Archive for the ‘Global Times’ Category

Another op-ed on Central Asia for the Global Times, one of China’s English dailies. This time focused on looking beyond Great Games in Central Asia.

Local needs matter more than imaginary struggles in Central Asia

Global Times | 2012-12-17 19:25:05

By Raffaello Pantucci

Last month, Russia was reportedly ready to provide weapons worth $1.1 billion to Kyrgyzstan and $200 million to Tajikistan along with a further $200 million in petroleum products. In early June, China offered $10 billion through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to Central Asia. India has been focusing on developing a strategic partnership with Tajikistan since September, while the US always develops a stronger relationship with Uzbekistan.

There is a sense that we are returning to the “Great Game” in Central Asia. But this focus on abstract theories misses hard realities on the ground. Outside powers invest in Central Asia to advance their individual national interests, not out of a strategy directed against other powers.

Russia has long been a primary supplier of military equipment to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan: The money that Russia is providing will buy Russian arms and will help bolster an industry at home. And Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have long been the weak regional security links, providing a path into the Commonwealth of Independent States directly from Afghanistan. Drugs from Afghanistan can flow along the porous Tajik-Afghan border and from there into Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia and ultimately Russia.

Similarly, were the security situation in neighboring Afghanistan to deteriorate, then other threats could use this path. This is why Russia is willing to spend money to help strengthen the Kyrgyz and Tajik militaries. Certainly, a desire to keep American bases out of its backyard plays into the decision, but direct security considerations are the priority.

China has taken a different approach to Central Asia, one that is focused on economic and trade relations. For China, the main focus is to develop the region’s links with the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region to help the underdeveloped Chinese region grow and become a hub for Eurasian trade. The result is a strategy focused on building roads and rail links, infrastructure to support local development, as well as investing in exploiting the region’s rich natural resources.

While China has expressed concern in security threats emanating from the region, it remains a timid security power in Central Asia with some participation at SCO exercises, bilateral interaction about specific security concerns and training missions in Afghanistan.

For the US, the major interest at the moment is developing a stronger relationship with Uzbekistan, something that is largely built around the 2014 exit strategy from Afghanistan. The US and Europe have little direct interest in Central Asia beyond a useful route in and out of Afghanistan.

India, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Pakistan and Turkey all express an interest in the region, but have less to work with. Each one sees Central Asia through a slightly different lens, but all are ultimately interested in trying to strengthen their economic relations with the region.

And all of this discussion of outside powers forgets that Central Asians too have a seat at this table. As relatively poor countries that are still in a development phase, they frankly welcome the outside attention bringing them investment that they desperately need.

This is particularly true of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which unlike their other Central Asian partners lack abundant natural resources.

So when Russia comes and offers them substantial assistance, they are going to take it, in much the same way that regional leaders signaled their support for China’s policy toward the region when they attended September’s China-Eurasia Expo in Urumqi. Their hope was to be seen supporting China’s push to develop Xinjiang into the gateway for Eurasia and to see how they could also do well out of this approach.

Focusing single mindedly on the struggle between great powers in Central Asia often misses important details. Doubtless, regional geostrategy plays to some degree into Moscow’s considerations when providing weapons to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, but there are equally immediate security concerns at play.

China’s rising profile in the region may make it look like the increasingly dominant power, but this is something that is taking place as a result of an intensive focus from China on the “develop the west” strategy.

The “Great Game” in Central Asia should be left in the past as we focus on the very real problems that exist in the region.

The author is a visiting scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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An op-ed for China’s Global Times today, this one with Alex as part of our bigger project looking at China in Central Asia. The article was actually a response to Pan Zhiping’s piece in the newspaper which took cause with some of our conclusions in our longer National Interest piece.

China rapidly becoming primary player in post-war Central Asia

Global Times | December 04, 2012 20:10

Illustration: Liu Rui

Illustration: Liu Rui from here

By Raffaello Pantucci and Alexandros Petersen

China is on its way to becoming the most consequential actor in Central Asia. This isn’t a critical or a negative statement, but rather a reflection of a reality on the ground.

The heavy investments in Central Asian infrastructure and natural resources, the push to develop the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and China’s focus on developing the Shanghai Cooperation Organization into an economic player are slowly reorienting Central Asia toward China. None of this means that China is aiming to become a regional hegemon, but unless it is willing to write off considerable regional investment, it is going to find itself needing to engage in regional affairs in a more focused manner.

And these actions are likely to be interpreted regionally as hegemonic. A potentially very prosperous corner of the world, Central Asia, is in an early stage of development that could easily be pushed by instability in a wrong direction. China needs to prepare herself to step in and help resolve matters.

First among the potential storm clouds on the horizon is 2014 and the Western withdrawal from Afghanistan. The forces left behind will have a very limited and focused mandate. Their duty will be to protect diplomatic and aid communities and to focus on ensuring that groups like Al Qaeda cannot reform in Afghanistan and pose a threat to US or European interests. Their focus will not be on what the Taliban are doing in general or the instability that they might foster regionally. After over a decade of war, the Western public is tired of Afghanistan and has little appetite for war.

