Posts Tagged ‘xinjiang’

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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A new piece for Jamestown’s Militant Leadership Monitor that unfortunately lives behind a paywall so I cannot simply post it here. However, they did send it out with their daily email update about the journal, so drop me a note if you are interested and I can try to forward you that. A very difficult piece to pull together given lack of data and confusion over who is who. I would also like to thank Jake for taking the time to read a draft and giving me some thoughts, he also pointed out that apparently local analysts have stated that Yakuf was also known as Abdul Shakoor Turkistani – something that confuses matters a great deal. It is also odd to note how there has been no mention of any of these losses in the spate of recent TIP publications (that can be found at the excellent Jihadology)

A Post-Mortem Analysis of Turkestani Emir Emeti Yakuf: A Death that Sparked More Questions than Answers

Publication: Militant Leadership Monitor
Volume: 3 Issue: 10
October 31, 2012 06:04 PM Age: 1 hrs

Emeti Yakuf (Ministry of Public Security, People’s Republic of China)

In late August, a series of drone strikes in Northern Waziristan were reported to have killed a number of jihadist leaders. Most media attention focused on the possible demise of Badruddin Haqqani, son of the fabled mujahedeen leader, with conflicting reports about whether he had died or not. Almost as an afterthought, some of the stories highlighted that the strikes were believed to have also killed Emeti Yakuf, the current leader of the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) (Dawn, August 24). This overshadowed death reflected the generally low profile that TIP is often given amongst jihadist groups, and highlighted once again the difficulties in obtaining information about the mysterious China-focused terrorist organization.

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Been unable to access this for a while, so catching up a bit on posting. This is a new one for an outlet I am quite pleased with, the Financial Times Beyond Brics blog. Looks at the 2nd China Eurasia Expo that I went to out in Urumqi, Xinjiang. More on that to come as part of my ongoing China in Central Asia work.

Xinjiang: Struggle to Revive Silk Road

September 4, 2012 10:41 am by beyondbrics

Picture from here

By Raffaello Pantucci

What do  you do about attracting investment if you are a remote corner of China, best-known internationally for your ethnic tensions?

If you are Xinjiang, you invest heavily in a blockbuster economic exhibition. Urumqi is this week hosting its second annual China-Eurasia Expo, opened this year by premier Wen Jiabao, a clear upgrade from last year’s star host, vice premier Li Keqiang.

Leaders and/or ministers from seven countries flew in, giving credence to Wen’s claim that the Expo aimed ‘to build a new bridge of friendship and cooperation across the Eurasian continent…and make Xinjiang a gateway.’ But it’s along way from prime ministerial declarations to the investment that Xinjiang badly needs.

The ‘China-Eurasia Expo’ with its cheery mascot – the animated horse Xinxin – is an evolution from the more cumbersomely named ‘Urumqi Foreign Economic Relations and Trade Fair’ that was held annually since September 1992. Upgraded to a more grandiose Expo as part of a raft of policies to try to help the province economically in the wake of brutal rioting in Urumqi in 2009 that claimed more than 200 lives, the event is part of a push to help build the region’s foreign trade links.

From outside China, Volkswagen has invested some €170m ($225m) into building a new production plant outside Urumqi. Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn told reporters in January that they had been approached by Beijing to develop the plant in the region alongside their local partner SAIC.

The plan is for the plant to start production in 2015 with a target output of 50,000 cars a year.

VW joins a growing list of Chinese vehicle companies that have established plants in the region. The hope for VW is to reach the growing central Asian markets as well as the domestic Xinjiang market: in Urumqi alone the numbers of cars on the road doubled from 2009 to 2011 from 200,000 to 400,000.

According to Chinese customs figures, cross-border trade in vehicles with central Asia stood at $680m in 2011 – though over 80 per cent of this was in heavy trucks.

China is also eagerly courting Turkish investment – showcased at the Expo by the appearance of economic minister Ali Babacan. Turkey’s cultural proximity to the restive Uighur Turkic minority (the languages are mutually comprehensible) has led China to encourage Turkish investment in the hope it will be seen in a less suspicious light by locals who resent the Han Chinese presence in the province.

