Archive for the ‘Oriental Morning Post’ Category

A bit late to post here, but a longer interview I did late last month for the the Chinese newspaper I occasionally write for 东方早报 (Oriental Morning Post). The interview focuses on China in Afghanistan, a topic I’ve been doing quite a bit of work on and you can find more about on the China in Central Asia site. I have put the published Chinese on top, but the English interview I initially did it pasted below.

维护阿富汗稳定的责任 或将落到中国身上 
早报记者 黄翱 发表于2014-04-28 07:06


Raffaello Pantucci












1. In the post-ISAF ear, should China take a major role of the regional geopolitics of Afghanistan? If does, what the role should be?
Yes, China should take on a much bigger role in Afghanistan in the future. As one of the major regional giants with interests in Afghanistan, China has an important role to play – this is in terms of the country’s economic future, but also in terms of its political and security future. So far China has tried to avoid doing too much in this direction, but without the western interest and focus it will increasingly fall to regional powers like China to take these roles on.
2. How could China make clear to the Afghan people and international community of a clearer Afghan strategy?
The problem here is complicated as the fundamental divergence between Chinese policy and action really lies in the big investment projects that are being done by Chinese companies. Many Afghans I have spoken to complain about the Mes Aynak project being run by MCC/Jiangxi Copper saying that it is something that company has just been sitting on and blocking impeding the ability to develop the site. They then resent China for not doing more to make the project start. I am sure the reality on the ground is complicated, but I also am sure that more could be done.
What Afghanistan needs is not only a political statement, but also demonstrations of action. So far, China has played a role in Afghanistan, but not a major one. The Afghans hope and expect that China will say it will play a major role and then follow through. The final element to remember is that China needs to find a way of balancing its relationship with Pakistan with that with Afghanistan. The Afghans often become agitated when they see how much China does and supports Pakistan (a country they have a very complicated relationship with) and how relatively less China does with them.
3. Should China provide more security product in the region? How could China do so?
Yes, China does need to do more in security terms in Afghanistan. This could look in a few different directions. First, help the Afghans strengthen their border security – China has learned many lessons about Central Asian borders through the SCO and its partnerships in Central Asia. These could be translated to help Afghanistan strengthen its borders. Training: the Chinese government already does some limited training of security forces (ANP mostly I believe) in Afghanistan. It should increase these numbers substantially. Develop local security forces to protect mining sites: the Afghan interior ministry has already created a special Aynak protection force essentially – helping fund or train more in this direction would be a good thing that would also help secure Chinese investments.
4. What would be the greatest obstacle of Chinese enterprises expanding their business in Afghanistan? How should China do to remove it?
Security is the biggest problem, so see my previous answer. The other aspect is Afghanistan’s legal framework and official technocratic capacity. This China can help in two ways: first, ensure that Chinese firms doing investments in Afghanistan do not indulge in corrupt practices. If everyone stops doing this the system will improve, but you have to start somewhere. If the government makes sure that state owned firms investing in the country are not using bribes and are adhering to Afghan law this will help. Second, the Chinese government should explore looking at offering training at Chinese technical universities or sponsoring scholarships for junior Afghan officials to go and learn about (for example) drafting laws or other technical skills this will help Afghanistan develop the capacity to have a better and more efficient set of officials who can help the country grow and become more stable. It will also mean that Chinese businesses investing in the country will have a more effective group of officials to interact with making the Afghan system more efficient.

A pair of articles in the English and Chinese language press focused on a subject I am doing a growing amount of work on China and India in Afghanistan post-2014. It is part of a bigger stream of work focused on China in Central Asia that I am doing with Alex, but has a particular focus on trying to understand how the great adjacent powers will take Afghanistan in their stride.

A version of this in Chinese was published by 东方早报 (Oriental Morning Post) that can be found here. An english version featured in the Diplomat and is re-posted below.

China and India: Time to Cooperate on Afghanistan

By  Raffaello Pantucci
October 26, 2013


Two Asian giants met in Beijing this week, with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh making a reciprocal visit to Beijing. The focus of the trip was economic cooperation and plans to get China-India trade to $100 billion by 2015, although it was the border disputes – and in particular the signing of a Border Defence Cooperation Agreement designed to defuse tensions – that captured the public attention.

