| Security

China chips away at Russia's security influence in Central Asia

By Kanat Altynbayev


Kazakh troops participate in the Batys-2018 military exercises in Mangystau Province, Kazakhstan, last September 17-27. China provides Kazakhstan combat drones as well as technical assistance for its armed forces. [Kazakh Defence Ministry]

Kazakh troops participate in the Batys-2018 military exercises in Mangystau Province, Kazakhstan, last September 17-27. China provides Kazakhstan combat drones as well as technical assistance for its armed forces. [Kazakh Defence Ministry]

ALMATY -- Beijing's increasing influence in Central Asia -- not only in economic spheres but also in ensuring security -- is causing friction with Moscow, the previous so-called guarantor of regional security.

Previous assumptions about the interests of Russia and China in the region -- a kind of gentleman's agreement that Moscow protects while Beijing invests -- are being overturned.

"China and Russia are competitors in Central Asia," said Yuri Poyta, head of the Asia-Pacific Section of the Centre for Studies of the Army, Conversion and Disarmament in Kyiv, Ukraine.


Kazakh Defence Minister Nurlan Yermekbayev and Chinese Ambassador to Kazakhstan Zhang Xiao confer in Astana last November 16. [Kazakh Defence Ministry]

Kazakh Defence Minister Nurlan Yermekbayev and Chinese Ambassador to Kazakhstan Zhang Xiao confer in Astana last November 16. [Kazakh Defence Ministry]


Shanghai Co-operation Organisation member-state defence ministers confer in Astana June 9, 2017. [Kazakh Defence Ministry]

Shanghai Co-operation Organisation member-state defence ministers confer in Astana June 9, 2017. [Kazakh Defence Ministry]

China has no desire to see its investment projects -- a vital tool of "soft power" -- depend on Russian willingness to protect them, he told Caravanserai.

"Moscow, understanding that with the exception of the [military] force it can bring to bear, has very little to offer to the region economically, and has no desire to watch Beijing gather strength and draw the Central Asian republics into its embrace," he said.

"That's why China and Russia are playing their own games independent of each other," he said.

Beijing bypasses Moscow

Moscow is displeased to see Central Asian co-operation with China in security matters, Poyta said.

Chinese military aid to the region takes a variety of forms, he said, citing air defence systems, drones and light armoured vehicles for Turkmenistan as one example. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan also receive combat drones from China as well as technical assistance to their armed forces.

China is pursuing its own policy in Central Asia with no regard for Russia's preferred vision, said Sultan Akimbekov, director of the Almaty-based Institute of Asian Studies.

"Beijing does not take into account Russian interests," he said October 26 during a conference in Astana on "New Challenges and Approaches to Regional and Global Security in Central Asia", according to Kursiv.kz.

"For example, this autumn, military manoeuvres are planned as part of contacts among China, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan," he said. "Tajikistan is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation ... [a Kremlin-led military alliance of several former Soviet republics] and is supposedly an ally of Russia."

"But Russia is not participating in this event at all."

Changing balance of power

"The growing role of China has changed the balance of power in Central Asia," Akimbekov said.

Nodar Kharshiladze of Tbilisi, a political scientist and founder of the Georgian Centre for Strategic Analysis, provided a similar analysis and echoed Akimbekov's assessment of China's military exercises with its neighbours.

"The two powers are competing for political dominance in Central Asia," he told Caravanserai. "At the same time, China is intensifying military co-operation with the region to combat shared threats of religious radicalism."

China is concerned about the possible activation of terrorist groups from the Middle East, said Ruslan Nazarov, a scholar on international relations from Astana.

Beijing is paying special attention to military co-operation with Tajikistan, which borders both China and Afghanistan and has the longest border that any country shares with Afghanistan, he told Caravanserai.

Russia cannot provide a 100% guarantee of security for the region, he said, adding that Central Asian countries cannot count on Moscow in a crisis.

China building military partnerships

China has been steadily building up its military partnerships with Central Asian countries.

In early September, Deputy Chairman of the Central Military Commission of China Gen. Xu Qiliang visited Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and conferred with their defence ministers.

The parties discussed military and military-technical co-operation and exchanged views on regional security, according to the Kazakh Defence Ministry.

During Xu's trip to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, officials from both countries signed a memorandum on military co-operation, an agreement on a Chinese grant to Kyrgyzstan, and a treaty on the delivery of Chinese weaponry and military equipment, according to the press office of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Kyrgyzstan.

A few days later in Astana, on September 11, Kazakh First Deputy Minister of Defence Murat Maykeyev received Gen. Zhao Zongqi, commanding officer of the Chinese Western Theatre Command.

They discussed the upcoming training of Kazakh troops at military academies in China and the organisation of joint exercises, according to the Kazakh Defence Ministry's press service.

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31 Comment(s)
Comment Policy Captcha
| 2019-06-16

Still, Russia is a way more dangerous and mean country.

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| 2019-06-08

China is already devouring the Far East in Russia as [Russian] officials turn a blind eye and keep stealing

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| 2019-05-03

I heard somewhere in Africa China seized the only airport and a media company to maке forced sale to cover debts. How much does Kazakhstan owe to China?

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| 2019-04-23

From a military standpoint, our ally is Russia and if China is willing to give us military equipment at no charge, it means China hatched some evil plan. Kazakhstan is and will be a major ally of Russia.

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| 2019-04-21

First off, what language do you speak? Think before you condemn someone while being egged on by pseudo-patriots! Do you really need it?

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| 2019-03-27

China is a terrible country. All muslims in China are being put in jail because of their religion.

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| 2019-03-27

China is a run down country

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| 2019-03-26

It's toast now

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| 2019-03-23

You gonna bring it on yourselves

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| 2019-03-22

China is a country of terror and fascism. Look at what they do to Muslims, send them to death camps and brainwash making them atheists. Beware of China

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| 2019-03-22

The goal of China is to invade us by all means using no gun powder. Whatever happens we must not turn away from Russians.

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| 2019-03-18

Russia will stay away now, it's no match for China.

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| 2019-03-22

Russia has the most powerful weapons, don't forget about it!

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| 2019-03-15

Now we will have to fight fascist Russia

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| 2019-03-14

We, along with other peoples of the USSR, fought against Nazi Germany like brothers in arms and we are not familiar with China.

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| 2019-03-13

Why do you call it "Kazakh troops?" We neither say nor write "Russian troops!" There are lots of Russians all over the world as well as Kazakhs, but the army is only in Kazakhstan. Hence it should be referred to as Kazakhstan's troops. And Russia's troops.

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| 2019-03-14

Kazakhstan looks like a wife [stuck] between two husbands.

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| 2019-03-15

[They say] Mother Russia. Means an old hag.

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| 2019-03-11

We should be more afraid of savage Russia, not civilized China

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| 2019-03-14

Russia is the most dangerous enemy of Kazakhs, they [Russians] have always wanted to annihilate Kazakhs and grab our lands. China is also a foe, but cooperation is possible [with Beijing], what's important is migration control and a cunning, cautious policy.

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| 2019-03-16

Maybe you are right!.. An interesting version! )

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| 2019-03-19

If not for Russia, there would be no Kazakhstan. And with China the bait hides the hook.

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| 2019-06-14

That's right

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| 2019-03-11

Rejoice, rejoice Kazakhs and Americans! The Chinese will screw and enslave Kazakhs, let's look at your smiles then. And Americans will simply lose the region.

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| 2019-03-11

Yet another pipe dream of the Rubbishserai contrived with the help of "political" figures, and fancy "experts" from Ukraine and Georgia rapidly "integrating in Europe", going NOWHERE! It is only unclear how Kazakh politicians end up among these pseudo-patriot sellouts, essentially idiots

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| 2019-03-11

China is indeed a protection for Kazakhstan and the countries of Central Asia from fascist Russia

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| 2019-03-11

Die you Chinese patriot

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| 2019-03-24

That's right!

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| 2019-03-10

No need to wage war to conquer Asia if generals are so corrupt

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| 2019-03-08

That's why Russian propaganda In Kazakhstan works against China

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| 2019-03-24

That's right!

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