Key to this is the establishment of a Turkish-Chinese Industrial Park in Urumqi, which was first agreed in April 2011 between Turkish and Xinjiang trade officials. Located just south of Urumqi and offering low tax rates and financial support to encourage development, the park aims to attract Turkish textiles and food producers. Babacan said in his presentation that Turkey wanted to contribute to regional development and that he hoped to see a ‘new Silk Road from Istanbul to Beijing.’

Beijing’s aim is not just to draw in investors, but also to tie Xinjiang into a broader region through a network of roads, rail links and Special Economic Zones (SEZs) aimed at increasing the volume of trade between the province and central Asia.

Established in Kashgar and Khorogos (a border post with Kazakhstan) the uncompleted SEZs are key nodes in a recently-built network of roads and rail radiating out from Kashgar to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and from Urumqi north to Kazakhstan.

Xinjiang recorded 10.7 per cent economic growth in the first half of 2012, 2.9 percentage points higher than the national growth rate, according to local officials. But it’s moving from a low base, in terms of income and investment levels.

There are limits to Expo’s ability to attract foreign investment. According to official figures $29.14bn of domestic investment was attracted through last year’s show, compared to only $5.5bn from abroad.

As well its domestic challenges, Xinjiang is hampered by the shortcomings of the generally underdeveloped countries in the surrounding region. Central Asian economies are remote and still farily poor,  while Afghanistan and Pakistan suffer from violence and instability.

Official figures for the first six months of 2012 show that Xinjiang’s foreign trade stood at $9.82 bn ($7.29 bn in exports and $2.53bn in imports), a year-on-year increase of 9.2 per cent. That was better than the national average of 7.8 per cent, but the growth rate was substantially slower than last year’s 33 per cent for the whole of 2011.

About 78 per cent of this trade was with the five central Asian countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) – meaning Xinjiang is reliant on trade growth with a region replete with serious problems. Something the fanfare of an international Expo is unlikely to change.

Raffaello Pantucci, is a visiting scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS)

 

A short letter from the road for a new outlet, the excellent Indian magazine Caravan that I have only recently discovered. Written with Alex, it is part of our work on China in Central Asia, though focused rather more heavily on the Chinese side of the border. A lot more of this to come, including a few longer pieces that will take a bit longer to get out. The picture is courtesy the lovely Miss Tay.

Letters from: Xinjiang

Borderlands

Along the road to China’s closest strategic partner

by Raffaello Pantucci and Alexandros Petersen | Published September 1, 2012

A Kyrgyz guide takes his horse for a drink in Lake Karakul, roughly halfway between Kashgar, in the Chinese autonomous region of Xinjiang, and the Pakistan border. By Sue Anne Tay

On paper, the Karakoram Highway stretches from Kashgar in China’s far western province of Xinjiang to Islamabad. In reality, it unfolds like a ribbon across China’s westernmost border before its tarmac comes to an abrupt halt at the Khunjerab Pass on Pakistan’s border – the highest spot on the world’s highest paved international highway. China scholars often point out that domestic concerns colour Beijing’s foreign relations, but the multifarious stops and diverse communities along the Karakoram reveal that China’s domestic concerns are anything but uniform.

Our journey starts in Ürümqi, a grubby metropolis of more than 2.3 million people that looks like many other second- or third-tier Chinese cities. Large boulevards cluttered with imposing buildings are filled with frenetic construction as the city rushes to erect more shopping malls to appease insatiable local consumers. As the capital of an autonomous region which is China’s largest political subdivision, and home to a substantial portion of China’s natural wealth, it is also a draw for poor fortune-seekers from neighbouring provinces. A taxi driver from the adjacent province of Gansu boasted how opportunities in Ürümqi are plentiful, with girlfriends to match—one for each day of the week.

