Shifting geopolitics in Central Asia

The roles of China, Russia, India, and Turkey

President Xi Jinping's September 2013 tour of Central Asia highlighted the growing strategic importance of this region. Media reports of President Xi signing deals worth almost US$100 billion with four Central Asian states indicate that the overall volume of Chinese trade and investment will increase substantially in the years to come; and this on top of a one hundred-fold increase in trade between China and Central Asia in the two decades since the break-up of the Soviet Union.

The evolving relationship between China and Central Asia prompts a number of questions about the shifting balance of power in this region. Is China’s engagement driven primarily by its economic development needs or more by security concerns, specifically the impact that instability in Central Asia may have on China’s north-western region of Xinjiang. And where does this leave the traditional regional hegemon, Russia, which has dominated security management in Central Asia? How will Moscow respond if Beijing shifts gear from primarily an economic to a more proactive political and even security role?

There are other reasons too for the changing geopolitical dynamics in Central Asia: NATO's withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 looms over the region as a whole; the European Union seeks to establish itself as a more significant actor; and several other states aspire to play a larger role in Central Asia, including India, Turkey, and Iran.

To help shed light on these questions, Saferworld has published a series of papers focusing on four of these actors: China, Russia, India, and Turkey. In each case, we consider their changing role in Central Asia and the various interests – economic, security, geostrategic – that drive their engagement. The four papers written by different authors are based on a mix of primary and secondary research. They are also informed by inputs and debates at a conference organised by Saferworld and the Universities of Exeter and Newcastle at Chatham House in September 2013.

These papers lay the ground for more in-depth research that will examine the implications of shifting geopolitics for conflict management in Central Asia. Saferworld will conduct field research over the coming months in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and China. The aim is to support conflict prevention in Central Asia by informing policy debates and outcomes. It is part of a broader project on conflict management in Central Asia funded by the Economic & Social Research Council and implemented by Saferworld in collaboration with Exeter and Newcastle universities.

Read more about Saferworld's work on Rising Powers.

Find out more about our work in Central Asia.

“The evolving roles of China, Russia and other key players will have a profound bearing on peace and stability in Central Asia.”

Ivan Campbell