Participants, including Gulnara Karimova and Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping, at a conference on Chinese-Uzbekistan relations in Beijing. (photo: Center For Political Studies)
Given how prolific she is as a pop star, fashion designer, philanthropist and businesswoman, it's sometimes easy to forget that Gulnara Karimova is also a foreign policy expert. But Uzbekistan's first daughter is a diplomat, political science professor, and think tank head, as well, and it was in that capacity that she traveled to Beijing this week to speak at a conference, with an audience including the deputy Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs, on China-Uzbekistan relations. She called Uzbekistan-Chinese relations "strategic" but noted that they face "threats and challenges, according to a press release from her think tank, the Center for Political Studies.
Karimova noted the fact that today there is no doubting the strategic level of Uzbek-Chinese relations. These relations represent one of the systematic components of the structure of security in Central Asia. The cooperation of the two sides in the field of energy security can serve as confirmation of that. Uzbekistan carries out transit of natural gas from Turkmenistan and China, and after the construction of the third and possibly fourth branches of the gas pipeline between Central Asia and China can become one of the major gas suppliers to China.
Karimova paid special attention to the potential threats and challenges, which Uzbekistan and China will face in the near future. Among them, the great risk of Afghanistan turning into a component of Islamist expansionism coming from North Africa and the Middle East, geopolitical processes unfolding in the Asia-Pacific region, the persistent effect of the global financial-economic problems, clashes of different value systems...
When Tajikistan announced that it was sending troops to the Gorno Badakhshan region, the site of a controversial military operation last year, it was bound to raise some suspicion: Tensions are still high in the region, and mistrust of the government pronounced. But the controversy that has unfolded this time has been stranger than one would have expected.
Shortly after the troop movement was announced, the government was quick to point out that it was for a regularly scheduled exercise. Asia Plus reported on April 9:
“The Ministry of Defense is not going to carry out any military operation in Khorog and military convoys heading for Gorno Badakhshan are connected with the ongoing spring conscription campaign and the planned military exercises that will be conducted in Gorno Badakhshan in late May – early June,” said Faridoun Mahmadaliyev, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense (MoD). “Similar military exercises for servicemen of the power-wielding and law enforcement structures were finished in Khatlon province on March 29 and now such exercises will be conducted in Gorno Badakhshan and Sughd province.”
According to him, the GBAO population’s apprehensions regarding military convoys heading for Khorog are absolutely unfounded.
Then, when one opposition politician commented on the troop movement, he said -- or seemed to say -- that it was to quell unrest among the population over the fact that China was effectively stealing land on the Tajik side of the countries' mountainous, uninhabited border. The politician, Rahmatillo Zoirov, head of the Social-Democratic Party of Tajikistan made his comments to an Iranian newspaper, Sada-ye Khurasan:
Russian troops participating in the 2012 Peace Mission SCO exercises in Tajikistan
Over the last few years, two large multilateral security organizations that have emerged in Central Asia: the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), dominated by China, and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), dominated by Russia. For the most part, these two groups have looked past one another, staking out complementary, rather than competing, mandates, and including many of the same members (Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan all belong to both). But there is still under-the-surface competition between the two groups.
As the new International Crisis Group report, China's Central Asian Problem, notes, China's ambitious economic moves into Central Asia have not been matched by political or military efforts of the same scope. That's in part because the Russian influence in Central Asia's security structures remains so strong that China is reluctant to try to compete. The SCO, China's main tool for engaging in Central Asian security, has moved away from joint military training -- its 2012 exercise was the smallest since 2003 -- and more toward getting Central Asia to crack down on Uyghur exile groups. The CSTO, meanwhile, claims to be building up a joint military structure, including rapid reaction forces.
Russia is "increasingly distrustful" of the SCO, the ICG writes:
Last week, Open Democracy Russia ran a very good series of articles on relations between Russia and China. One was especially interesting for EurasiaNet readers, about choices that the Central Asian states are having to make between integration with Russia or China. The piece concentrates on the economic sphere, in which, as the authors convincingly argue, integration with the two big superpowers is becoming mutually exclusive.
Of course, Russia and China also have their respective Central Asia integration schemes in the security sphere: China has the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and Russia the Collective Security Treaty Organization. So I asked one of the piece's authors, Raffaello Pantucci, an expert on Chinese-Central Asian relations, about whether there was going to be a similar reckoning in that sphere. Short answer: no. His more detailed thoughts:
The Bug Pit: Is there a similar looming choice to make for the Central Asian states, whether they prioritize ties with the SCO (dominated by China) or CSTO (dominated by Russia)?
A second hostage crisis in a week has amplified concerns about ethnic tensions in southern Kyrgyzstan.
Police in Osh Province say a fight between locals and Chinese workers in the village of Kurshab on January 8 left dozens injured. The brawl reportedly started when Chinese workers, possibly intoxicated, accused a local resident of stealing a mobile phone. A fight ensued and the Chinese reportedly took a group of Kyrgyzstanis hostage. Some reports say local police were among the 28 injured in the fracas. All Chinese from the district have been evacuated to Osh city for their safety, KyrTAG reports.
The Chinese were working on a high-profile power line that will connect parts of southern Kyrgyzstan with the north. Due to the fight, the launch of the line has been delayed, said Musazhan Makelek, head of China’s TBEA energy firm in Kyrgyzstan. Makelek told 24.kg that the fight had nothing to do with the $208 million project, which is being financed by China, and blamed both sides.
Thousands of Chinese nationals work in Kyrgyzstan, most on infrastructure projects such as high-voltage electricity lines and roads, and as traders. Beijing has promised hundreds of millions in loans and assistance in recent years. But the Chinese presence and largesse is not without controversy. Many Kyrgyz are deeply suspicious and worry the giant neighbor could swallow their tiny country.