The driver who picked us up in Kashgar, about 1,000 km south of Ürümqi, had a very different story to tell. A local Uyghur who had developed a substantial business in the region, he complained instead about the ineptitude of the local police as he pointed to the visibly heavy security around the airport. Kashgar distinguishes itself as majority Uyghur—the Turkic ethnic group that claims to be the original inhabitants of the territory that is Xinjiang. Traditional Uyghur culture and history is perceivable at every turn. The Id Kah Mosque, the largest in China, sits on the edge of what is left of Kashgar’s old town, a warren of mud-brick houses reminiscent of Kabul or the dusty trading centres of Central Asia.

But the Han presence in the city is becoming increasingly visible. In the wake of violent clashes between Han and Uyghur that claimed more than 200 lives in 2009, the government in Beijing called for a reordering of its strategy towards the underdeveloped region. Part of this was the designation of Kashgar as a Special Economic Zone in May 2010, and the command that more prosperous provinces in China aid in developing Xinjiang. Shanghai, for example, is responsible for four areas within Kashgar Prefecture. But the most visible aspect of this partnership can be found on the first part of the Karakoram Highway on the way out of Kashgar. Immense construction sites with names of Guangzhou (formerly Canton) companies fill either side of the road with large billboards advertising the modern wonders to come. One high-class establishment advertises a luxury experience complete with an English butler service. Another artful rendering of a shopping mecca under construction was surrounded by a list of the famous Western brands soon to be on offer.

Our Uyghur driver was a younger chap still trying to find his way in the world, preoccupied with the demographic shift likely to come with the construction. According to his figures, some 600,000 Han were expected to flood in, overwhelming the Uyghur population and changing the face of Kashgar. The reality of such numbers is impossible to confirm, but watching carts pulled by donkeys hauling farmers and their wares to and from the city in front of these billboards, there is a sense of the rapid, monumental change underway. For Han moving out here to escape poverty in China’s interior or the crowded southern provinces, this change represents a new beginning. For our Uyghur driver, it is an ominous symbol of cultural erasure.

According to Chinese officials, the end goal of this construction is far less menacing than it seems. The current policy, they say, is directed at connecting one of China’s less developed regions to the country’s regional neighbours—the hope being that trade will bring prosperity and soothe some of the tensions so often on display between the various communities in the province. This means revitalising Kashgar’s historical role as a key trade hub on the old Silk Road, 35 years after the Karakoram Highway opened up a direct route to Pakistan.

As we continued along the highway, the presence of China’s regional neighbours became more visible. Opal, a small hamlet about 60 km southwest of Kashgar, is a dusty crossroads with fruit-sellers and donkey carts whose main claim to celebrity is the mausoleum of Mahmud al-Kashgari, the Turkic languages’ own Samuel Johnson. Born in Kashgar in 1005 AD, al-Kashgari studied in Baghdad and drew up not only the first Turkic dictionary, but also the first known map of the areas inhabited by Turkic peoples. Today he rests down a beaten track off Opal’s main thoroughfare. His statue stands in front of a weather-beaten museum. The grim-faced Uyghur guard looked up from her knitting to tell us not to take pictures as we enjoyed its limited pleasures. Al-Kashgari’s mausoleum is a whitewashed 1980s renovation watching over a vast mud cemetery with the Kunlun Mountains barely visible in the distance veiled by a sudden dust storm.

Along the side of the road leaving Opal, set apart from the desolate landscape of scrub and red-clay mountains and near one of the occasional open-pit mines that reveal the natural wealth of the province, a group of coal miners watched as one of them packed up to leave. Their faces were haggard and stained with soot. One burly Qinghai-native complained about the bad working conditions as a Yunnanese family gathered their belongings for a bus ride to Kashgar and then on to Ürümqi, where they hoped better times awaited them. Our Uyghur driver, too, had thoughts of leaving. He had been trying to find a way to move to Turkey, he told us, where he hoped that the chance of a common ethnicity would help open doors for him.

About halfway between Kashgar and the Pakistan border, we came across Lake Karakul. On its banks, a hut owned by local Kyrgyz herders provided some refuge from the howling wind. Our driver had heard stories that the Kyrgyz in this area were known to have helped authorities find a group of wanted Uyghurs who sought to cross the mountainous borders that surround the lake.

Further down the road in Tashkurgan, he told us a similar story about the local Tajik community, highlighting how tense relations can be between the various ethnic groups in this part of China. On the Chinese side nearer the country’s border with Tajikistan, this Persian-Tajik community speaks a different language to their ethnic brethren across the border.

Our driver became tenser the closer we got to the border regions. The area is very ethnically diverse, and the languages used are neither Mandarin nor his native Uyghur. Security is also a more visible concern, with regular army posts visibly stamping Beijing’s dominance. The notably empty town Karasu marks the Chinese side of the Kulma Pass, the way into Tajikistan. A brand-new customs post sits awaiting business with plastic still covering most of the furniture inside the building.

At Daptar, our driver was hesitant to stop. Another Pamir village, it is home to the last civilian inhabitants on the Chinese side of the Afghan border. Off in the distance, a ‘V’ in the mountains denotes where the Wakhan Corridor runs into Afghanistan. Locals were clearly on high alert given their location and the road that leads to the border with Afghanistan is a poor brother to the spotless and new Karakoram Highway. Here the highway is festooned with cameras, tracking the progress of all non-military vehicles. In the vicinity and visible from the road, large stone writing on the sides of hills instructs in Mandarin, “Protect the border; protect the country; protect the people.”

The Chinese side of the Karakoram Highway comes to an abrupt halt at the Khunjerab Pass, at the top of a hillock, leading to a more dilapidated path on the Pakistani side. White markers define the border and an imposing arch emblazoned with the Communist Party of China symbol straddles the road. On a previous visit there, a gaggle of Chinese domestic tourists eagerly took photographs of one another. One middle-aged woman decided she wanted to explore Pakistan for herself. An agitated young private from Hubei in distant central China whom we had been chatting with frantically ordered her back. But she waved him off with “mei guanxi (no worries)”, eager to explore for herself. Having noted disappointedly that the Pakistani guards were not leaving their hut that day, she returned to Chinese soil.

The locals tell stories of those who try to cross the border permanently, how they often lose their way in the snow amongst isolated peaks. At more than 4,000 metres, the border itself seems more porous than it likely is. Long empty valleys lead to rugged, snow-capped mountains with no clear fence to demarcate one side from the other. Recently, there has been a spike in Chinese concerns about security across the border, something reflected in our Uyghur driver’s attitude as we got closer. He became quieter and more visibly tense, only really calming down when we got back to Tashkurgan and sat down to dinner. Back here at a strategic peak in the middle of a valley leading to Pakistan, it was easier to objectively consider our journey along the Karakoram Highway, through the patchwork of peoples along the route binding two close allies together. The nations it brings together may be ‘higher than the mountains’ but for those living in the valleys, the differences remain strong.

A new post over at China in Central Asia, the site I am managing as part of my large long-term project looking at Chinese influence and interest in Central Asia. This time about a part of Tajikistan where trouble has recently erupted which we visited earlier this year. More on this topic as our project progresses, including some more about our impressions of the security situation there.

Chinese Traces in Gorno-Badakhshan

by Raffaello Pantucci

Lenin greets visitors to Murghab, Gorno-Badakhshan, Tajikistan

Attention has been focused in Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan region this week, as a government operation in retaliation for the murder of a Major General Abdullo Nazarov, a senior intelligence official, has been launched in the region’s Pamir Mountains. While the regional capital Khorog has apparently now re-opened for business, it seems as though hostilities continue in the mountains.

Earlier this year, we made a trip to this part of Tajikistan, on our way through to the Kulma Pass, Tajikistan’s border post with China. Closed to anyone but Chinese or Tajik passport holders, we instead went right up to the border on either side, driving from Kashgar to Tashkurgan, pausing at Kara Suu to see the brand new border post that has been built on the Chinese side of the Kulma Pass and sat empty waiting for business. It was a crystal clear day, with the border post and army base next to it seemingly abandoned. From what we could see on the Tajik side, nothing was stirring.

Once we got over to the Tajik side a couple of weeks later, it was a largely similar experience but with worse roads. Having made a two-day trip from Dushanbe with an overnight in Khorog, we got to the village of Murghab and asked our baffled host to drive us straight out to the border. With a shrug he fired up his jeep, got his son moving and off we went. The bumpy road across the moonscape had seen better days. According to our driver, the road had been built by a Turkish firm with Aga Khan money years earlier, and while there are stories that the Chinese are meant to be rebuilding it, there was little evidence of this on display.

On the Tajik side, there were numerous other markers of Chinese presence. We found at least two Chinese-Tajik truck stops, and scattered amongst the rocks were smashed bottles of Wusu beer (a Xinjiang specialty). A place we stopped for lunch had 食堂 (canteen) written on the side of the building and an aid convoy apparently going deeper into the Pamirs was made up of half a dozen large white trucks with white Chinese writing emblazoned across them. Most impressive of all was a Chinese tomb that we found outside Bash Gumbaz – a small village in between Khorog and Murghab. According to all the guide books, this ‘marked the high tide of Chinese influence on the Pamir’ – and after much research I have been able to find very little much more information out about it than this. The Kyrgyz farmer who took the time the take us out to the site enjoyed himself on the way back telling us about how there were Kyrgyz all over the Wakhan and how they had bravely fought the Chinese off centuries before.

Back in Khorog we wandered around the region’s capital, staring across the river that separates the city from Afghanistan. The same river acts as a border for much of the Tajik-Afghan border and during the high summer months it is apparently largely dried up, making it easy to cross from one country to the other. When one pairs this with the rather limited security we saw – occasional teams of three young conscripts trudging along with AK-47s slung on their backs – it is easy to see why this is not considered a particularly tight border and how easy it would be to transit drugs from Afghanistan into Tajikistan in the area. This also helps provide a bit of explanation as to why Chinese investment in the roads in the area has been slow. For China, the unstable region is also not likely to provide a huge market for products (Gorno-Badakhshan has a population of about 200,000, the whole country about 7.5 million), and does not provide a road link to anywhere particularly useful. Instead, Chinese- built roads go to the north through Kyrgyzstan from Kashgar, bringing them right into a road network that goes to Russia, Uzbekistan and beyond that Europe.

A new piece for a new outlet, The Diplomat which is an excellent magazine and site that covers Asia-Pacific affairs. This one focuses on China-Pakistan relations, a fascinating subject that plays quite a bit into considerations on the other subject I have been looking at in some detail, China-Afghanistan. I also want to use this opportunity to highlight some media stuff I have done. I did an interview for Voice of America ahead of the SCO Summit and what it means for SCO involvement in Afghanistan, as well as an interview for the Christian Science Monitor on China-Afghanistan.

Break Up Time for Pakistan, China?

Chinese and Pakistani officials often talk in lofty terms about the proximity of their relationship. “Higher than mountains, deeper than oceans, sweeter than honey, stronger than steel and dearer than eyesight” is the official characterization, and Chinese or Pakistani researchers will often say how they are welcomed like brothers when they visit their respective countries.

A story last week in the Pakistani press, however, seemed to belie this, stating that Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi had declined to move a meeting with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to Karachi, forcing the president to rapidly reschedule his trip to be in Islamabad to meet with Yang. Whatever the accuracy of this specific story, there has been a noticeable tenseness in relations between Beijing and Islamabad, indicating that things may not be as rosy as they are sometimes portrayed.

At an official level, it seems clear that both sides are eager to maintain a visible proximity. In the wake ofZardari’s visit to India earlier this year, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told the press that it was “our best friend China….[who] advised us to promote trade relations with India.” And from a Chinese perspective, during a visit last December on behalf of President Hu Jintao during a ceremony to mark 60 years of “China-Pakistan Friendship” State Councilor Dai Bingguo declared: “It is believed that happiness, when shared by two, will be doubles, suffering, when shared by two, will be halved…[Pakistan is] an iron core” friend of China.

