TRANS Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 17. Nr.
Februar 2010

Sektion 1.5. Europe and Central Asia – More than Security and Energy? Defining an Emerging Partnership
Sektionsleiter | Section Chairs: Peter Felch (ARTilek, Vienna, Austria) | Gunther Neumann (Vienna, Austria)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

How will Chinese Policy to Russia and the Central Asian Republics
affect U.S. Policy

Bülent Ugrasiz (Dokuz Eylul University, Izmir, Turkey) [BIO]



I. Introduction

This study looks at the foundation of China’s policies to Russia and the Central Asia and also discusses that what factors will determine the China’s relationships with these countries and how they could affect U.S. global interests.

The tendency of Chinese policy has shifted from deterrence to expanding cooperation and trade. The capital cities of the two countries Beijing and Moscow reduced impressively political and military tension between their countries. China also enjoys friendly relations with newly independent states of Central Asia –Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan, Turmenistan, Uzbekistan. Russia and the Central Asian states are in a particular place to become major suppliers of energy resources for China’s growing economy. Russia also supplied China wide variety of advaced weapons through different arm sales. Russia and China have proclaimed recently a new strategic partnership. The aim of this partnership is to cause the emergence of a multipolar world system.

This study tries to find out prospecting answers to the following questions: Why China has improved its relatins with Russia and five republics of Central Asia after the fall of the Soviet Union? What might be the goals of China to these countries? How China’s relationships with these countries will evolve? How the development of China-Russia and China-Central Asian relations might affect global U.S. and European Union interests? Does China’s expanding role in Central Asia threat American and European Union goals in the region?  


II.  Foundation of Chinese Policy

There are mainly four considerations just to explain the foundation for China’s polices

toward Russia and the Central Asian countries after the collapse of Soviet Union. These considerations are as follows:

  1. China’s desire for stability especially at the border provinces.
  2. China’s desire to develop its specific regions.
  3. China’s growing energy needs.
  4. China’s concerns on its strategic environment in the post Cold War.

The warming of China-Russia relations began with the end of  the Cold War. Relations improved between two countries initiated by Gorbachev in his Vladivostok speech of 1986. There were three obstacles between China and Russia at that time. Gorbachev’s speech indicated the Soviets’ willingness to compromise on the three obstacles. These compromises were withdrawing Soviet troops from Afghanistan, withdrawing troops from Mongolia, and reducing support for Vietnam.

China and Soviet leaders reached agreement on 98 percent of their 7500 km common border in 1991(1). Since 1992, China has negotiated a series of military, political and economic agreements with Russia and the Central Asian Republics. Aims of these agreements were to reduce tensions around remaining border disputes and foster economic development on their common borders. The 1996 and 1997 Five Prty Military Agreements signed in Shanghai. These agreements are multilateral security agreements and involve China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan and Tacikistan. Officials of the both sides describe the 1996 agreement “non-aggression treaty.”(2)

Now, Chinese considerations are going to be explained as follows.


A.  Stability on the Border

Minimizing the potential instability along its borders is a fundamental goal of China’s policies toward the Soviet Union’s successor states. Securing stable borders with Russia and the Central Asian Republics addresses different concerns for Beijing. Russia represents a potential security threat in the conventional military sense. Russia remains a significant military power that can pose a realistic military threat. The Central Asian countries cannot threaten China in conventional military sense. But, Chinese leaders worried that transnational Islamic or ethnic Turkic forces operating out of the newly independent Central Asian states would encourage and support the separatist activities within Xinjiang. While most minority groups in the Xinjiang remain submissive to Beijing’s authority.

Xinjiang’s stability concerns Chinese leaders because of the region’s importance for China’s continued economic development and overall security. Xinjiang’s economic importance is as a domestic source of natural resources. The region’s prominent resource is oil. Chinese leaders consider Xinjiang’s oil resources to be vital to China’s future energy security(3).