What was missing from the agenda, however, was Afghanistan, a country in which Beijing and Delhi both have substantial mutual interests and where the two Asian giants could demonstrate their ability to responsibly manage the regional order.

Next year has the potential to be an inflection point in Afghanistan’s modern history. The Western withdrawal of combat troops from the nation after more than a decade of conflict will leave the freshly constructed administration to find its own feet. While a residual Western force will remain, it will be focused on training and counter-terrorism efforts. The emphasis from Western capitals will more than ever be on the administration in Kabul tending to its own affairs, looking to regional partners to help provide support and assistance. Whether they like it or not, local powers like China and India will be at the forefront of this effort, something already clear from the fact that the two nations are responsible for the largest economic investments in the country, in Hajigak and Mes Aynak.

Yet while both China and India are significant players in the country, there has been little evidence of direct cooperation or much forward planning in considering what is going to happen post-2014. This is unfortunate, as both nations are underestimating the degree to which they will find themselves having to seek cooperation with each other to guarantee a positive outcome in Afghanistan. Neither may want to shoulder the burden of a weak state pressured by a strong insurgency, but they will quickly find themselves as the powers with the greatest capacity to exert influence in an Afghanistan that continues to have the potential to be a regional spoiler. The best solution for all stakeholders is for China and India to work together to ensure a smooth transition to some semblance of stability.

Cooperation should focus on three pillars: economics, regional balancing and security assistance. All three will be key to guaranteeing Afghanistan’s future. Whichever government takes power in Kabul after President Hamid Karzai will find itself seeking support in each of these domains.

The economic sphere holds the most obvious potential for cooperation between Delhi and Beijing. Both may be fundamental competitors in the long run for Afghanistan’s natural resources, but both face substantial short and medium-term problems in securing access to them. Practical considerations like cost, government cooperation or security and, in India’s case, an inability to directly access Afghan territory, mean companies from both countries have made huge investments in the country with little evidence of tangible outputs in the near-term horizon. Still, Afghanistan’s touted $1 trillion worth of natural resources promises a welcome treasure for Chinese and Indian economies needing raw materials to fuel growth. At this early stage of Afghanistan’s opening, cooperating to ensure a level playing field will guarantee smooth access later on and provide both Chinese and Indian firms with a less complicated operating environment.

In practice, this means getting Chinese and Indian state-owned enterprises, those making the largest investments in Afghanistan, to ensure that their practices adhere to rigorous and ethical guidelines that are supervised by their respective central governments. When competing, they should both make sure they play by the same rules and therefore set themselves up for fair competition. Moreover, exploring ways in which to jointly develop infrastructure and coordinate projects will help all stakeholders profit from Afghanistan’s mineral boom.

Regional balancing complicates bilateral cooperation between India and China. It requires that China find a way to persuade Pakistan to accept a greater Indian role in Afghanistan, with India in return demonstrating a greater willingness to accept Pakistan’s inability to manage its domestic problems and to refrain from inflaming those problems.

The key here is regional dialogue and discussion, with forums like the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation better empowered to discuss the regional dynamics around Afghanistan post-2014. One positive move would be for Chinese and Indian research institutions to co-host a pair of conferences at which they bring together regional thinkers to discuss the post-2014 regional order. Providing policy leaders with a forum in which they can sensibly think through the future regional dynamics surrounding Afghanistan could open some avenues for discussion.

The final element of security is in many ways the toughest one, and yet the one without which neither of the other two pillars can stand. Without a secure environment in Afghanistan, economic investment will be impossible and regional dynamics will be irrelevant in the face of internal chaos. A strong Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) needs to be built and the onus is on everyone to find a way of supporting it until it is able to stand up on its own. Until now this has rightly been a Western responsibility – in the wake of the U.S. and NATO invasion – but now others must contribute.

The U.S. and NATO will of course continue to provide support, but China and India need to find ways to increase their own contributions. For China, a paltry 300 police being trained is an unworthy sum compared to the economic investments China’s firms have made in Afghanistan – these investments will struggle to produce a return if insecurity prevails. India does offer some military training, but it is understandably restrained given Pakistani paranoia of Indian domination in Afghanistan. The answer is a joint effort whereby Chinese and Indian forces find some way to offer cooperative training missions, or at the very least parallel ones. This will both assuage Pakistani concerns (given its proximity to China), but also double the support that the ANSF is getting from outside powers. One possible focus could be an expansion of the security forces that are being developed to specifically protect mineral extraction at Mes Aynak. The development of a national natural resource protection unit, dedicated to providing security at extractive industries sites, might both offer a local employment vehicle while help develop security for Chinese and Indian investments.

China and India are two rising Asian giants. Both have already demonstrated a willingness to talk about Afghanistan in multilateral forums and at a bilateral level. The time is right to strike and lay out a joint agenda for Afghanistan’s future post-2014.

Raffaello Pantucci is a Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI)

A slightly belated posting of a piece I wrote for the Chinese newspaper I occasionally contribute to, 东方早报 (Oriental Morning Post), looking at Xi Jinping’s still ongoing trip through Central Asia. More on this soon as the subject remains one I am working actively on. As with other pieces I write in Chinese, I have posted the English I submitted above, with the the published Chinese below.

China needs a clear strategy for Central Asia

Two major themes have emerged as key during President Xi Jinping’s visit to Central Asia: economics and Afghanistan. The economics is made all the more relevant with the concurrent China Eurasian Expo where senior leaders from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan attended alongside businessmen from across Central Asia. The focus of the Expo is to attract investment and prosperity to Xinjiang, something that is seen as being inextricably intertwined with Eurasia and is captured in the Expo’s tagline this year of ‘common development.’ From Beijing’s perspective, developing Xinjiang is a crucial goal if the violence that has peaked once again this year is to finally be brought under control. And in order to do this properly, Beijing needs to have Xinjiang surrounded by an area of prosperity, or at the very least a region which has good roads through which goods from China can pass on to the more lucrative European and Russian markets. This is the ‘Silk Road economic belt’ that President Xi spoke of in Kazakhstan.

Central Asia is also appealing because of its wealth of natural resources: Chinese firms are one of the only ones able to extract hydrocarbons (in the form of gas) from Turkmenistan and CNPC recently successfully pulled off a major coup when it was able to buy into Kazakhstan’s giant Kashagan oil field. In Kazakhstan, China’s Development Bank has made major investments into firms extracting copper and other minerals from Kazakhstan’s rich mines. Elsewhere, Chinese companies are on the ground in Kyrgyzstan seeking out the country’s gold mines in the north of the country. And hanging over this all is the potential mineral wealth in Afghanistan, estimated by the US Geological Survey of being potentially as large as $1 trillion, including massive Lithium reserves and rare earths, as well as copper and oil fields already being developed by Chinese companies.

And sitting atop all of this bilateral activity, China has been pushing to get the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to move in a more economic direction. Ideas like the SCO Development Bank, an SCO Free Trade Area, greater cross-border currency usage and greater economic integration across the region are fundamentally driven out of Beijing while the other members of the organization grow concerned about Chinese economic dominance. It is here that President Xi’s visit to Uzbekistan in particular was interesting. Long the heart of Central Asia, it retains the most developed industrial infrastructure and largest population – all of which make it tempting for China but also a country that is wary of Chinese economic inroads, seeing the potential for it to undermine the nation’s capability to develop its own economy to a greater degree. Talking to Uzbek businessmen, the perception is that China is both an excellent potential partner, but also one that raises some concerns among officials who worry of succumbing to Chinese economic dominance.

All of this helps explain China’s interests in Central Asia. But the problem is that does not address the two major missing components in China’s regional approach: first is a clear strategy for the region and second is a vision for what role China sees for itself in post-2014 Afghanistan. Clearly the other key aspect of President Xi’s visit to the region, Afghanistan featured as a topic of conversation in most capitals and as part of the strategic partnership agreements and discussions that were held. But while President Xi spoke to the Central Asians about Afghanistan, it remains unclear how exactly the Chinese strategy towards the country is going to dramatically change. It remains to be seen whether we are now going to see the emergence of a clearly developed and pragmatic approach to ensuring security and stability in Afghanistan post-2014.

