Posts Tagged ‘Uzbekistan’

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.

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This is going to become a more regular outlet for my writing. As part of my ongoing work on China in Central Asia, I am going to be producing more content directly for the site that I help co-edit, China in Central Asia with Alex and Sue Anne. Thanks in particular to dear Sue Anne for working on this one with me. This first piece is based on an experience a week or so ago in Tashkent at a curious Expo that we came across there.

A Xinjiang Trade Fair in Tashkent

May 17, 2012

By Raffaello and Sue Anne Tay

Last week, we have been visiting Tashkent, Uzbekistan as part of our ongoing research on Chinese interests in Central Asia.

Fortunately, on the flight here from Beijing, one of us had the good fortune to be seated amidst a boisterous group of 40 Xinjiang businessmen part of a provincial business delegation attending a trade fair in Tashkent. They had been forced to fly through Beijing from Urumqi – a geographically illogical route – due to the fact that there are no direct flights between Tashkent and Urumqi.

At their invitation, we visited the trade fair earlier this week. Held in an old exhibition hall in the outskirts of Tashkent it was a no-frills affair with basic booths lined up four by four. In its fourth year, the Xinjiang Trade Expo was sponsored by the Uzbek Chamber of Commerce, the Xinjiang government, and the bingtuan (the former People’s Liberation Army (PLA)-managed state owned enterprise (SOE) responsible for much of Xinjiang’s industries).

On the Chinese side, the participants were a mix of Xinjiang companies specializing in locally produced goods like Xinjiang snacks of dabanji (the famous big plate chicken), mushrooms, culinary sauces, an array of Uighur style clothing (and some fancily called ‘Turky style’ clothing) and more generic industries like uniforms/garment manufacturing and electronic equipment.

Other key participants were Xinjiang subsidiaries of holdings companies based in Guangzhou as part of the central government’s push for increased domestic investment in China’s less-developed hinterlands. One manager highlighted that they had started this work in the province at the Guangdong provincial government’s request. They were offering potential Uzbek customers property investment opportunities in Kashgar in southern Xinjiang, Chinese electrical gadgets like smartphones and Ipad-knockoffs tailored to the Uighur market (appropriately labeled with an Android character donning a Uighur hat), lightning equipment, police and factory uniforms. Many of the samples on display were manufactured in southern China and shipped to and assembled in Xinjiang.

With the pomp of the opening ceremony behind them, the reception at the Xinjiang Trade Fair when we went was lackluster to say the least. A thin traffic of Uzbek passers-by browsed with fleeting curiosity at what they considered well made but expensive Chinese products.

“The Uzbek market is too small and low-income compared to the vast opportunities we have in Xinjiang,” a uniforms manufacturer salesman named Tan Chao complained. Two locally dressed older Uzbek women stopped by to finger the bright Gortex jackets and browse a catalogue. A listless conversation in stilted Russian began with no conclusive business made.

Like Tan Chao, many of the Xinjiang businessmen were bored by the lack of opportunities offered in the trade fair. When we spoke to a pair of salesmen from an agricultural machinery manufacturer subsidiary of AVIC (the Chinese military aviation SOE), they acknowledged their presence seemed almost futile. Neither spoke Russian nor were there any serious potential clients for the cotton-picking machines they were peddling (Uzbekistan is one of the global top five cotton-producers). They responded to inquirers by waving a sheet with the prices of their equipment carelessly scribbled. Amusingly, curious onlookers seemed more interested in purchasing the model on display rather than the actual machinery.

A manager of a Xinjiang-based electricity infrastructure developer (with affiliation to Siemens) named Liu Zhao was one of the more enthusiastic and serious participants. His company had specially shipped in a landscape model of an electricity grid made up of parts manufactured by their company. Liu spoke fluent Russian thanks to 2 years of study in Almaty, Kazakhstan and extensive experience travelling to the region for work.

Several businessmen we spoke to, including Liu, acknowledged the difficulties of doing business in Uzbekistan. The government welcomed investment but not competition with local industries. Hence, the options for Chinese businesses in Uzbekistan are in the form of trade of specialized Chinese goods to the Uzbek market, attracting Uzbek investment to China and vice versa.

The limited convertibility of the Uzbek currency – 1800 Uzbek som to 1 USD (at the official rate, we were told the unofficial rate was as high as 2800 som to the USD) – was another obstacle. It is prohibited to take earned foreign currency out of the country, meaning you cannot leave with more forex than you arrived. Thus, foreign companies are either compelled to reinvest domestically any Uzbek som profits or absorb foreign exchange losses made via the official foreign exchange centre.

Hence, the dilemma facing Duan Weiming, a Chinese producer of Western suits who had just made a modest sale of several tens of thousands in Uzbek som. He jokingly showed off his cash bundles to his friends. What is he going to do with all the cash he made? We inquired.