B. Trade as a Tool for Stability

China’s policy toward the Soviet Union focused primarily on how to counter the Soviet military threat before the collapse of Soviet Union. Strengthening trade ties with Russia and Central Asia gained new prominence in China’s policy in the post Soviet period. Increasing trade along its Russian and Central Asian borders serves a number of interests for China. First, increasing trade broadens China-Russian and China-Central Asian relations beyond issues of security. Increased trade fosters greater economic opportunity and cooperation between countries. China Russian and China Central Asian relations will become more stable and each country plays a larger role in the economic development of the other.

Beijing believes increased trade will enhance stability within the potentially volatile countries of the Former Soviet Union countries. This goal is more relevant to China’s policy toward Central Asia. Unrest in Central Asia holds a much greater potential for affecting China’s own internal stability. Chinese leaders hope that increased economic interaction with Central Asia will strengthen the secular minded governments of the region.

As pointed out earlier, China Russian and China Central Asian trade is considered important to the economic development of bordering Chinese regions. China may receive goods of particular economic or strategic value through its trade with these countries. Russia’s arm sales to China are a example of this. Future Russian and Central Asian energy supplies to China fit into this category.

The volume of China’s trade with Russia and Central Asia is relatively insignificant compared with its trade with countries like Japan, the U.S. and South Korea. Russia’s trade with China represented only 2 % of China’s total trade and absorbs 1 % of China’s total export. China’s trade with the Central Asian states is less than half a percent of China’s total trade. Trade with Russia and Central Asia benefits a range of Chinese interests.


C.  China’s Energy Needs

Russia is an important oil supplier and gas resources in the international energy market. Provided they can develop pipeline routes to the outside world. A number of Central Asian countries will become suppliers of energy resources in the next years.

In contrast, China is increasingly reliant on energy imports because of its economic growth. China became net importer of oil in 1993. China’s demand for oil imports by the year 2000 at 1.3 million barrels a day. How China attempts to meet its shortfall?

Beijing commitments to multimillion dollar investments in Kazakh and Russian energy projects demonstrate its willingness to cooperate with Russia and Kazakhstan. Maintaining stable China-Russia and China-Central Asian relations takes on added importance for China(4).


D.  Strategic Place of China in the Post Cold War World

a.  Toward a Multipolar World

According to Chinese rhetoric, world politics are in transition from the Cold War bipolar system to a multipolar one.

Despite positive trends toward multipolar world system, Chinese analysts view the U.S.’ current position as the world’s preeminent economic, political and military power. This power is threatening to a wide range of China’s interests. In the post Cold War era there is no single group of states of sufficient strategic weight to counterbalance U.S. pressure. Following the Gulf War the U.S. was perceived in Beijing as an unprecedentedly strong position from which to impose a new world order based on American values including huıman rights, democracy and capitalism.”

Chinese analysts identified multipolarity as an important in international affairs at the mid 1980s. This trend was the product the declining relative power of and influence of the two superpowers and the emergence of economic power centers in Europe and Asia.          

A number of Chinese analysts recently concludede that the U.S. is the only true “pole” in the current international system. Japan, EU, Russia and China are the “big powers”. They are important particularly in their respective regions. Te United States’ power and influence in the international arena is declining relative to that of the developing world. However, it will be much more gradual decline the predicted in the early 1990s. Chinese writers speculate that the U.S. might reign as the world’s sole superpower for the next 30 years(5).

b.  Beijing’s Strategic Outlook

China is attempting to address the potential danger posed by the U.S. unipolar power

by developing a broad network of secure regional and global relationships. These relationships may not be able to offset the U.S. economic, military and political power, but they should be able to offer China alternative source of trade, technology, investment. In this context that the strategic aspects of China’s relationship with Russia and the states of Central Asia must be understood.

The China-Russian “strategic partnership” announced during the five nation summit meeting held in Shanghai in 1996. This partnership is the product of China and Russia’s mutual concerns with American global power and influence. Beijing hopes that its closer strategic relationship with Russia will prompt the U.S. to moderate its behaviour toward China. At the present time, the U.S. poses the greatest potential threat to Chinese international and domestic interests. Russia remains a major power because of its enormous geographic size, military technological capabilities. China’s relations with Russia are improving in the context of Chinese diplomatic efforts to improve relations with a number of countries. China also normalized relations wth South Korea, Singapore and Israel, reflecting Beijing’s recognition of the limits to Russia’s power. Russia alone no longer act as a balance to the U.S. in terms of national power. Chinese leaders are not interested in alienating the U.S. China needs American technology, investment and market access for its economic development.

