Published in Feature Articles

 A Steadily Tightening Embrace: China’s Ascent in Central Asia and the Caucasus

By: Ariel Cohen, Ph.D.

In the thirty years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation has sought to reassert its regional dominance over its neighbors through both direct confrontation and soft power. Despite the country’s progress with consolidating its sphere of influence, which includes the January 2022 CSTO deployment in Kazakhstan, Moscow’s goal of regional hegemony is far from assured. The rise of China, radical trans-national Islam, the potential spill-over of Taliban ascendancy in Afghanistan, and maturing of post-Soviet nation-states present roadblocks to Russian ambitions. Moscow must carefully manage its interactions with Beijing, keep Turkey, Islamism and Taliban in check, and respect nationhood in the Caucasus and Central Asia. It is a tall order.

Since the dissolution of the USSR and the birth of the modern-day Russian Federation, Russia has gone to great lengths to reassert its post-imperial influence in the now independent post-Soviet Republics of Central Asia and the Southern Caucasus. The years immediately following the collapse of the Soviet system were defined by ethnic conflicts in Abkhazia, Chechnya, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, and Tajikistan, with Russian leadership seeking to play the role of either suppressor, mediator, or agitator – whichever suited its interests – to become the region’s hegemon, at times in the guise of the guarantor of stability and security.

Published in Feature Articles

 A Steadily Tightening Embrace: China’s Ascent in Central Asia and the Caucasus

By: Raffaello Pantucci

Chinese engagement with Central Asia and the Caucasus has been on a steady ascent.China accords considerably more importance to Central Asia than to the Caucasus, and theabsolutely central aspect of Chinese engagement is Xinjiang. Still, the economic push intoCentral Asia has continued, in spite of a slowdown in investment lately. Among outsidepowers, Russia is the only power that Beijing considers a genuine competitor, and even then that relationship is seen through the lens of cooperation at the larger, strategic level. China does faces challenges in Central Asia: one is the refocusing by various militant groups that now treat China as an adversary. Another is the risk that Beijing may inadvertently clash with Moscow’s interests in the region.

Over the past 30 years, the Japanese approach to Central Asia has been to secure the Japanese presence in the region by offering Central Asian nations an additional option of an international partner among traditional choices, such as Russia, and, in most recent history, China. The schemes offered to facilitate engagement between Japan and Central Asia were vibrant and diverse, reflecting the changing realities of the Central Asian region and the changing role and perception of the “self” in Japan. As is well documented in previous studies, the search for engagement schemes started with the 1996 Obuchi mission to Azerbaijan and Central Asia, spearheaded by the Member of Parliament and later Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, which produced a strong endorsement of wider engagement of Japan in the region. It resulted in P.M. Ryutaro Hashimoto’s 1997 Eurasian/Silk Road Diplomacy speech, in which the concept of the Silk Road was first used as a geopolitical concept, embracing Central Asian states, China, Russia and Japan in an imagined net of interdependence. While the administrations of P.M. Obuchi (1998-1999) and P.M. Yoshirō Mori (1999-2000) did not proactively engage with the Central Asia region, it was P.M. Junichiro Koizumi’s administration (2001-2006) that aimed to aggressively shake up the Japanese approach to this region by announcing the Central Asia + Japan Dialogue Forum, a set of annual inter-ministerial and high-level talks to support Central Asian regional integration and to facilitate a larger corporate presence for Japanese corporate interests, in the face of growing Chinese and Russian pressures.
Published in Feature Articles

 

Japan as no “other”: Decolonizing Alternative for Central Asia?

By: Timur Dadabaev

 Japan has been one of the first and most consistent partners of Central Asian (Central Asia) states in supporting their nation-building and regionalism. It was also the first country to propose the concept of the Silk Road to build interconnectedness and open partnerships for regional states. In this sense, the Japanese presence in the Central Asia region represents an engagement for diversifying and decolonizing Central Asia states’ relations with international partners. While Japan has been active through its ODA policy in the region, recent years demonstrate how Japan attempts to reconceptualize its engagement in Central Asia by promoting international partnerships with the EU to utilize mutual strengths to dynamize the EU and the Japanese presence in Central Asia. Through regional and bilateral connections, Japan is attempting to empower these regional states while also changing its own approaches to international cooperation.

