Skip to main content

Global update

Beijing is on manoeuvres in Putin’s back yard

Xi Jinping meeting former Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev in 2019. Madoka Ikegami-Pool/Getty

China isn’t just challenging America for global dominance, say Bradley Jardine and Edward Lemon in Al Jazeera – it’s also seeking to “gradually displace” Russia in central Asia. Last month, Xi Jinping hosted a lavish ceremony inaugurating “China + C5”, a new diplomatic body consisting of Beijing and the five central Asian states of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. In the 1990s, Russia accounted for 80% of the trade of those five nations, all formerly part of the USSR. Now China is the largest economic actor: it has over $70bn invested in the region and is owed about half of both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan’s external debt.

Beijing has been making deft political moves too. The former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev and several Russian nationalists have recently cast doubt on the legitimacy of Kazakhstan as a state. China, in contrast with this “neocolonial” rhetoric, has made pointed statements about Kazakhstan’s territorial integrity and the importance of “ethnic harmony”. And while Russia has had to withdraw thousands of troops from its central Asian military bases to redeploy to Ukraine, China has been “quietly building a network of military facilities along the Tajik-Afghan border”. For the region, China is fast becoming the “partner of choice”.