Despite their negligible economic and military power, Central Asian states do have a role to play in China’s strategic outlook. Central Asia may emerge as an area of transit through which material can be moved between China and Europe and China and the Middle East(6)

c.  China’s Influence in Central Asia             

China’s geographic proximity, dynamic economy, and policy emphasis on promoting trade, China’s economic in Central Asia has expanded since 1991. With continued economic growth and expansion of transportation links, China’s influence will continue to expand.

Though the countries of Central Asia remain economically and politically oriented toward Moscow to varying degrees. Of course, this orientation is the product of Russia’s long domination of the region. However, with the decline of Russian power, the countries of Central Asia are slowly reorienting themselves. That’s why, China’s growing influence in Central Asia reflects this situation.    

China’s main policy priorities, involve avoiding instability in the region, securing access to energy resources, and expanding economic cooperation. Sustained economic growth will provide China with financial resources necessary to further expand its economic presence in the region.     

It is possible that China will develop a dominant economic and political role in some areas of Central Asia. Spheres of influence generally result from one country’s ability to economically dominate or coerce it through political or military pressure. For China to exert a dominant economic influence in individual Central Asian countries, there should be some criterion that must be fulfilled. These criteria, 1) it must meet vital economic needs of the particular country, 2) it cannot be substituted for by another country.

For the countries in the eastern portion of Central Asia, China represents a accessible market for exports. Central Asia is not easily accessible market for the countries of the developed world.

The smaller Central Asian countries on China’s border –Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan- are the candidates to move from Russia’s sphere of influence to China’s. This process was already be evident in Kyrgyzstan. In 1994, China was Kyrgyzstan’s largest export market and second largest source of imports. China also offers Kyrgyzstan road links to ocean ports in Pakistan by way of Karakorum highway. However, Kyrgyzstan also requires foreign capital to successfully complete its transition to a modern market based economic system.

 China’s economic relationship with Kazakhzstan will also grow. Kazakhstan is already China’s largest trading partner in Central Asia. Ethnic ties between Kazakhs in kazakhstan  and those in China should facilitate the further expansion of China- Kazakh trade. The opening of the Almaty-Urumqi rail line, China granting Kazakhstan access to its ocean port of Lianyunggang for trade. China’s recent large investment in western Kazakh oil fields further bolster China’s economic importance to Kazakhstan. Thus, China’s economic role in Kazakhstan extends beyond commercial trade. China has commited to significant investment for Kazakhstan’s energy industry and provides a non-Russian transport corridor through which Kazakhstan can ship its goods to world markets.

Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are not members of a Chinese sphere of influence. Both are geographically separated from China. Uzbekistan is Central Asia’s most populous nation, and possesses the most developed sense of national identity of the five Central Asian states. Uzbekistan holds its own ambitions to expand its influence in the region. That’s why it does not want to accept dominant Chinese role in Central Asia.

The limited Chinese influence in the western parts of Central Asia demonstrates that economic and political players in the region increases. Russia is still has a predominant influence in the region. Countries such as Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia are playing increasingly important roles in Central Asia’s economic, political and religious development. There is also the growing influence of developed nations such as the United States and the member nations of European Union. Insofar as Chin represents only one of a number of potential markets and sources of capital for the new Central Asian states, China’s ability to play a vital economic role throughout the entire region is limited. Although some countries will gravitate toward China, others will move closer to other nearby countries such as Iran or Turkey, and still others will remain closely tied to Russia or avoid close alignment with any outside power. At the present time, there is no need to bring military or political pressure in pursuit of its interests in Central Asia. Since 1991, China’s political influence in Central Asia remains modest. The current Central Asian governments have demonstrated a willingness to not to promote anti-Chinese activities on their soil.