Since July, Astana and Beijing have engaged in an emotional rivalry over Olympic gold medalist Zulfiya Chinshanlo. During the London games, Chinese media were adamant that the weightlifter was about to return to the People’s Republic, claiming that Chinshanlo was born Zhao Changling in a remote mountainous area of Hunan Province and had been loaned to Kazakhstan in 2008 for a five-year period.
But Chinshanlo told Kazakh press after earning Kazakhstan a gold that she was committed to the Central Asian republic. Moreover, Chinshanlo’s biography on the official Web page for the 2012 Olympic Games lists her birthplace as Almaty. (Others report she was born in Kyrgyzstan.)
Now Chinese media have quoted her saying she’s returning to China.
China Radio International's English website reported on October 24 that the champion weightlifter was spotted in Hunan applying for papers to return to China.
She had a different story to tell Kazakh media, however, claiming on October 26 she was merely paying a visit to her former coach in Yongzhou, Hunan, where a Caravan.kz article says she took up weightlifting as an 11-year-old.
It’s rare a Chinese businessman publicly airs a complaint about doing his job in Central Asia. So an op-ed complaining about the deteriorating situation for miners in Kyrgyzstan, published by a state-run Chinese media outlet, deserves flagging.
Last week protestors in Kyrgyzstan’s northern Chui Province succeeded in shutting down work at the Taldy-Bulak Levoberezhnyi gold field. Local news agencies reported that several hundred locals picketed the headquarters, in Orlovka, on October 22, demanding the company be closed. China's Superb Pacific Ltd was working to prepare the site, scheduled to go into operation in 2014. Some media reported that Chinese and Kyrgyz workers engaged in a mass brawl. Radio Free Europe said protestors were angry over what they called the Chinese company’s illegal sacking of Kyrgyz citizens and polluting of the local environment.
Approximately 250 Chinese workers reportedly were evacuated and operations suspended indefinitely.
In response, the head of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Kyrgyzstan, Li Deming, wrote in the English-language Global Times (a baby of the Communist Party’s People’s Daily) on October 28 that doing business in Kyrgyzstan is “not easy.”
Turkey's protracted shopping for a long-range air defense system has been a sort of geopolitical bellwether for the country: in addition to considering systems from NATO allies U.S. and Italy, Ankara has been looking at Russian and Chinese options. If it goes for the latter, NATO has reportedly promised to cut Turkey out of its air defense monitoring system. But now it looks like Turkey may be abandoning the purchase altogether, reports Defense News:
Turkey's highest defense body might decide to indefinitely postpone the country's $4 billion air defense program, effectively killing it, sources and observers said.
In addition to analysts' criticism that the long-range air and missile defense system is too expensive, other recent developments have raised questions about the project.
This month, for example, MBDA of Italy, one arm of bidder Eurosam, arranged a tour for several Turkish journalists to observe firing tests at two Italian land and naval installations. Turkish defense authorities at the last minute declined to permit reporters to visit the Italian sites, and MBDA had to cancel the tour.
This led to speculation that the program was going to be canceled or indefinitely postponed.
(Not really germane to the main point, but it's remarkable that the Turkish government could forbid reporters from visiting Italy to see an Italian company exhibition.)
The problem is that Turkey may not need such a system:
Kazakhstan's gold medalist "Zulfiya Chinshanlo" training in July 2011.
When photographer Ikuru Kuwajima and I visited Kazakhstan's Olympic weightlifting training camp in July 2011, it was difficult to get much out of Zulfiya Chinshanlo, the 19-year-old weightlifter who on July 29 brought Kazakhstan its second gold at the London games.
Neither Chinshanlo, nor her friend Maiya Maneza, could manage more than a few fragments of Russian. And they spoke no Kazakh.
"They’re Dungans [...] from Bishkek," said Kazakhstan's trainer Alexey Ni, as they stood shyly together in one corner of the gym, giggling like the teenage girls that they still are, despite their bulging muscles. "They’re very hard-working. There are only a few Dungan people, not so many."
The Dungans, a Chinese people speaking a language related to Mandarin, are Muslim converts who fled to Central Asia in the 19th Century.
For Kazakhstan to include two of them on its Olympic team demonstrated exemplary inclusiveness.
Only Ni’s story is now being challenged.
According to a report in China's state-run Xinhua news agency (and picked up by CNN) Chinshanlo was in fact born and raised in Yongzhou, Hunan Province under the Chinese name Zhao Changling, and transferred to Kazakhstan legally in 2008.
According to Xinhua, a Kazakh journalist in London also claimed Dungan descent for Chinshanlo. But officials from the Hunan Province Sports Bureau insist that she is in fact Chinese.
The twelfth summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization took place this week in Beijing, and as usual, it's hard to tell what happened. Among the more obvious results: the organization admitted Afghanistan as an observer country and Turkey as a dialogue partner, as expected. The SCO rejected outside military involvement in Syria. And while no movement was made in upgrading the status of observer countries India and Pakistan, both countries were explicit about their desires to become full members. Presidents of all six SCO member countries (China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) attended, as did the presidents of Afghanistan, Iran, Mongolia, Pakistan and Turkmenistan. The organization appointed a new secretary general, a former governor of the Irkutsk region. (The new head, Dmitry Mezentsev, "attempted to run for the Russian presidency during the March elections, but was rejected because there were too many invalid signatures among those he submitted to register as a candidate," RIA Novosti notes.)
But the question of what the SCO actually does remains difficult to answer. The group pledged to be more active in Afghanistan, and focused on "regional security," while emphasizing that it is not a military alliance like NATO. According to a report from Xinhua: