Archive for the ‘South China Morning Post’ Category

A new piece for the South China Morning Post, this one a short op-ed with Alex drawing on ideas to emerge from our Uzbekistan visit. Very interesting to see the degree to which Korea is a visible presence there, quite in contrast to any other power. At the same time, China is clearly a player, but to a lesser degree – more on this distinction in the near future. As ever for more of our work on this subject, please go to the site I help manage: http://www.chinaincentralasia.com. The picture I have included below is one from our trip taken by the lovely Sue Anne Tay.

Uzbekistan courts China on its own terms

May 26, 2012

The Uzbek-Korean air and truck port outside Navoiy.

Among the many items festooning souvenir shops in the Silk Road city of Bukhara are a set of stamps commemorating Uzbekistan’s 15th anniversary of independence. Pride of place alongside President Islam Karimov on these stamps is not a prominent Uzbek, but, rather, the then president of South Korea, Roh Moo-hyun. For Uzbekistan, a close embrace with Korea is a good balancer against a dominant China.

Uzbekistan is in search of a post-Soviet model for development. Initially an eager partner of the West in the wake of the September 11 attacks, it fell out of favour following a hardline government response to violence in the city of Andijan in 2005. This led the nation to look to the Asia-Pacific as a model or partner. But this has not simply meant closer ties with China.

Uzbekistan chose to court Beijing on its own terms. Cognisant of the utility of China as a balancer against Russia, Karimov has been more active in the Chinese-instigated Shanghai Co-operation Organisation than the Russian-led alternatives in the region. But, at the same time, the Uzbek government tries to limit the import of Chinese consumer goods. High tariffs generally keep foreign products out, but Chinese ones are informally targeted, according to those active in trade with China.Analysts say the government has learned a lesson from Kyrgyzstan, where the economy is now almost entirely dependent on Chinese trade; Tajikistan, which is increasingly reliant on Chinese development; and Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, which are increasingly dependent on China as an energy consumer. Unlike these poor or natural-resource-heavy economies, Uzbekistan prides itself on being an industrial hub.

In contrast, Uzbekistan has embraced a close relationship with South Korea. With strong ethnic links on the ground through a residual Soviet Korean population, Karimov has welcomed Korean investment. It has been far more comforting for Uzbekistan to welcome medium-sized South Korea, a manufacturing nation that has made the shift from authoritarian government to controlled free-market economy.

To what degree has this policy worked? Can Uzbekistan successfully keep the Chinese behemoth at bay? China clearly has a footprint in the country, but has so far bided its time. As Uzbekistan gradually edges its economy forwards, it may find that increasingly the scope of China’s presence will be determined in Beijing and Guangzhou.

Another short op-ed for the South China Morning Post (with Alex Petersen, co-editor of this other site), this time looking at Sino-Turkish relations in the wake of Erdogan’s recent visit, focusing particularly on how Central Asia figures between them. One of the most interesting things about this whole visit was Erdogan’s stop in Xinjiang which was quite a turn-around from his comments back during the riots of 2009. More on this subject coming soon. Unfortunately, this is again behind a firewall, but I have asked editors for permission to republish and will update duly. (UPDATE, have added full text after SCMP approval).

China and Turkey Reprise the Silk Road

Raffaello Pantucci and Alexandros Petersen see China and Turkey forming a new Eurasian axis

 NEW EURASIAN AXIS

Apr 23, 2012

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent visit to Urumqi, Xinjiang, was a dramatic turnaround for a leader who just over two years ago had characterised the Chinese response to riots in the same city as “simply put, a genocide”. Now he has shifted his pose, reaffirming “the one-China policy” and speaking in Shanghai of the “cultural similarities” between the two countries. Engendered by an increasingly eastern-facing Turkish posture, this shift highlights a Eurasian axis that invites closer attention.

As two developing countries with good manufacturing capacity and large labour forces, China and Turkey were long able to grow independently of one another. Both were export-driven economies, but they did not directly compete for markets.

Where they did meet on the international stage, there was often tension. This was bound up with Erdogan’s tendency to favour the Uygur side of China’s ethnic quagmire in Xinjiang.

But times change. Earlier this year, Chinese leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping stopped off in Turkey, and now Erdogan has become the first Turkish head of state to visit China in 27 years. Behind this is a recognition that trade between the two nations is picking up, and, increasingly, their global interests align.

Both are uncharacteristically active in diplomacy in the current Iranian and Syrian stand-offs. But more interesting is China’s eagerness to encourage Turkish investment in Xinjiang – very surprising given Erdogan’s previous statements.

A main rationale behind this shift is recognition of the complementary roles the two powers play in Central Asia. Economic development, and the political stability it produces, is one of China’s main goals in the region. This is seen as essential to ensuring future tranquility in Xinjiang. Turkey contributes to that, with aid and educational programmes to Central Asia.

Chinese state-owned enterprises are busy constructing the components of a so-called Eurasian Land Bridge across the region, an East-West network of road, rail and other trade infrastructure. Turkish trucking, construction companies and traders in the region will be some of the first to reap its benefits.

Perhaps at some point, Chinese and Turkish interests will end up awkwardly rubbing up against each other, but, for the moment, the two fastest growing economies in Eurasia are reprising their historical roles as the two ends of the fabled Silk Road.

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. Their joint research is available at www.chinaincentralasia.com

 

Veering away from my recent spate of terrorism related articles, a new op-ed for the South China Morning Post, a newspaper I have written for before on China-Central Asia with the same co-author, my friend Li Lifan. This uses the recent Russian election as a spring-board for some analysis of China’s relations with Russia and Central Asia. This is a topic I am going to be doing a bunch of writing on in the next few weeks. Unfortunately, however, SCMP operate a firewall, so I cannot simply post this here, though I will ask my editorial contacts. In the meantime, feel free to write if you have any questions. (UPDATE, per SCMP’s approval, I have now reposted it all here).

Contest over Central Asia between allies

Li Lifan and Raffaello Pantucci say China and Russia are both adept strategists

Mar 20, 2012

Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in Russia was predictably controversial in Europe and America. In Beijing, the official read-out provided by Xinhua highlighted a positive conversation, with President Hu Jintao stating with “confidence that Putin’s new presidential term would see faster progress in building a stronger and richer nation”. That statement affirmed the importance of the Sino-Russian axis as a pole in international relations. Putin, the quintessential Russian chess master, has a very clear sense of where Russia’s future must lie, and needs Beijing onside if he wants to carry this out.

The Sino-Russian relationship has had its ups and downs. As Putin put it recently, “there are some sources of friction”. The joint Chinese-Russian veto last month of a UN resolution on Syria attracted attention. But, beyond this, tensions persist as Russia proves implacable in discussions over energy pricing, and tries to develop a “Eurasian Union” to counter China’s successful inroads into Central Asia. The resultant price increase is detrimental to Chinese interests and delays economic integration under the auspices of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO).

But these contradictions are perfectly adapted for both the Chinese and Russian political system, where shadow chess games are seen as the antidote to erratic Western policy strategies. Rather than make dramatic shifts and pronouncements, both sides forge long-term alliances of convenience, focusing on their mutual interests, where possible, while recognising unresolved tensions remain.

This malleable alliance is something that both countries will need in the next few years, as problems over Iran’s nuclear programme come to a head and the US withdraws from Afghanistan, leaving potential chaos in both China and Russia’s backyard. Neither China nor Russia have any interest in seeing the Iranian situation escalate.

In Afghanistan, neither is interested in seeing the nation fall back into chaos, but they will be relieved to see a reduced American military footprint in their immediate neighbourhood. Figuring out how to manage the situation post 2014, the deadline for US withdrawal, will probably require a joint effort, which Russia and China have started to explore within the SCO format. The security drills to be held in Tajikistan in June will showcase the grouping’s capacity to address threats regionally and help improve co-ordination ahead of the American withdrawal.

Domestically, the abutting regions of Xinjiang and Siberia are their respective nations’ most underdeveloped regions and will require close attention from Beijing and Moscow. Xinjiang is a cauldron of ethnic tensions that China is trying to calm with economic development, while Russia’s east is a largely empty space that gets ever more depopulated as its youth go west to Moscow and Europe.

Establishing better prospects and opportunity there will help stabilise the administration of both nations, and better economic co-operation and regional stability are key to long-term development. Of course, underlying this is a competition for resources and markets in Central Asia, with unresolved energy pricing issues and the Russian fear of mass Chinese immigration colouring debates.

But these are known tensions, and carefully managing them is something that leaders on both sides recognise as important.

The two are each other’s biggest allies in the United Nations Security Council and are members of the new BRICS club. As such, they see a close alignment on international issues. At the same time, regionally, they see elements of peer competition.

Striking a balance is the essence of realist international relations. The result is a considered game of chess between a Chinese leadership used to deliberative policymaking and a newly minted Russian leader who has long shown his capacity for an unemotional approach to international relations.

Li Lifan is a senior fellow and Raffaello Pantucci is a visiting scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences

 

Another op-ed for the South China Morning Post, this time written in conjunction with my friend Lifan Li who has been immensely helpful during my time in China. The article is timed to be pegged to the 10th anniversary of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and it is highly likely that this topic in general, China and Central Asia, is going to be a big focus in the near future. It is a fascinating subject that I have looked at before and did my post-graduate work on. At this point, unfortunately, the article is behind the SCMP’s paywall, but if you drop me a note I can probably help out.

Cosying Up

China’s holistic approach in Central Asia is gradually paying off. Ten years after its founding, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is helping Beijing advance its cause peacefully.

Lifan Li and Raffaello Pantucci

June 15, 2011

Ten years on and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) remains a work in progress. It has achieved much in its short life, but its hesitation in resolving unrest in Kyrgyzstan last year and its ongoing inability to contribute much to improve stability in neighbouring Afghanistan have shown the limits of its power. All of these raises questions about the grouping’s aims and hopes for the next decade.

China is increasingly becoming a force in Central Asia, a predominantly Russo-Turkic region. On the ground, it is still possible to find expressions of tension towards China, but, nevertheless, growing numbers of Central Asian families are electing to send their children to China to study. From Kazakhstan alone, there are some 1,600 students now in Chinese universities; Shanghai has 800 students from Kazakhstan. Meanwhile, numbers electing to go to the West are shrinking.

Find the rest here.

An op-ed for a new outlet the South China Morning Post, this time exploring the Sino-Pak relationship. A fascinating topic that I have touched upon before within the context of Afghanistan, but I think would be worth a close exploration in its own right at some point. It is behind a firewall so I cannot simply repost it here, but to those who are interested you can get a free subscription to the site in a few clicks. Alternatively, drop me a line and I can see about getting you the text. In the meantime, a flavour:
The West should take care not to push the two long-term allies ever closer
Raffaello Pantucci
May 31, 2011
As relations between the US and Pakistan came underincreasing strain following the killing of Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil, Pakistani President Yousaf Raza Gilani visited Beijing. There, Premier Wen Jiabao lavished praise upon Pakistan’s counterterrorism efforts, handed over 50 fighter jets, and told Gilani “no matter what changes might take place in the international landscape, China and Pakistan will remain forever good neighbours, good friends, good partners and good brothers”.