This casts a question over what is going to happen in Afghanistan post-2014, right on China’s border. China played a limited role in Afghanistan in the early years after the US invasion, but it has now invested considerable resources into the country that it will have to protect. It is also likely that instability in Afghanistan will have a knock-on effect into Central Asia, where China has even more investments. And all of this will end up having some sort of impact directly on Xinjiang, China’s long underdeveloped border region.

The US is in a very different position. It has security concerns from Central Asia and Afghanistan, but these will be addressed by the forces left behind. Some US companies have investments in Central Asia, but these are nowhere near as crucial as those made by Chinese firms.

As former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski put it, the US is “too distant to be dominant in this part of Eurasia.” The reality is that the Pamir mountains are too high and the steppe too far away for the US to focus on the region.

China’s ascendant investments in Central Asia are something that also stands in contrast to Russia’s declining ones. This is a more complex picture, as Russia, for many of the same reasons as China, has a clear strategic interest in Central Asia. But it is no longer the regional hegemon that it once was.

Russia’s power has been diluted by growing Chinese interest and Western attention paid to the region as a strategic launching pad into Afghanistan.

On the one hand, Russia realizes that it has to do something about security post-2014 and so is investing military loans to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. But at the same time, its regional security organization, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, has lost one of its most important members, Uzbekistan.

Even more significant in some ways is the recent statement by Russian energy giant Gazprom that it needed to evaluate its position in Central Asia as it had noticed that the region’s producers were “reorienting themselves toward China.”

And while it is clear that Russia still has influence regionally, it is not Russian firms that are putting up buildings, laying down roads and rail or investing in rebuilding the underdeveloped region.

Russia may still exert considerable diplomatic influence and soft power in the region, but it is clearly not investing a huge amount in the region.

Instead, seen from the ground, the scope and range of Chinese investments is clear, and China is increasingly shaping itself to be the most consequential power in the region.

This reality may be unpalatable to China, but it is something that it cannot avoid.

China is increasingly reshaping Central Asia to becoming its backyard rather than Russia’s and this will bring with it some regional responsibilities that China has not yet figured out how to address. China needs to formulate a proper strategy for Central Asia.

Raffaello Pantucci is a visiting scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and Alexandros Petersen is the author of The World Island: Eurasian Geopolitics and the Fate of the West (Praeger, 2011).opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

A new op-ed for the Global Times timed to come out alongside the EU-China Summit taking place in Brussels. The title is a bit at odds with the text I feel, but there we go. Also, their Chinese edition published my earlier article for them on EU power in Asia, for those who want to practice their Mandarin, check it out here. On another note, I have been honoured by the Diplomatic Courier magazine and Young Professionals in Foreign Policy and chosen as one of their ‘Top 99 under 33 Young Professionals in Foreign Policy.’ Many thanks to them for putting me in such a distinguished group of friends and peers.

EU-China ties fall short of expectations

Global Times | 2012-9-18 20:25:03

By Raffaello Pantucci

Eight years have passed since noted sinologist David Shambaugh declared “Over time the EU-China relationship will become a new axis in world affairs.” As the 15th EU-China Summit is being held in Brussels, it is useful to pause and take stock of where the Sino-EU relations stand and to think ahead about what the relationship is likely to hold for the next administration in China. Since the giddy heights of 2004, the EU-China relationship has continued to flourish, though often its public face has been at odds with its private one.

First, the good news. Since 2004 when the EU became China’s largest trading partner and China the EU’s second, trade has continued to flourish. In 2004 total bilateral trade was 125.84 billion euros ($164.88). Nowadays, these numbers have grown to 428.7 billion euros in trade in goods, with a further 42.6 billion euros in services. And the EU clearly continues to remain a key target market for acquisitions by Chinese investors. On the eve of the summit, China Construction Bank Chairman Wang Hongzhang announced that his bank was looking to spend somewhere in the region of $15 billion on investments in “UK, Germany or France.”

Second, people-to-people exchanges continue apace. In 2010, there were some 120,000 Chinese students in Europe. That same year, some 2.5 million Chinese visited Europe in total. And coming the other way, China has long been a preferred destination of European tourists, and there are growing numbers of European students at Chinese universities, researchers at Chinese institutes, and European-owned restaurants and stores. When Chinese look to quality brands, it is luxury from Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Prada or Zegna they look for.

Third, China and the EU are doing increasing amounts of things together on the world stage. The most obvious example is the anti-piracy mission off Somalia where European and Chinese ships serve together to protect international shipping. Elsewhere in Africa, work is developing, but in November 2007, both sides committed to “more practical cooperation by the two sides through their respective existing cooperation mechanisms with Africa so as to contribute to Africa’s peace, stability and sustainable development.”

