Old Games, New Players : Russia, China and the Struggle for Mastery in Central Asia

03-08-2012

Since 9/11 and the 2003 NATO-led invasion of Afghanistan, Central Asia has emerged from the shadows as an area of strategic interest. While different actors — including the US and the EU — have operated in the region during recent years, Russia and China remain the principal contenders for Central Asia's leading role. Russia draws on historical and linguistic ties with the post-Soviet republics, as well as on a substantial military presence on the ground. China, on the other hand, is relentlessly exploiting its economic pre-eminence and flexible bilateral diplomacy as it accesses Central Asian energy resources and markets. Yet China is also keen to avoid regional instabilities that might spillover into its Western provinces — a balancing act that has so far proved successful, although the situation is still evolving. As the EU's influence in Central Asia remains marginal and the US interests are centred on Afghanistan, the rivalry between Russia and China may develop further. With NATO troops scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, the moves of the two powers after that point will determine the outcome of the Central Asian 'great game'.

Since 9/11 and the 2003 NATO-led invasion of Afghanistan, Central Asia has emerged from the shadows as an area of strategic interest. While different actors — including the US and the EU — have operated in the region during recent years, Russia and China remain the principal contenders for Central Asia's leading role. Russia draws on historical and linguistic ties with the post-Soviet republics, as well as on a substantial military presence on the ground. China, on the other hand, is relentlessly exploiting its economic pre-eminence and flexible bilateral diplomacy as it accesses Central Asian energy resources and markets. Yet China is also keen to avoid regional instabilities that might spillover into its Western provinces — a balancing act that has so far proved successful, although the situation is still evolving. As the EU's influence in Central Asia remains marginal and the US interests are centred on Afghanistan, the rivalry between Russia and China may develop further. With NATO troops scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, the moves of the two powers after that point will determine the outcome of the Central Asian 'great game'.

Външен автор

Marco ROSSI (AANZ Unit) under supervision of Roberto BENDINI (Policy Department, Directorate-General for External Policies of the Union, European Parliament)