Publication in Economics, Politics and Public Policy in East Asia and the Pacific

Central Asia

Rising nationalism tests China’s uneasy partnerships in Central Asia

China’s President Xi Jinping and Kyrgyzstan’s President Sooronbay Jeenbekov attend a welcoming ceremony ahead of their talks in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan 13 June 2019 (Reuters/Vladimir Pirogov).

Author: Raffaello Pantucci, RUSI

Relations between Central Asian powers and China are brittle at the best of times. While at an official level both sides are eager to highlight their closeness, among the public it does not take long to find friction. Read more…

Too little, too late? Washington rediscovers Central Asia

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev at the Akorda presidential residence in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, 2 February 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque).

Author: Matthew Sussex, ANU

Does the recent visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan signal renewed US interest in Central Asia? Maybe. The broader question is why Pompeo is seeking to engage with the region in the first place. Read more…

The muffled sound of peace drums in Afghanistan

An Afghan National Army soldier inspects passengers at a checkpoint in Khogyani district of Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, 23 February (Photo: Reuters/Parwiz).

Author: Sajjad Ashraf, Singapore

A seven-day ‘reduction in violence’ deal between the United States and the Afghan Taliban took effect on 21 February. During this time, the two antagonists will refrain from attacks and military operations to facilitate a peacemaking process that may — if successful — lead to the signing of an agreement on 29 February. But this would be just one of many steps that must be taken to bring peace to Afghanistan. Read more…

Central Asia’s domestic conundrum

Author: Paul Stronski, Carnegie

Almost 30 years after the collapse of the USSR, Central Asian citizens are growing tired of stagnating economies, rampant corruption and their governments’ empty promises. In 2019, they made it clear they want something better — improved services, more transparency in decision-making and better opportunities for themselves and their children. Like many others across the globe, Central Asians are also demanding fresh leaders, solutions to their problems and a chance for their opinions to be heard. Read more…

Cooperation grows in Central Asia

Leaders of the SCO countries pose for a family photo during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan 14 June, 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Zavrazhin).

Author: Kirill Nourzhanov, ANU

The main political trend in Central Asia for 2019 was the steady improvement of interstate relations. This was primarily driven by Uzbekistan’s desire to repair relations with its neighbours. The country’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev noted ‘our rapprochement and expansion of cooperation in the region is a demanded and irreversible process’.

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China’s complicated relationship with Central Asia

People protest against the construction of Chinese factories in Kazakhstan during a rally in Almaty, Kazakhstan, 4 September 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Pavel Mikheyev).

Author: Raffaello Pantucci, RUSI

The closure of a mine in Kyrgyzstan, protests on the streets in Kazakhstan. The grand guignol of menacing Chinese investment into Central Asia appears to be rearing its head in public discourse. Both fearful and grateful, the region is a paradox for China at the beginning of its Belt and Road. Hardly a week goes by without a senior Chinese visitor appearing somewhere in Central Asia, revealing a long-term influence game that Beijing is winning.

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Why Central Asia chooses Chinese investment

Leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) countries and observer members attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, 14 June 2019 (Photo: Sputnik/Konstantin Zavrazhin/Pool via Reuters).

Author: Adil Miankhel, ANU

The post-Soviet states of Central Asia are surprising many by accepting vast sums of Chinese investment. By April 2017, China had invested in US$304.9 billion worth of contracts with its partners in the region, in sectors including transport, communication, energy infrastructure, financial linkages, technology transfer and trade facilitation. Why is Chinese investment edging out traditional sources of lending, namely development institutions and banks? As with many external policy choices, domestic factors are key.

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The history of securitisation in Xinjiang

Security guards stand at the gates of what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre in Huocheng County in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, 3 September 2018 (Photo: Reuters/Thomas Peter).

Author: Hasan H Karrar, Lahore University of Management Sciences

Two developments in Xinjiang are being felt across Central Asia. The first is the internment of around one million Xinjiang Muslims — mostly Uyghurs and Kazakhs — in what can only be understood as forced cultural assimilation. The second is the outbound flow of capital and technology from China through Xinjiang by way of so-called continental bridges and economic corridors. Read more…

Nazarbayev has resigned, but little will change in Kazakhstan

Acting President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev delivers a speech as he takes part in a swearing-in ceremony during a joint session of the houses of parliament in Astana, Kazakhstan, 20 March 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Kazakh Presidential Press Service).