But it is not all wine and roses. There are tensions between the two: On Syria in particular a lack of consensus has led to blockage in the UN Security Council. While both agree climate change and environmental degradation is something they agree is negative, responses vary. And for all the trade back and forth, there remains a lack of trust between the two on certain trade matters and intellectual property rights questions.

It would also be disingenuous to not observe that the public rhetoric in the relationship has also taken a beating over the years. This got particularly bad in 2008 when protests in Europe around the Olympic torch relay resulted in a backlash against France in particular. But it is worth noting that even as the rhetoric got hot, trade between the EU and China remained strong – in fact, EU exports to China grew from 78.4 billion euros in 2008 to 82.4 billion euros in 2009.

Such tensions are normal within such a large and complex relationship. Recently, there has been a tendency to focus on the Beijing-Berlin axis as though this was the only relationship that mattered between the EU and China. The reality is that Germany is the largest economic player in the EU, a position that has been emphasized by the recent downturn that has affected others in Europe worse than Germany. So it is only natural that they should end up playing an outsized role in the EU’s relationship with one of its biggest trading partners.

As we approach the end of one chapter in EU-China relations, we have clearly not yet lived up to the high bar set by David Shambaugh in 2004. However, we have made considerable progress in a positive direction and laid strong foundations that can be built on by subsequent administrations.

The author is a visiting scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and an expert of the Europe China Research and Advice Network. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

An article for another new outlet, the Global Times, the more nationalist of the English language newspapers published in China. We are going to see if it comes out in the Chinese edition. While not a subject I have written much about of late, it is one I remain engaged in (EU-China relations) and this specific piece was inspired in reaction to this piece Global Times published  a couple of weeks ago that seems to suggest that Asia is solely the remit of the United States. The broader theme of a need to widen the discussion on Asian affairs is one that features in some of my China-Central Asia research and is something I will return to. Also, look to see some more writing on this topic appear around the upcoming EU-China Summit in September.

Europe’s soft power gives it significant role in Asia

by Raffaello Pantucci

Global Times | August 27, 2012 20:40

Illustration: Sun Ying
Illustration: Sun Ying from here

In the article “European powers no longer have role across Pacific” published on August 15 in the Global Times, Robert M. Farley argues that Europe and NATO are not Pacific powers. But this is predicated on a number of false assumptions. First, that trade and economics are irrelevant, second, that hard power is the only effective way of expressing yourself in the region, and third that in our globalized and increasingly multipolar world, there can be spheres of influence where others should not meddle.

The EU is China’s largest trading partner, with annual trade in 2011 of $567.2 billion, an 18.3 percent increase year-on-year. And while the US may do more trade with the two next largest East Asian powers, Japan and South Korea, the EU’s figures are not insignificant. According to American and European data, in 2011 the US did $194.6 billion in trade with Japan and $100.1 billion in trade with South Korea versus respectively $143.6 billion and $84.4 billion for Europe.
This economic power not only demonstrates why Europe has a keen interest in the region, but also highlights how hard power is not the only way to stay relevant in East Asian and Pacific affairs.
And anyway, the EU does have hard power capacity. Admittedly, the EU lacks the military clout of the US, but it is not a weakling either.
Recent conflicts in North Africa have demonstrated Europe’s capacity and willingness to project military power, and these build on a growing European tendency toward consolidation of hard power. The UK and France have put aside historical enmities to develop an ever-closer defense relationship, and over time this tendency will only increase.
That having this muscular power present in East Asia is the only way to be heard seems a very dangerous assumption to make, one that plays into the hands of hawks who see looming conflict at every turn.
The security situation in the region is tense, but surely the solution to this is to find ways to calm things down rather than ratchet them up. That Europe lacks the baggage of hard power in the region could aid in acting the role of honest broker that might be able to help soothe tensions.
This leads to a final point about the current global order. The whole point of globalization is not only that we can now get everywhere easily and talk to people on the other side of the globe without any difficulty, but it also means that the concept of spheres of influence where single powers have total domination has also passed. No longer can powers say, this is my turf and no one else has a stake.
Similarly in East Asia. While much of what happens in the region seems to be fundamentally a tussle between the US and China, the reality is that European trade will be badly affected if things in the region take a turn for the worst. We end up having an order that is confused and unclear and to speak of strictly defined spheres of interest seems antiquated.
None of this is to advocate an aggressive European return to Asia, but rather to highlight that to simply dismiss Europe as an Asian power on the basis that it does not have as many soldiers or aircraft carriers in the region is to be too hasty. The EU is looked up to by ASEAN members who see a model to emulate, European soft power is hard to miss among the floods of Asian tourists enjoying European capitals and, as illustrated, Europe has a very strong economic interest in regional stability.
To presume that the US is the only power to listen to or that matters when focusing on Asian affairs is to play into the hands of those who only see hard power and tensions.
Europe has always been fundamentally an economic power and as the globe’s economic focus shifts eastward, we will see this power and influence increase, something that will benefit everyone.
Europe has a keen interest in Asia and it is one that will only grow as the world moves beyond the current economic crisis.

The author is a visiting scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn