TASHKENT -- The dictatorial tone of a document that sets out a joint Russian-Chinese "Central Asian agenda" published following Chinese leader Xi Jinping's March 20-22 visit to Moscow has raised hackles in the region.
Displeased with Central Asian countries' warming to the West, Moscow and Beijing have attempted to control whom those countries may and may not befriend -- and have set out their agenda in detail, drawing rebukes in regional media.
The summit of Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, which included discussion of their "Central Asian agenda", produced a joint statement -- a long, nine-part document -- which the Kremlin published in full on its website.
"The parties are ready to strengthen mutual co-ordination to support Central Asian countries in ensuring their sovereignty and national development, and do not accept attempts to import 'colour revolutions' and external interference in the region's affairs," the statement reads, in part.
The colour revolutions are popular movements that overthrew governments in former Soviet republics, such as Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. Putin has never wanted such revolutions to give the Russian people ideas.
The document also notes the "positive contribution" of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) to ensuring the security and stability of the region.
The CSTO includes three of the five Central Asian republics: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Uzbekistan joined the organisation at its inception in 1992. It withdrew from the CSTO in 1999 and rejoined between 2006 and 2012.
'Central Asia itself will decide'
The joint Russian-Chinese statement provoked a furious response on social media and in traditional media outlets in Uzbekistan.
Commenting on an article about Xi's visit to Russia on the news website Gazeta.uz, reader Dilshod Khalmukhamedov suggested that "perhaps Central Asia itself will decide what it does".
Reader Eugenie Muminova also commented with evident sarcasm: "Well, of course. Central Asia does belong to them, and not to those who live there."
In stating that Central Asian countries may not import colour revolutions, Putin and Xi demonstrated only their own interference in the region's internal affairs, said Alisher Ilkhamov, director of London-based Central Asia Due Diligence.
"Apparently, if some revolution takes place somewhere, then, in their opinion, the West exported it," Ilkhamov said.
The statement revealed only their own fear of upheavals within their countries, he said.
The rhetoric about colour revolutions most likely comes from Putin, he said, with Xi merely echoing the Russian leader's concerns.
The statement can be seen as a reaction to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's recent visit to Astana and Tashkent, during which he cautioned Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan not to serve as transit zones enabling Russia to circumvent sanctions.
The West imposed the sanctions on Russia after it invaded Ukraine in February 2022.
Democratic processes can be crushed by local tyrants with external support, said Galym Ageleuov, president of Liberty, an Almaty-based NGO.
The space for Central Asia's separate and independent development will shrink now, he predicted to Caravanserai, noting, "Xi and Putin are mentally dividing up Central Asia geopolitically between themselves."
"The suppression of colour revolutions in Central Asia means that the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) and CSTO were created to control the region," he said.
"China and Russia are two regional gendarmes who control the local authoritarian leaders and ruling elites," he said. "As a counterbalance to them, the democratic forces need to unite and try to escape their control."
This is possible with the help of external and internal factors, he said, which might include a Ukrainian victory and the defeat of Putin's Russia in the war, and enacting a shared policy of neighbourliness while simultaneously limiting the political and economic influence of Russia and China.
"We must strive for the democratisation of countries and for political and economic modernisation, where the main goal is rapid, positive transformations," Ageleuov said.
"Otherwise, the region will become more and more dependent on Russia and China."
For the time being, Russia and China want Central Asian countries to be weak, dependent satellites, which may lead to the loss of nationhood or to designation as a "failed state", Ageleuov said.
"We are currently under the umbrella of a multi-directional foreign policy, and only to the degree that nationhood gains strength will Central Asian countries come to an independent and self-sufficient policy," he said.
Russia exiting, China coming in
"For China, one of the most important and key issues is Central Asia," said Fikret Shabanov of Vancouver, Canada, president of the research firm Consultations on International Policy and Economy.
"At a minimum, China's policy aims to maintain the region's political status quo," he told Caravanserai.
It aims to strengthen Chinese "political, economic -- and, in the future, even military influence -- on the countries of the region to ensure China's national security", Shabanov said.
Central Asia is a key focus for Beijing in terms of maintaining the pace of its economic development and access to regional energy resources, he said, and its economic, energy and logistical fate is being decided there too.
Beijing's policy is designed to create systems for enveloping the states in the region in order to deprive them of their balanced foreign policy and foreign trade, said Shabanov.
This strategy is meant to bind countries to the service of China's interests alone, he said.
"At this stage, Russia is the empire exiting Central Asia, and China is the one coming in to fill the foreign influence vacuum," said Shabanov.