“Why, spend it all on dinner, drinks and karaoke!” he boomed smilingly in response. Maybe to go enjoy his new fortune, the group packed up early at four o’clock. With another day at the Xinjiang Trade Fair, the Chinese businessmen were determined to make the best of what remained a slow affair.

Another interview for Free Rad!cals this time with my old friend Guido Steinberg, the most reliable authority on jihad in Germany. I believe that he is developing a book on this topic, and has worked on a lot of the cases built against the jihadi network in Germany.

Terror in Germany: An interview with Guido Steinberg

Given the shootings at Frankfurt airport by Arid Uka, and a series of arrests and convictions recently, it seems as though jihad in Germany is continuing to be a thorn in the side that is not going away. Last week I asked Ces to comment on events in Russia. This week, I have reached out to Dr. Guido Steinberg of the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) in Berlin, the most prominent expert on the topic of radicalisation in Germany, to give us some thoughts on the current state of jihad in Germany.

RP: Can you give us an overview of the current state of Islamism and Jihadi ideology in Germany at the moment? What sort of numbers are we talking about?

GS: The number of German jihadists has risen substantially since 2005/2006. Before then, Germany used to be more of a safe haven and logistics base for al-Qaeda and other organisations. Today, it has become a target and German citizens of different backgrounds have joined different organisations including al-Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Islamic Jihad Union.

Germany is under threat today because these organisations aim at perpetrating attacks on German soil in order to force the German government to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. At the same time, al-Qaeda and its allies now have the necessary recruits who have been trained in Pakistan and know Germany well.

According to official information, about 220 persons from Germany are on their way to, are currently in, or have recently been to jihadist training camps. Of these, 110 are back in Germany and 10 are in jail. In more concrete terms, there are currently more than 50 Germans in Pakistan. This is a substantial increase from previous years and the jihadist scene in Germany still seems to be growing.

RP: The recent case of Arid Uka and the shootings in Frankfurt is particularly disturbing- do you think this is the beginning of a trend?

GS: There has been a trend towards independent action in Germany just like in other European countries since 2005. At that time, most independent jihadists in Germany radicalised because of the Danish cartoon crisis. For instance, there have been the so-called suitcase bombers, two students from Lebanon who planted bombs in suitcases on two regional trains in Western Germany in July 2006. The bombs did not detonate because of a technical error. It might be that the trend towards independent action will gain traction as it has all over Europe and in the US in 2010. However, as of yet, there are no clear indications regarding this in Germany.

RP: What brought about the creation of the German Taliban Mujahedeen in Waziristan? Not many other European or Western communities have similar organisations out there.

GS: The German Taliban Mujahedeen has been more of a propaganda tool than an organisation. It seems as if it was founded by the IJU in 2009 after an increasing number of Germans arrived in its headquarters in Mir Ali, North Waziristan. Together with a Turkish-Azerbaijani group called Taifetul Mansura they formed a kind of jihadist international brigade. However, the organisation never consisted of more than a dozen fighters and after the death of its founding emir, Ahmet Manavbasi, the group disintegrated. Some were killed with him, some joined the IJU, and others returned to Germany. Its remnants today seem to consist of a small group of young men from Berlin.

RP: From the Hamburg Cell to the Sauerland Group and Arid Uka. Why has jihadism found such a rich soil to grow in Germany?

GS: The members of the Hamburg cell were in their majority Arab students who had only arrived in Germany during the 1990s and had not struck deep roots here. Therefore, I think that the history of a distinct German scene only began with the Sauerland group. It began when an increasing number of ethnic Turks and Kurds were radicalised. The Sauerland group was part of a wider network, which was predominantly Turkish. As it seems, it took the Turks longer than most Arabs to get attracted by jihadist thought. When that happened, Germany was affected because it is home to some 2 million ethnic Kurds and at least 500.000 ethnic Kurds from Turkey – the biggest Turkish diaspora community worldwide. Once the first Turks had joined, the German jihadist scene expanded rapidly. This to me seems to be the result of an internationalisation processes affecting the jihadist scene worldwide. However, the German example seems to be especially striking.

RP: Are there any particular trends in Germany that particularly worry you in the short to medium term?

GS: The most worrying trend is the growth of the salafist scene in Germany. Some years ago, there were only two or three prominent preachers. Today, there are dozens. Official estimates count some 4000-5000 salafists here. This is particularly worrying because all the German individuals who went to join al-Qaeda, IMU and IJU in Pakistan first attended salafist mosques. This is where they were radicalised and recruited. Visiting the al-Nur mosque in Berlin, the al-Quds mosque in Hamburg or the multicultural house in Neu-Ulm was the first step on their journey to jihad. The fact that the salafist scene is growing likely means that the number of sympathisers, potential supporters and active jihadists will grow as well. It is no coincidence that Germany-based salafist preachers also influenced Uka