Aside from a famously bland brand of diplomatic rhetoric, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization represents the only major Eurasian club that caters to both Russian and Chinese interests. Yet with Moscow and Beijing presenting visibly divergent visions for economic cooperation in Central Asia, it is unclear how those competing views can be reconciled.
China is striving to forge Central Asia into a streamlined conduit for its regional trade and energy ambitions. But Beijing is finding that domestic insecurity and fractious bilateral relations among the region’s five former-Soviet republics have created a web of obstacles.
With Westerners now leery of investing in Kyrgyzstan, it is perhaps inevitable that officials in Bishkek turn to China as they try to attract capital for infrastructure development. Beijing professes a desire to help Kyrgyzstan without setting conditions on assistance. Yet, as some Kyrgyz experts note, there are still sovereignty concerns connected to forging closer economic ties to China.
A $150-million-plus Chinese real estate and tourism deal that is slated for a suburb of Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, is creating a quandary for many Georgians. The project is feeding a long-standing desire for foreign investment, but it is also stoking wariness about foreign influence.
Last week, Turkmenistan’s president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, gathered regional leaders in his marble capital ostensibly to mark Navruz, the Persian New Year. But he seemed more interested in talking gas and transportation deals than jumping over any fires, as Zoroastrian tradition instructs.