Central Asia: Toward Conflict or Cooperation? It argues that competition over energy resources and (to a lesser extent) market access among RIC in Central Asia will inevitably increase over the next two decades. This is due, in particular, to the contrasting foreign policy objectives of RIC and the crucial role of Central Asia in their security strategies. Russia wants to guard its near export monopoly on Central Asian energy resources and reinforce its position in its traditional sphere of influence against competitors, while the Chinese goal, and to a lesser extent the Indian goal, to diversify and increase energy imports runs contrary to that. Moreover, China and India see each other as competitors over the limited energy resources and as rivals for influence in Central Asia and Asia. However, there are institutions and agreements which might help to mitigate competition and permit compromises. China, Russia, and


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