Author: Kirill Nourzhanov, ANU

Kazakhstan’s perennial leader since 1989, Nursultan Nazarbayev, resigned on 19 March 2019. His retirement shocked international commentators and was widely interpreted as a surprise development, marking a new era not just for this former Soviet Republic but the whole Central Asian region. Read more…

Nazarbayev’s retirement marks a new era in Central Asia

Acting President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev shakes hands with his predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev during a joint session of the houses of parliament in Astana, Kazakhstan 20 March 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Kazakh Presidential Press Service).

Author: Edward Lemon, Daniel Morgan Graduate School

After ruling for almost 30 years, 78-year-old Nursultan Nazarbayev — the first president of Kazakhstan — announced his retirement on 19 March. Nazarbayev stated that the decision was ‘not easy’, but that he wanted to help with the transition to ‘a new generation of leaders’. Read more…

China’s Tajikistan military base eclipses India’s Central Asian ambitions

Soldiers from Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) and Indian Army take part in the ‘Hand in Hand’ joint military exercise in Chengdu, Sichuan province, China, 22 December 2018 (Photo: Reuters/ An Yuan).

Author: Micha’el Tanchum, Hebrew University

A recent investigation revealed that Chinese troops are stationed on Tajikistan’s southeastern border, 30 kilometres from Pakistan-administered Kashmir across Afghanistan’s Wakhan corridor. India has unsuccessfully sought to establish its own military base in Tajikistan for over 15 years. The discovery of Chinese troops constitutes a severe setback to New Delhi’s Central Asian ambitions.     Read more…

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s uneasy relationships

China's President Xi Jinping and Russia's President Vladimir Putin attend a signing ceremony during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Qingdao, Shandong Province, China, 10 June 2018 (Photo: Reuters/Aly Song).

Author: Zhang Xiaoming, Peking University

Until the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank’s establishment in 2014, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) was the only regional organisation initiated by and headquartered in China. Unsurprisingly China has demonstrated an unprecedented interest in and enthusiasm for the organisation. With Russia, most Central Asian countries and now India and Pakistan involved, there are fears that the SCO has the potential to become an ‘anti-NATO alliance’. But there are strategic limits to its agenda. Read more…

Integration without liberation in Central Asia

Chinese President Xi Jinping with Tajikistan's President Emomali Rahmon attend the signing ceremony during their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, 31 August 2017 (Photo: Reuters/Roman Pilipey/Pool).

Author: Paul Stronski, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Twenty-seven years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the prospects for Central Asian integration finally look brighter. This development comes amid political and economic liberalisation in Uzbekistan, hardening authoritarianism elsewhere in the region, widespread economic distress and China’s growing influence — the five major trends that marked Central Asia in 2018. Read more…

Central Asia’s regional thaw

Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev addresses the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at UN Headquarters in New York, United States, 19 September 2017 (Photo: Reuters/Eduardo Munoz/File Photo).

Author: Kirill Nourzhanov, ANU

The year proved to be an eventful one in Central Asia, characterised most significantly by a thaw in regional ties. While domestic challenges remain, enhanced regionalism promises to facilitate Central Asia’s ability to navigate its internal struggles independent of external influence. Read more…

India–Japan embrace should stretch out to Eurasia

Narendra Modi, India's Prime Minister, and Shinzo Abe, Japan's Prime Minister, shake hands during a joint news conference at Abe's official residence in Tokyo, Japan, 29 October 2018 (Photo: Kiyoshi Ota/Pool via Reuters).

Author: Jagannath Panda, IDSA

No other partnership has witnessed the kind of unprecedented progress that the India–Japan partnership has over the last two decades. The new India–Japan Vision Statement — a product of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Tokyo to meet his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe from 28–29 October 2018 — reiterates the two leaders’ commitment to work together in the Indo-Pacific and the world at large. Read more…