American and Chinese geo-economic interest in a New Great Game in Central Asia

Captain Arthur Conolly, a British officer of the Sixth Bengal Native Light Cavalry, coined the concept of the ‘Great Game’ in the 1830s. Later, the English writer Rudyard Kipling immortalized the concept in his 1901 novel Kim. In basic terms, the Great Game was simply a struggle for power, territorial control, and political dominance between the Russian and British Empires in Central Asia in the nineteenth century. This competition of manoeuvring and intrigue between the two empires came to an end in 1907, when both nations were forced to focus their resources on more serious threats. The British had to gear up and contain the rise of an assertive Germany in Europe, and the Russians were locked in a fierce struggle with the Japanese in Manchuria.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, China’s objective in Central Asia is not to engage in a game with other regional powers but to secure “regional states’ support in suppressing anti-Beijing Uighur nationalists,” and to pave the way for Chinese firms to invest in Central Asian energy resources. Central Asian states are endowed with oil and natural gas supplies, and China, as a rising economic power and the second largest consumer of energy, has a clear interest in increasing its presence in the region. China’s efforts to build roads and improve infrastructure and railways indicate the country’s growing involvement in Central Asia. As China’s relationship with Central Asian republics grow, “its relationship with major powers, namely the US and Russia, might suffer,” argues Kevin Sheives, a scholar on the region.

In order to satisfy the needs of its 1.4 billion people, China must search continuously for resources throughout the world. Chinese corporations and government-owned companies are involved in the economic affairs of the five republics of Central Asia: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, which possess abundant supplies of natural gas and oil. Given China’s security concerns and energy needs, its engagement with Central Asian states will dramatically expand over the long term. Central Asian states are also welcoming China’s increasing expansion as they try to break Russia’s monopoly over transport routes. Ever since the foundation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in 2001, China has been working to construct a new Silk Road to integrate Central Asia and the rest of the world with Xinjiang, an autonomous region in northwest China. The Middle Kingdom’s return to Central Asia is likely to reconfigure the geopolitics of the region—it is hoped for the better.

Full article: American and Chinese geo-economic interest in a New Great Game in Central Asia (The Times of Central Asia)

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