The absence of a clearly developed strategic vision for Afghanistan is only part of a larger problem in Central Asia, where it is equally unclear that Chinese strategists have developed a holistic approach and strategy that encompasses the full spectrum of national interests – both from a Chinese perspective and Central Asian. All of the Central Asians trade with China and seek out Chinese investment, but public opinion is not usually in China’s favour. People worry about China’s regional aims, fearing that they are about to be subsumed into becoming vassal states of China. And outside powerful elites, few feel they are really benefiting from the influx of Chinese investment. Angry publics in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan in particular have attacked Chinese nationals and interests, and in Tajikistan there was a substantial public outcry when it was revealed that large pieces of territory were being leased to Chinese agricultural companies for development. In the absence of clear explanation, public opinion tends towards conspiracy and paranoia, something that can have practical implications for Chinese companies and operators on the ground. China needs to finds ways to master its strategic communications and ‘soft power’ projection in the region.

On Afghanistan, the picture is a complicated one, though it is clear that chaos in the country has the potential to upset Chinese investments and efforts across Central Asia and Xinjiang. Currently, all that is understood of China’s interests and efforts in Afghanistan can be seen in the increasingly complicated process of the Aynak copper mine where companies MCC and Jiangxi Copper are now seeking to re-negotiate the terms of the deal. Afghans, already sceptical of China’s interests in their country, now see this as a situation where the Chinese firms are doing nothing more than impeding their capacity to benefit from their natural resource wealth. The absence of any efforts by China to support the security situation further strengthen this perception, with few in Afghanistan seeing China playing a positive role in their country. The reality is of course that China is doing something in the nation (though on security, it remains a very limited presence at training a few hundred police), but it lacks a clear strategic vision and push. It appears limited, reactive after much external pressure in a very limited way and driven by large state owned companies focused on mineral resource extraction.

Like it or not, China is going to be a major player in Central Asia and Afghanistan. The time has come for Beijing to develop a coherent regional strategy and approach that finds ways of accepting this responsibility and living up to the promises towards Afghanistan that China continues to say it is making. President Xi’s trip highlighted China’s acknowledgement that Central Asia is worried about Afghanistan: as the big player at the table, it is time to take some leadership and more from rhetoric to pragmatism.










中国正在成为中亚和阿富汗的主要行为体,这是不以他人的意志为转移的。不过,由于战略视野和动力尚待进一步清晰,中国和该地区的关系显得既棘手又复杂。习近平选择出访中亚凸显了该地区对中国的重要性,让我们期望他此行的演讲和与中亚国家领导人的会晤能为一个更加清晰的地区视野寻找到一个新的表述。(胡勇 译

Am finally catching up on some late posting, this is a piece from a few weeks ago when I was in Kabul about how China is perceived there. It was initially published in  东方早报 (Oriental Morning Post) and I have put the English at the top and the Chinese it was published in below.

Kabul – China’s optics in Afghanistan are not good. After a week of travelling around talking to Afghans and others in Kabul, the general consensus is that China is doing little to contribute on the ground. In fact, the perception remains that China is doing little than trying to draw profit from Afghanistan’s abundant natural resources while giving little in return.

Central to Afghan concerns are the activities of MCC and Jiangxi Copper at Mes Aynak. One of the world’s largest copper mines, back in 2007 the Chinese state owned companies paid somewhere in the region of $3 to $4 billion (depending on whose figures you believe) to acquire the mine. Since then, very little has actually happened. Security on the site, an archeological dig of great historical importance on top of the site, company problems back home and elsewhere and difficulties with the Afghan authorities have all meant that the project has not started in any meaningful way.

