Caught between two big powers? Central Asia under the weight of Russian and Chinese Influence
In 1991, the Soviet Union’s collapse reshaped the East/West problematic as it had emerged after World War II. Inside Soviet space, a number of cultural elements distinguished the five states of Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) from the rest of the former Russian empire, namely their shared cultural, linguistic and religious traits with the Middle East. In the beginning of the 1990s these traits were perceived by many observers to be indicators that Central Asia would “rightfully” return to its allegedly natural space, that of Islam. However, after twenty five years of independence Central Asia’s purported “return” to the Muslim world must be relativized. In the domains of politics, geopolitics, economics and culture, the continuance of a Russo-Soviet framework of thought, remains rather striking. Moreover, in two decades since independence, Beijing has become one of the Central Asian countries main partners. It positions itself as the second most influential external actor in the region, surpassing Russia in economic terms.
This presentation will address the evolution of the Russian and Chinese influence in Central Asian states, and the numerous questions it raises. How can Central Asian governments conduct an independent and balanced foreign policy in light of the weight of their two big neighbors, and the lack of interest and/or geographic distance of other Middle Eastern or Western potential partners? Moreover, have Beijing and Moscow succeeded so far in conducting in this region a concerted policy, or do we see a rivalry emerging between the two powers? Lastly, Russia’s recent foreign policy (annexation of the Crimea, politics in Ukraine), and the strong influence of China, raise growing concerns among the peoples of Central Asia, especially on the ability of their governments to withdraw from what some see as geopolitical shackles.
In this session, we are delighted to be joined by Professor Sebastien Peyrouse. Professor Peyrouse is a research professor at the Central Asia Program in the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies (George Washington University) and a senior fellow at the East West Institute. His main areas of expertise are political systems in Central Asia, economic and social issues, Islam and religious minorities, and Central Asia’s geopolitical positioning toward China, India and South Asia.
Where and when?
11am-1230pm, Friday 7 July
Majlis sessions in 2017 takes place on the first Friday of each month at 11am, and are held at the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies (CAIS) at the ANU.
We welcome suggestions for topics that are of interest to participants. If you would like to suggest a topic, speaker, or make a presentation yourself, please contact us.