Yang added to this recently when he stated: “the China-Pakistan strategic partnership of cooperation, marked by all-weather friendship and all-round cooperation, has become an example for harmonious coexistence and friendly cooperation.”

But beneath the rhetoric, there have been a number of divergences from the official line. Back in August of last year, after an incident in Kashgar in which six people were killed, the local government issued a statement in which they said that an “initial probe” indicated that the leader of the plot had been trained in Pakistan. This was seemingly confirmed a month later when the Turkestan Islamic Movement (TIP) released a video showing the alleged leader, Memtieli Tiliwaldi, training at a camp they claimed was in Waziristan.

A subsequent investigation cleared Pakistan of responsibility, but the impression of Chinese concern over its South Asian neighbor was emphasized again when in early March, Xinjiang Chairman Nur Bekri highlighted the “countless” links between terrorists in the province and “neighboring country” Pakistan. This came after more than a dozen people were killed in another stabbing spree in Yecheng County, just south of Kashgar. And then in April, the Public Security Ministry released a wanted notice for six individuals who it referred to as having links to “a South Asian” country and being members of “East Turkestan groups.”

While the statements from the Xinjiang government likely reflected anger at a local level in the province, the statement from a central government ministry was a different thing, showing that this concern was something that extended beyond Xinjiang security officials. Xinjiang’s proximity to Pakistan and its restive Uighur Muslim population make it a prime candidate for links to extremists in Pakistan – stories in the Chinese press about the Yecheng incident emphasized the cities’ proximity to Pakistan – but usually the central government is wary of pointing fingers directly at Pakistan.

But beyond Xinjiang, we have also seen a retraction from Pakistan of Chinese official business interests. Back in September last year, Chinese coal mining company Kingho withdrew from bidding for a development in Thar, Pakistan. What was most striking was that when the firm talked to the press subsequent to the decision, the Wall Street Journal reported a company official openly stating that it was a result of the negative security situation.

Then, in March, the state owned Chinese bank ICBC withdrew its support from financing a gas pipeline from Iran to Pakistan. It did not specify why. And while China recently announced that it would buy out all other stakeholders in ownership of the Gwadar Port, it’s still unclear when the port is going to gain tractions. Completed in 2007 with largely Chinese funding, the port is advertised as a sign of Sino-Pakistan friendship, but languishes unused as other regional ports are moving to overtake it as potential seaports for Central Asia’s rich resources.

All of which paints a very different picture of the public face that China and Pakistan like to project about their friendship and alliance. Both governments clearly want to keep up good appearances.  It is, however, increasingly clear that there is a high level of concern in China about Pakistan. In Xinjiang in particular they seem to have lost patience at Pakistani capacity to contain Uighur extremists travelling to train in Pakistan and then coming back.

Pakistan, for its part, is clearly aware of these problems. In the wake of incidents last year, Zardari visited Urumqi for the first China-Eurasia Expo. Preceding him was ISI head Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha who visited Beijing, presumably to discuss, amongst other things, problems in Xinjiang.

Whether this kind of contact will be enough, though, is unclear. Beijing may be Pakistan’s best friend, but even best friends can eventually lose their patience with each other.

Raffaello Pantucci is a visiting scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

Another piece building on my growing body of China-Central Asia work, this time for a new outlet The Commentator, but alongside my usual co-author Alex. For a more concentrated look at my work on this topic, please check out the other site I co-edit: http://www.chinaincentralasia.com

China and Turkey Revive Silk Road

By Alexandros Petersen and Raffaello Pantucci

on 22 May 2012 at 9am

The implications of the burgeoning Sino-Turkic relationship in Central Asia remain unexplored. Washington must act to guarantee everyone’s strategic objectives in the region

URUMQI, WESTERN CHINA – The leaders of the world’s fastest growing economies in Eurasia met in Beijing last month. Prime Minister Erdogan’s visit to China, coming soon after president-in-waiting Xi Jinping’s visit to Turkey might have heralded a new dawn of Sino-Turkic relations on the old Silk Road: in Central Asia.