In fact, currently the discussion seems focused around the fact that the Chinese firm is trying to renegotiate its contract for the site. The perception from officials, media and the public spoken to is that this is something that the Chinese side is doing specifically to drive a harder bargain and alter the parameters of an already agreed deal. Something that infuriates Afghans as it means that a project they are eager to get started as it might provide some economic benefit to the country is not moving forwards. The possible jobs that the project would provide are believed to be one way of helping develop the province and maybe quell some of the tensions underlying the insurgency. The longer it does not start, the longer it will take for these benefits to be felt.

On the other side of the equation, there is acknowledgement that MCC and Jiangxi Copper’s concerns are valid. The area is dangerous and the historical site above the mine requires some care. Additionally, Afghanistan is still working on resolving and passing its new mining legislation, something that understandably makes foreign companies hesitant to invest in the country.

But whatever the reality of these concerns, the truth is that this is not the message that has gotten down to most Afghans. All they see is a large foreign company sitting on one of their prime assets without any sense that it is going to develop it any time soon. This angers people and is only one of a number of negative images China has in the country. Aside from having a low visible public diplomacy presence, China’s contribution to Afghanistan’s security (300 police trained after Zhou Yongkang’s visit last year) is low and there is a strong sense that China prefers perennial enemy Pakistan to Afghanistan. China’s soft power in Afghanistan is in a very low state.

China has a difficult hand to play in Afghanistan. On the one hand, as a wealthy neighbor with influence over Pakistan and positive links to the Taliban it is perceived as being the one holding one of the best hands in the region. But at the same time, the realities on the ground mean China is wary of getting too involved in a situation that has historically proved very difficult to mend. But the current approach of waiting and seeing is having a deeply counter-productive result. Not only is it engendering anger amongst the Afghan population, but it is furthermore helping render a situation in Pakistan that is dangerously escalating out of control even worse. More instability in Afghanistan is only going to make Pakistan more dangerous.

A quick fix solution to this is difficult to see. But some ideas exist that could help raise China’s profile. The initial security contribution offered by Zhou Yongkang should be developed further – more police should be trained and China should offer to help foot the costs of maintaining the Afghan security forces post-2014. Focusing this money towards specific areas where China’s companies have made investments would be a way to link this money to specific Chinese interests. Secondly, China should undertake a soft power push into Afghanistan. Other rising Asian giant India provides somewhere in the region of 2,000 scholarships a year to Afghan students to come to India – China provides far fewer. Increasing this number is an easy way to start to develop a new cadre of young Afghans with a stronger feeling towards China. And finally, China’s companies that are invested in Afghanistan should do more to help develop the nations infrastructure. Chinese companies are amongst the best in the world at doing such work in difficult environments – they should deploy this ability into the Afghan context.

China has long played the waiting game with Afghanistan. The time has come to step forwards and develop a more coherent, sustainable and holistic approach to find some resolution in Afghanistan. Helping solve the country’s problems will not only be of benefit to the region and world, but it will directly help China’s development of its own western provinces. A win-win if ever there was one.





阿富汗人最关心的是中冶集团(MCC)和江西铜业共同投资的艾娜克(Mes Aynak)铜矿项目。作为世界上已探明的最大铜矿之一,艾娜克铜矿早在2007年就得到了中标的上述两家中国国有企业30亿到40亿美元的投入。不过,阿富汗糟糕的安全形势、艾娜克矿区重大的考古发现、投资者自身的举棋不定以及与阿富汗当局的微妙关系都表明短期内项目仍不可能建成投产。







胡勇 译

Somewhat belatedly, I am reposting here an article that I had published in the Chinese 东方早报 (The Oriental Morning Post) during Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow a week or so ago. The article does not seem to have been put online, so I have posted the English text that I submitted below. I currently cannot figure out how to attach a PDF here, so cannot add the tear page, but if you are interested, please drop me a line and I can send it over. Related, I did an interview for Danish radio on the visit, focusing in particular on Central Asia. I am also going to use this opportunity to highlight interviews I did for the Italian AGI and The Atlantic on China in Central Asia. As ever for more on my work in this direction, please have a look at the site I manage with Alex focusing on our project on China in Central Asia.

