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.
China is financing the construction of Kyrgyzstan’s first major oil refinery, and excitement is building in Bishkek that the facility could enable the Central Asian nation to break Russia’s fuel-supply monopoly. At the same time, some observers express concern that the project may stoke local resentment, or become enmeshed in political infighting.
China may have been able to carve out quickly a large economic role for itself in Central Asia, but it will take a lot more than money for Beijing to solve some of its geopolitical dilemmas in the region, according to a report released today by the Brussels-based think tank International Crisis Group.