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Thursday, June 1, 2023

Russian Absence From Central Asia-China Summit Points to CCP’s Regional Ambitions

The Central Asia-China Summit closed in China on May 19 but Vladimir Putin was not invited, with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) deliberately sidelining Russia, an important regional power.

The CCP hosted the five Central Asian countries in Xi’an, the starting point of the Silk Road, with a luxurious feast in the Tang Palace.

Invited to the summit where Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart K. Tokayev, Kyrgyzstan’s President Sadyr Japarov, Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon, Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, and Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev where they received an extravagant welcome.

U.S.-based current affairs commentator Shi Shan told The Epoch Times on May 22 that the CCP highly valued this summit due to its importance to Beijing’s national security strategy.

“First of all, it is the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative. Xi’an is the starting point of the historic Silk Road on land. It is the closest land route from China to Europe,” Shi said.

“Secondly, western China, Xinjiang in particular, is the soft spot for the Chinese regime’s national security.

“The Central Asian countries and Xinjiang’s ethnic minorities are historically linked. They share the same religion, speak similar languages, and are all ethnic Turkic people. The stability of Xinjiang cannot be achieved without the cooperation of Central Asian countries.”

‘Friendship Without Limits’

Putin and CCP leader Xi Jinping declared in Beijing on Feb. 4 last year, three weeks before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, that Russia and China had a “friendship without limits.”

Epoch Times Photo
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks to China’s President Xi Jinping during the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) leaders’ summit in Samarkand on Sept. 16, 2022. (Sergei Bobylov/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)

However, it remains highly questionable whether there has ever been any real friendship between the two countries.

In the 1920s, the CCP introduced communism to China from the Soviet Union, which it referred to as “Big Brother.” However, in the 1950s, Mao Zedong, unwilling to be controlled by the Soviets, had a fallout with Khrushchev, the then-head of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

For centuries, China and Russia have been competing for control of Central Asia.

Before the 17th century, Central Asia had been home to the powerful Timurid Empire and the Uzbek Khanate, and in the late 17th century, as the agrarians gained the upper hand over the nomads, Central Asia was invaded by neighboring countries Persia, Tsarist Russia, and the Manchurian Qing Dynasty that ruled over China. After decades of warfare, Tsarist Russia eventually conquered most of Central Asia.

Soviet Union Disintegrates

As the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the five Central Asian countries declared independence. However, for some time afterward, the five Central Asian states continued to rely on Russia economically and militarily, with treaties of friendship and national defense being signed.

As China increased its economic power, Beijing launched its Belt and Road initiative in 2013, a step toward deepening economic influence to expand the CCP’s political ambitions in Central Asia and Europe.

Meanwhile, as Russia’s economic power deteriorated, it had little chance of resisting the CCP’s Belt and Road initiative.

In the past decade, China has completed massive infrastructure projects in Central Asia, from oil pipelines to railways, while becoming a major trading partner with the region’s countries.

After Russia invaded Ukraine, trade between China and Central Asian countries surpassed a record high of $70 billion in 2022. In the first quarter of this year, the trade volume increased by another 22 percent compared to the same period last year. Russia, on the other hand, had its economy depleted by the economic sanctions.

“Instead of being a challenge to the G-7 summit, the Central Asia-China summit was more of a power struggle between China and Russia,” Shi said.

“This time, the CCP did not invite Russia to the summit, diminishing Russia’s influence. I believe the CCP deliberately chose this point in time because Russia is now in unprecedented isolation, and its economic power has shrunk significantly.”

Russia’s economy contracted by 2.1 percent in 2022 in the face of sanctions imposed. In the spring of 2022, inflation accelerated to over 2 percent weekly in Russia, with the ruble falling 60 percent against the dollar.

Battle for Dominance

In his address to the Central Asia-China Summit on May 18, Xi said his country could help improve the region’s law enforcement, security, and defense capabilities.

Xi claimed that Central Asia has the conditions and the abilities to become the hub of Eurasia and said that its sovereignty, security, independence, and territorial integrity must be respected. This statement appeared to be a jab at the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Epoch Times Photo
Chinese leader Xi Jinping applauds during the joint press conference of the China-Central Asia Summit in Xian, in China’s northern Shaanxi Province on May 19, 2023. (Florence Lo/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

In the past few years, the CCP kept a low profile as it deployed its military in Central Asia. In 2018, a Tajik official told the press that China signed a secret agreement with Tajikistan in 2015 or 2016 to refurbish up to 30-40 posts on the Tajik side of the border with Afghanistan. Chinese border guards have replaced Tajik guards in large areas along the Tajik-Afghan border.

In 2022, Tajikistan agreed to allow Chinese security forces to conduct regular counterterrorism exercises on its territory. Tajikistan also held bilateral military drills with China three times since 2015.

“The CCP is encroaching on Russia’s influence in Central Asia, and the Central Asia-China summit is just the beginning,” Shi said. “Russia is unlikely to give up its dominance easily since Russia has also considered China as its greatest geopolitical competitor.”

While China competes to gain the upper hand in Central Asia against Russia, at the G-7 summit held in Hiroshima, Japan at the same time, leaders from seven countries, including the United States, issued a joint statement calling on China to urge Russia to stop its military aggression and vowing to oppose all types of economic coercion.

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