China and Russia will maintain a pragmatic partnership

There has been a great deal of speculation in the press about the significance of Xi Jinping’s decision to make Russia his first foreign trip as leader of China. The implication of much of the discussion is that China is about to reorient itself to turn Moscow into a priority ally, creating some sort of a new axis in international affairs. The reality is that little is practically changing in this relationship beyond reaffirmation of the fact that both sides see the other as a power with which it suits them to be perceived as being aligned.

The relationship in the past few years has evolved substantially. Discussions about enhancing military cooperation and the prospect of joint technological development projects were highlighted during Defence Minister Shoigu’s visit to Beijing late last year, national energy giants CNPC and Rosneft have signed deals to build refineries near Tianjin and explore similar opportunities in Russia as well as looking at doing a large $25-$30 billion loan for oil deal – the Russian firm is believed to be seeking the loan from the Chinese firm in a repeat of a deal from a few years ago. At a political level, President Putin visited Beijing very soon after his election victory, so in some ways this is reciprocating. And on the international stage, China and Russia broadly find themselves in agreement with regards their postures on issues like Syria or Iran and generally prove willing to support each other’s positions in the United Nations Security Council. They both found the ‘colour revolutions’ of a few years ago alarming, and view the ‘Arab Spring’ in an even darker light. Trouble from rebellious provinces is an issue they both share, and they see western plots inside domestic problems.

But beneath this cordiality there is a tension. In the run-up to President Xi’s visit, much has been made in the Chinese press that some final agreement may be about to come about on the topic of gas pricing, a discussion that has been ongoing between China and Russia for over a decade. Unable to reach an agreement, we have seen a number of high level visits come and go with no conclusion in sight of the deal. This time, we are told, it may actually happen. And the logic may finally be there: China’s growing gas relationship with Turkmenistan means that it is going to be less reliant on finding Russian sources, something that will in turn pressure Russia to come to some agreement to not lose its hand in the discussion with China.

This aside, there is the question of Central Asia more broadly. A region that Russia has traditionally seen as its strategic backyard, but where China is increasingly becoming the more relevant actor. Economically, this is displacing Russian interests, though it remains clear that the Central Asian powers continue to see Russia as the more important security guarantor regionally. The story of the past decade, however, is the money and investment flowing in mostly from Xinjiang rewiring Central Asia so its roads all lead to China. Russia is seen to be pushing back against this through the institution and implementation of the Customs Union that at the moment only encompasses Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia. But this is a still developing project and it is unclear how it will ultimately impact Chinese economic growth in Central Asia.

Looking beyond Central Asia, there is the dilemma of Afghanistan and the tensions between India and Pakistan. This triumvirate of countries is a complicated one with both Moscow and Beijing having very different views. Russia has always supported ally India, while Beijing retains strong ties with Islamabad. A delicate balance that has the result of keeping both India and Pakistan out of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). And on Afghanistan, while there is evidence that China is slowly coming to the realization that more must be done and soon, Russia remains trapped in the shadow of its history in that country and refuses to commit much.

The point is that China and Russia are not an easy pairing. They may concur on a few things, but disagree on others too. But what they do share is a concern about western dominance in international affairs and a feeling that the American approach is not always necessarily the right one. And it is maybe here that we should look for deeper meaning in the Russia-China relationship. It is not so much that they are partners of principle, but they are partners of utility. Each sees the value in having a strong counterpart whom is willing to stand up to the United States and the West. Left alone, they would end up being isolated in international affairs and have to deal with the brunt of international wrath when they stood up for unpopular issues. But united they are able to provide some cover for each other and extend the travel schedule of any western foreign minister seeking to lobby their support for issues at the UNSC or elsewhere.

China and Russia remain partners of convenience. Their tentative gestures towards a real strategic partnership are likely to continue to edge gradually forwards, and mutual support will continue on the international stage, but the reality is that this is never going to be a holistic and firm axis in international affairs. Instead it will remain a utilitarian partnership that will provide each other with a useful ally when facing down against perceived western interventionism.


Raffaello Pantucci is a Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London

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.












(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.

A new piece for 东方早报 (Oriental Morning Post) the Chinese paper I occasionally write for, this time focused on difficulties that corporate China has encountered recently in Central Asia. As usual, the Chinese is on top, with what I submitted in English below.