Nationalism is a potentially explosive political force in Central Asia. The current boundaries of the Central Asian Republics are the product of Stalin’s desire in the 1920s and 1930s to maximize Soviet control over the region. As a result, many memberd of titular nationalities live outside their home republics. The example of this is the one million Uzbeks living in northern Tajikistan. The rise of nationalism as a political force will concern China in number of ways. China wishes to avoid the instability on its border that would almost accompany a challenge to an existing government in Central Asia by a more nationalistic one. Chinese leaders will be concern that a nationalist Central Asian government will serve as an example for Uighur separatists(7).


E.  Implications for United States Interests

The strategic aspect of Beijing’s relationship with Moscow is the product of mutual dissatisfaction with United States’ predominant position in the post Cold War. The improvement in China’s relationships with Russia and the Central Asian Republics in the 1990s is not function of Beijing’s hostility for the United States. Most of the economic, political and security considerations that imply China’s policies toward Russia and the five republics of Central Asia have little relation to its relationship with the United States. Many aspects of China’s relationship with Russia and the Central Asian Republics have no real impact on American interests. China’s “strategic partnership” with Russia is a diplomatic tool intended to impress upon the United States policies.

There are some clear limits to the benefits for China of closer strategic cooperation with Russia. Russia represents no longer military counterweight to US. United States still to allow China access to its technology, capital and export market and refrains from supporting Taiwanese independence.

China’s relationships with the Central Asian countries do not carry the same potential threat to the U.S. interests. China’s role in Central Asia actually in many ways complements U.S. policy goals for the region. China is also a force against Islamic radicalism and supports the establishment of stable, secular regional regimes. The expansion of oil routes from Central Asia through China is essential to the region’s economic development. China is one of a number of economic and political actors in the region. While China’s presence in the region is growing and important. China will not be able to negatively impact to U.S. interests(8).

 Between the United States and China over Central Asia serious conflict is possible if Chinese actions in the region begin to restrict international access to energy resources. China has not yet demonstrated of pursuing such a policy. Actually, the major oil bearing regions of Central Asia lie far from the Chinese border. Central Asia is in the interest of a number of countries that no single country dominates the region.

China’s policy toward Russia and Central Asia are components of a broad policy intended to gradually move the world toward a multipower international world order. China’s “strategic partnership” with Russia and growing influence in Central Asia are important indicators of China’s strategic view of the international world order and security in the post Cold War period. It means that China will continue to seek counterweights in the international world order to the United States’ overwhelming strategic, economic and political power.



1 James Clay Moltz, “Regional Tensions iRusso-Chinese Rapproachment,” Asian Survey,No.6, Vol. XXXXV, June 1995, p.517.
2 Agence France Presse, “Border Treaty With China is ‘Non-Aggression Pact’: Deputy Foreign Minister,” April 30, 1996 (downloaded from Lexis-Nexis).
3 The Economist, “A Bomb in Beijing,” March 15, 1997, p.37-38.
4 “Oil Drums Calling,” The Economist, February 7, 1998, p.6.
5 Boonie Glaser, China’s Security Perceptions:Interests and Ambitions,” Asian Survey, Vol.XXXIII, No.3, March 1993, p.253.
6 Stephan Blank, Why Russian Policy is Falling in Asia, U.S. Army War Colleage, Strategic Studies Institute, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, April 2, 1997, p.19.
7 Henry Kissinger, “Moscow and Beijing: A Declaration of Independenence,” Washington Post, May 14, 1997, Op.-Ed. P.15.
8 Graham Fuller, Central Asia: The Quest for Identity,” Current History, Vol.93, No.582, April 1994, p.145-149.

1.5. Europe and Central Asia – More than Security and Energy? Defining an Emerging Partnership

Sektionsgruppen | Section Groups | Groupes de sections

 Inhalt | Table of Contents | Contenu  17 Nr.

For quotation purposes:
Bülent Ugrasiz: How will Chinese Policy to Russia and the Central Asian Republics affect U.S. Policy - In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 17/2008. WWW:

Webmeister: Gerald Mach     last change: 2010-02-11