Over the past 30 years, the Japanese approach to Central Asia has been to secure the Japanese presence in the region by offering Central Asian nations an additional option of an international partner among traditional choices, such as Russia, and, in most recent history, China. The schemes offered to facilitate engagement between Japan and Central Asia were vibrant and diverse, reflecting the changing realities of the Central Asian region and the changing role and perception of the “self” in Japan. As is well documented in previous studies, the search for engagement schemes started with the 1996 Obuchi mission to Azerbaijan and Central Asia, spearheaded by the Member of Parliament and later Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, which produced a strong endorsement of wider engagement of Japan in the region. It resulted in P.M. Ryutaro Hashimoto’s 1997 Eurasian/Silk Road Diplomacy speech, in which the concept of the Silk Road was first used as a geopolitical concept, embracing Central Asian states, China, Russia and Japan in an imagined net of interdependence. While the administrations of P.M. Obuchi (1998-1999) and P.M. Yoshirō Mori (1999-2000) did not proactively engage with the Central Asia region, it was P.M. Junichiro Koizumi’s administration (2001-2006) that aimed to aggressively shake up the Japanese approach to this region by announcing the Central Asia + Japan Dialogue Forum, a set of annual inter-ministerial and high-level talks to support Central Asian regional integration and to facilitate a larger corporate presence for Japanese corporate interests, in the face of growing Chinese and Russian pressures.

 

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Published in Feature Articles

 

Tokayev’s Reforms: An Evolutionary Model of Change?

By: Svante E. Cornell and Albert Barro

 Much ink has been spilled in recent decades on the failures of democratization in the Middle East and Central Asia. Indeed, for over a decade and a half, Freedom House and other democracy watchdogs have been documenting a clear regression of dem-ocratic development. This has happened not only in countries considered in “transition”, but also in established democracies, where authoritarian tendencies have, unexpectedly, returned.

The Middle East and Central Asia have proven particularly resistant to democratic development. The resilience of authoritarian systems of govern-ment in these regions caused considerable frustra-tion, which switched to great excitement when popular revolutions against corrupt and dysfunc-tional government took place between 2003 and 2011. The wave of revolutions began in Georgia, followed by Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, upheavals quickly dubbed “color revolutions.” These were followed several years later by the 2011 “Arab spring”, which similarly generated great hope that democracy had finally come to the Middle East.

Except it did not work out that way. The color revolutions and Arab upheavals must now be termed a failure, as no country that experienced these upheavals has progressed in a sustainable way toward democracy. Some, like Libya, Syria and Yemen have descended into civil war. Others, like Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, experienced recur-rent political crises while continuing to be mired in corruption. For some time, Georgia and Tunisia appeared to go against the grain, and make sus-tained progress – but in recent years, those two have also backtracked. All in all, it seems clear that revolution is not a sustainable model to change entrenched authoritarian habits.

 

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Staff Publications

Op-ed Mamuka Tsereteli & James Jay Carafano, The West Can't Forget What Russia Did To Georgia, 19FortyFive, August 6, 2021. 

Op-ed S. Frederick Starr & Michael Doran, To Avert Disaster in Afghanistan, Look to Central Asia, Wall Street Journal, July 11, 2021.

Op-ed S. Frederick Starr & Eldor Aripov, Can Afghanistan Be Part of An Integrated Central Asia? The National Interest, July 9, 2021.

Op-ed Mamuka Tsereteli and James Jay Carafano, Tsereteli & Carafano: Putin threatens Ukraine – here's the danger and what US, allies should do about it, Fox News, April 13, 2021.

Op-ed S. Enders Wimbish, US withdrawal from Afghanistan spells dangerous geopolitical realignments, The Hill, April 2, 2021.  

Silk Road Paper Svante E. Cornell and S. Frederick Starr, Kazakhstan's Role in International Mediation under First President Nursultan Nazarbayev, November 2020.

Analysis Svante E. Cornell, How Did Armenia So Badly Miscalculate Its War with Azerbaijan? The National Interest, November 14, 2020.

Op-ed Svante E. Cornell, Halting the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan: Russian Peacekeeping is not the Solution Washington Times, October 20, 2020.

Analysis Svante E. Cornell, Can America Stop a Wider War between Armenia and Azerbaijan? The National Interest, October 5, 2020.

Article S. Frederick Starr, America Inches Toward a Serious Central Asia Strategy AFPC Defense Dossier, June 3, 2020.

Silk Road Paper Farrukh Irnazarov and Roman Vakulchuk, Discovering Opportunities in the Pandemic? Four Economic Response Scenarios for Central Asia, July 2020.  

 Book S. Frederick Starr, Eldar Ismailov, Nazim Muzaffarli, Basic Principles for the Rehabilitation of Azerbaijan’s Post-Conflict Territories, 2010.

Can Afghanistan Be Part of An Integrated Central Asia?

The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.

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