潘睿凡   发表于2012-11-14 05:13










  潘睿凡  英国伦敦国际激进主义  研究中心副研究员   (李鸣燕 译)

Corporate China’s Challenges and Opportunities in Central Asia

Last month news came out of Kyrgyzstan that a local dispute at a Chinese owned gold mine had escalated to the point that staff had to be evacuated and operations shut down. This is not the first time that Chinese companies have had trouble in Kyrgyzstan. It is not in fact the first time that Chinese companies have had trouble in Central Asia more generally. Doubtless this is a problem that is considered far down the list of priorities for the new leadership in Zhongnanhai, but it has the potential to have a direct impact on China domestically. Unless Chinese companies get Central Asia right, it is going to be very difficult for the May 2010 work plan to develop Xinjiang to be effectively implemented.

In September this year at the second international China Eurasian Expo in Urumqi, Premier Wen Jiabao highlighted the important link that Xinjiang is between China and Eurasia. In particular he highlighted how ‘Xinjiang’s reform, opening-up and development will not only benefit people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang, but also bring more development opportunities to Eurasian countries.’ Saying this at the Expo before senior leaders from Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan highlighted the importance of these relationships in developing Xinjiang.

Far from major sealanes and modern trading routes, it has always been obvious that the solution to developing Xinjiang lies in developing its links with the countries it borders. Opening up these links is something that will further help strengthen China’s connections with Europe, opening up roadways to directly link Chinese producers with European markets.

And the government has actively encouraged this. Using money from Export-Import Bank loans and deploying state owned firms it has built roads and is building rail infrastructure both in Xinjiang and Central Asia. It has further encouraged state owned companies to invest in the area, taking advantage of the rich natural resources that can be found. And the groundwork laid by state owned firms has been built on by Xinjiang companies and traders seeking new markets that have now been opened up to them. In my travels across the region, I found Chinese traders, goods and workers – many of them with strong connections back to Xinjiang, highlighting how they were helping expand Xinjiang’s economy.

But now this growth is increasingly encountering difficulties. The recent trouble in Kyrgyzstan is not the first of its kind, and in the past Chinese companies have had other problems regionally. Partially this is because Central Asia is a difficult environment to work in, but there is also a problem of local perceptions. In talking to locals in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan I was endlessly surprised by the negative reactions and beliefs they would have towards Chinese companies. People would tell me stories about how Chinese workers were stealing jobs, women and eating all the animals in sight. More seriously, they would tell me how Chinese firms underpay or pay late, offer bad jobs to locals and treat staff badly. Whether true or not, the general perception is that Chinese firms are in Central Asia to simply take raw materials and commodities back to China, while they flood the markets with low quality products.

The picture that results is a negative one that leads to difficulties like those currently being experienced in Kyrgyzstan. Admittedly, I was told by locals that most foreign firms encounter similar issues in Kyrgyzstan, but the difference is that these other companies are not playing a role in directly helping a part of their home nations develop. This is the key difference for Chinese firms in Central Asia versus European ones: for the European ones it is merely another distant market, for Chinese ones, it is a market next door that is important to develop if the policy to develop Xinjiang is to be achieved.

This is also why this story is something that is important for policymakers in Beijing. Unless something is done to improve China’s image in Central Asia, then the overall strategy of developing Xinjiang’s links with its border regions will be undermined.

What is needed is a clearer strategic approach to China’s engagement with Central Asia. China cannot solely rely on Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summits and a slow economic policy that spreads out from Xinjiang. This approach is already causing some friction on the ground and this will only get worse. If China wants to establish a cooperative economic relationship with its Central Asian neighbours, then some efforts need to be made into establishing how to help these economies develop and not simply focus on extracting national benefit from them.

This is not an easy path to take, and Beijing’s new policymakers have an already crowded plate. But unless some effort is taken to forge an actual policy towards Central Asia, China will find its regional development strategy with Xinjiang falling down too. And this would be something that would have a hugely negative effect on any grander strategy to develop the country and help it move beyond the growing economic stagnation.