This could be an opportunity for the United States to enlist these two dynamic economies to contribute to stability in the region once Western forces have withdrawn from Afghanistan. It could also emerge as an alternative to U.S. influence in the region. Much depends on how Washington approaches the revived relationship.

The mere fact that the visit took place in such a positive light is surprising in itself. It is just over two years ago thatErdogan used the word ‘genocide’ in comments about civil unrest here in Urumqi. Now, his first stop in China wasUrumqi. China and Turkey are now talking about cooperation at a variety of levels, from nuclear cooperation and other ‘new’ energies, increasing trade links, infrastructure projects, military cooperation and even Turkish assistance in helping develop Xinjiang. And beyond their borders, they discussed current events in Syria – in which both are playing a prominent diplomatic role – while also exploring what potential might exist for future cooperation in Central Asia.

Turkish businessmen have long had commercial links in Xinjiang due to a somewhat mutually intelligible language and the remnants of a so-called Pan-Turkism that Ankara pushed throughout Central Asia in the wake of the Cold War. These links have not extended to the rest of China. A massive trade gap exists between the two countries, with 2.5 billion USD of Turkish goods sold in China last year, compared with 21.6 billion USD of Chinese goods sold in Turkey.

In Central Asia, however, both Turkish and Chinese goods can be found at the markets. People are grateful for the cheap Chinese products, but are often willing to pay a premium for more specialized Turkish products. Wander around downtown Bishkek and you will find Turkish real-estate developers on every corner, but drive around Kyrgyzstan and you will find roads being built by Chinese state owned enterprises.

This parallelism extends into education, where Turkey has invested in large universities that offer scholarships for local students and an education focused on improving Turkic links. China has taken a more modest approach, offering language classes through Confucius Institutes that provide a labour force that can work as management for Chinese firms investing in the region and improve communication amongst the border traders going either way.

But neither power is seen as the dominant big brother in the region. Russian remains the lingua franca and visa free travel around the CIS means young Central Asians are more likely to work in Russia than elsewhere. American interests in Afghanistan mean that Washington’s focus is laser-like on security questions in the region, and Europe’s ambitious plans for engaging with the region have fallen foul of more pressing priorities. All three suffer from economies beset by domestic problems, and Central Asia is increasingly getting demoted in importance. China and Turkey, enjoying impressive growth, have clearly expressed an interest in growing their regional footprints.

As a NATO member, Turkey has served as a key provider of aid to Afghanistan, and China has investments in copper mines and natural gas fields. Their economic heft in Central Asia, in markets and with governments, could also become an important force-multiplier for U.S. efforts to facilitate a “New Silk Road” across Eurasia and through Afghanistan to provide development potential and contribute to long-term stability.

In discussions with policymakers and analysts in China and Turkey, a common refrain we have heard is that long-term stability is paramount for the growth of both countries’ investments in the region – a strategic interest they share with Washington. The U.S. State Department and CENTCOM would do well to coordinate the New Silk Road strategy with Beijing’s very similar Eurasian Land Bridge project and Turkey’s trans-continental trade networks across the Caspian.

At the moment, however, U.S. policymakers’ understandable fixation on troop withdrawals means the longer-term implications of the burgeoning Sino-Turkic relationship in Central Asia are unexplored. If the United States and its allies work in a vacuum separate from Chinese and Turkish activities, these implications could form a platform for an even more Western-sceptic sentiment than exists in the region at the moment.

Washington has already done some work to engage with both powers in the region, but more focused attention on this would help guarantee that everyone’s strategic objectives of a secure and stable region are ensured.

Alexandros Petersen is author of The World Island: Eurasian Geopolitics and the Fate of the West. Raffaello Pantucci is a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. Their joint research is available at: www.chinaincentralasia.com