Another op-ed in the Chinese press, this time in 中文 for the Oriental Morning Post (东方早报). Looks at the question of Chinese-European cooperation on Central Asia. More detail on this topic coming soon. As usual, Chinese on top, English submission below.

中欧在中亚的合作前景

吉尔吉斯斯坦首都比什凯克最近有点忙。就在短短几周里,欧盟与中亚部长级会议和上海合作组织总理会议先后在此召开。虽然两者并无联系,但两大高层会议在吉尔吉斯斯坦召开不但显示了中亚的重要性,也体现了这一区域作为中欧之间桥梁的潜在作用。

目前中国在中亚是一支崛起力量。与日俱增的投资、对于天然资源的兴趣和区域制度的发展都在让这一区域重新转向中国。最近上合组织总理会议上,温家宝总理鼓励中亚各国充分利用中国提供的100亿美元贷款来建设这一地区的基础设施,即充分体现了这点。中国希望这一区域的经济能够腾飞,而更为重要的是能同时带动新疆的发展。

欧盟的部长级会议并没有这样远大的目标,而是再次强调了发展中亚对于欧盟的重要性。除土库曼斯坦首都阿什哈巴德之外,欧盟外长凯瑟琳·阿什顿访问了其他各国首都,并且利用这次部长会议机会强调“可能进一步发展我们之间的能源、贸易和经济关系”。欧洲在中亚的投资目前非常有限,这主要是因为缺乏机会,投资环境也非常不佳。但是毫无疑问,欧盟具有发展双方联系的意图和希望。

2007年,欧盟公布了中亚战略,内容范围非常雄心勃勃,意图为整个欧洲在中亚打造一份新计划。这一战略以欧盟的“欧洲伙伴政策”为表述,旨在增强欧盟对中亚的重心。在德国担任欧盟轮值主席国期间,作为历史上长期对中亚充满兴趣的国家,一手推动了这一战略。欧洲非常希望这能发展出一条更为实在的路径,通向这些长期来被他们忽略的中亚国家。

然而事与愿违,距这份战略公布至今已有五年时间,但并未见到任何实质性的发展。欧盟在中亚投入了大量资源,这非常显而易见,如果你驾车在中亚地区,会看到学校和开发项目工地上挂着欧盟的旗帜。除此之外,欧盟也通过一项叫做“中亚边界管理”的合作来帮助中亚各国进行边界控制,为落后的边境管理提供现代化训练和管理办法。但是,欧洲在此留下的足迹依然停留在非常表面的层次,绝大多数中亚国家并不会把欧盟当作这一区域的主要角色。如纳布科天然气输气管工程这样的大规模能源项目依然在无穷无尽的讨论谈判之中。

相比之下,中国在中亚的力量迅速崛起。过去一年里每个中亚国家我至少都去了一次以上,而在每个国家的官员、民众和分析家都告诉我中国是那里的新力量。有趣的是,虽然他们看到的是中国为这一区域带来的变化,但他们都宣称更想成为欧洲国家。欧盟模式许诺的稳定繁荣和国家发展是他们都希望能逐步达成的前景,而且他们强调自己愿意同欧洲做生意。照此看来,欧盟在中亚赢得了软权力。

但是,欧盟和中国在中亚取得的成就也突出了中欧间通过中亚进行结盟的潜在可能。中国对这一区域产生兴趣的本质是发展新疆战略。今年早些时候在乌鲁木齐举办的中国亚欧博览会上,温家宝总理说计划要把新疆发展成“亚欧的门户”。其想法是建立通过中亚、最终到达欧洲的联系。这将为新疆带来经济繁荣和发展,产生如当年“丝绸之路”那样将欧洲和亚洲相连的效应。

这对于各种有关方都是个非常具有吸引力的计划。这不仅仅将帮助达成中国区域发展的目标,还能为中亚带去繁荣,以及增强中国和欧洲之间直接贸易联系,这一切都将对经济发展产生重要作用。

当然,需要克服的障碍也不少。尽管中亚人民经常强调中国是这一区域的崛起大国,但他们也经常告诉我中国控制带来所谓的危险。吉尔吉斯斯坦和哈萨克斯坦的人们说中国公司给工人待遇过低,不够公平,塔吉克斯坦人则一直对中国男人娶走了他们的女人表示不满。显然,中国在中亚的软实力建设还有待提高。但是,中国公司可以向欧洲同仁学习一件事情:雇佣当地工人,为他们提供好的工作条件,改善他们的社会,这些都是中国在中非投资时能够用来改善自己形象的方法。同欧洲公司进行接触也许可以帮助中国投资者学习一下他们使用的战略。

这一切都将是个长期游戏。欧洲对中亚重燃兴趣,但这需要有更具体的行动跟进。但是如果中国愿意表达同欧洲作为伙伴在中亚共同发展的兴趣,那么这一定会引来欧洲更大的关注。虽然讨论“新丝绸之路”未免有些过时,但通过中亚铺开中欧之间的道路将会最终带来两方战略合作的果实。

(李鸣燕 译)

Europe in Central Asia

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan has had a busy few weeks. In the space of a few weeks it has hosted a EU-Central Asia Ministerial meeting and then the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Prime Minister’s Summit. Whilst unconnected, the two high level meetings in Kyrgyzstan show Central Asia’s importance, but also the potential for the region to act as a link between China and Europe.

Currently, China is the rising power in Central Asia. Its growing investment, appetite for natural resources and development of regional institutions are reorienting the region towards China. The recent SCO Prime Ministerial Summit in Bishkek highlighted all of this as Premier Wen Jiabao encouraged Central Asian powers to take advantage of the $10 billion loan that China was extending through the SCO to encourage regional infrastructure investment. The hope for China is that the region would develop economically, and more importantly, that it would develop in a way that would help encourage development in Xinjiang.

Europe’s Ministerial meeting was far less ambitious, but highlighted once again the importance that the EU attaches to developing Central Asia. Visiting all of the regional capitals except Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, European foreign minister Catherine Ashton used the opportunity of the Ministerial meeting in Bishkek to emphasize the ‘potential to further develop our energy, trade and economic relations.’ European investment in Central Asia is currently quite limited, trapped between a lack of opportunities and a very challenging investment climate. But clearly the hope and intention is there to try to develop this connection.

Back in 2007, the EU launched a strategy for Central Asia. The paper was ambitious in its scope, and aimed to lay out a new plan for Europe to engage with Central Asia. Phrased as being an expansion of the EU’s ‘European Neighbourhood Policy’ the strategy aimed to increase and target’s the EU’s focus towards Central Asia. Nurtured and launched under a German Presidency of the EU – a member state that has always had a keen historical interest in the region – there was a great hope that it might finally help develop a more practical approach towards a set of states the EU had long overlooked.

Unfortunately, in the five years since the strategy was launched, very little has tangibly been achieved. The EU has spent considerable resources in Central Asia – something that is visible on the ground as you drive around with European Union flags on schools and development projects around the region. It has also helped try to develop border controls across the region through a special Border’s Management Program that has tried to bring modern training and methods to Central Asia’s underdeveloped border guards. But its regional footprint is still very light, with most Central Asian countries not considering the EU one of the region’s major players. Large-scale energy projects like the Nabucco pipeline have yet to get going and are trapped in endless discussion rounds.

In contrast, they increasingly see China as a major player. Over the past year, I have been to all of the Central Asian countries at least once. And in each one, officials, citizens and analysts all told me that China was the rising power in the region. What is interesting is that while they all see the growing consequence of China in the region, they all aspire to be like European states. The model offered by the EU of stable prosperity and a developed state is something that they would all like to achieve eventually and they were eager to emphasize that they would like to do business with Europe. The EU, it seems, is winning the soft power conversation on the ground in Central Asia.

But these parallel achievements by the EU and China in the region highlight the potential for a great alliance between the EU and China through Central Asia. China’s interest in the region is in essence an extension of its strategy to develop Xinjiang. The underlying plan laid out during the China Eurasia Expo is to develop Xinjiang into becoming a ‘gateway for Eurasia’ as Premier Wen Jiabao put it in Urumqi earlier this year. The idea is to develop links through Central Asia and ultimately through to Europe. This would bring prosperity and economic development to a part of the country that has thus far suffered from underinvestment and under-development. It would also finally have the effect of rebuilding the Silk Road that used to bring Europe and Asia together.

This is a plan that has great appeal to all involved. It would not only help China’s goals for regional development, but also help bring prosperity to Central Asia, and finally, help improve direct trade links between China and Europe. All of which would have the net effect of improving prosperity.

Of course, there are a number of obstacles to overcome. While people in Central Asia were often eager to highlight that China was the rising power regionally, they were equally eager to tell me stories of the dangers of Chinese domination. People in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan told stories of Chinese companies paying badly and treating workers unfairly, while Tajiks would repeatedly talk of Chinese men marrying their women. China has a great deal of soft power work to do in the region. But here is something that Chinese firms regionally could learn from their European counterparts. Hiring local staff, offering them good working conditions and establishing ways to help improve the societies in which they are working are methods that the Chinese investors in Central Asia might be able to help improve their image. Making contact with European companies regionally might be a way to try to learn some strategies they have deployed.

All of this is a very long-term game. Europe’s renewed interest in Central Asia needs to be followed up with more concerted action. But an expression of interest from China that Europe is a partner with which China would like to work with in helping regional development in Central Asia is something that could help spur greater European attention on the region. While it is cliché to talk about the New Silk Road, repaving the link between China and Europe through Central Asia could help finally bring the EU-China strategic partnership to fruition.

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