Mariani's Article About China's Role In Central Asia

This article is about China’s involvement in Central Asia (CA) and main underpinning principles, motives and reasons for it. The article was written by Bernardo Mariani, a manager at Saferworld's China program. Saferworld is a London-based independent international organization dealing with conflict prevention and providing safer lives. The author has done substantial contribution to the study of international and regional security, peace, stability, and development fields involving People’s Republic of China (PRC) as one of the primary and influential subjects and key decision-makers.

One of his works: “China’s role and interests in Central Asia” basically focuses on China’s foreign policy principles and strategy and interests in CA. Furthermore, in the article there is an analysis of bilateral and multilateral partnerships agreements ranging from political and economic to security and fight against terrorism, separatism, and extremism. Despites the minor omissions and negligence of some other factors, the paper seems to be plausible; and the author provides a considerable, and to a certain extent, objective assessment of the issues analyzed in his article.

In his paper Mr. Mariani argues that PRC’s engagement in the region which started right after the collapse of the Soviet Union was aimed at resolving Soviet-era border disputes between China , and it eventually led to the signing of the strategic partnership agreements in economy and security with each CA country as well as multilaterally, in the framework of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). He outlines the China’s Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence and points out that these principles are a driving force behind China’s engagement in international affairs including Central Asia and they demonstrate China as a responsible great power or in Chinese “fu zeren de daguo” which treats all countries equally without intervening in domestic affairs of other countries.

Moreover, the author draws attention to the political statements made by the Chinese leaders and their vision of relationships with Central Asia. Mariani mentions that officially the Chinese authorities declare China’s role in Central Asia to be peaceful and friendly. Chinese officials state that in China’s interests to have stable, secure and economically prospering CA as it is important for security of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China where the radicalization, destabilization and others risks are highly likely due to potential influx of terrorist, extremist and separatist groups from unstable Afghanistan or elsewhere through CA.

Besides, the author provides statistical data which shows that for Central Asia China is a second largest important economic partner after Russia. Also, he mentions that there are different investment projects undertaken by Chinese companies throughout the region which are crucial for the region’s economy. The outcome of the article is that China might not have will or power to compete with such great powers as the United States and Russia over the region politically, but in order to secure its interests in the region and have peace and security in Xinjiang China should play an active role in Central Asia. The article comprises 6 sections: introduction, 4 chapters and conclusion, each main unit is dedicated to specific area of collaboration between PRC and Central Asia. In the introduction the author clearly states the main objectives of his paper and describes the list of questions that he would be seeking answers for.

In the chapter 2 “Central Asia in China’s foreign policy” Mariani argues that China carries out is activity in CA in accordance with the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence adopted in 1954. He quotes Wu Bangguo, a former Chairman of the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress to back his argument that China’s intention is peaceful and reciprocally beneficial. As quoted by Mariani, according to Wu Bang China does not attempt to dominate over other countries or dictate them. Moreover, Mariani assumes that this kind of approach is based on China’s own history and sensitivity to the issues encompassing Xinjiang, Taiwan and Tibet. Deviating from the main topic, the author also mentions some recent changes in application of foreign policy principles in dealing with international affairs, for instance, conflicts between Sudan and South Sudan.

From the first chapter of Mariani it can be assumed that officially China claims the economic development and security in neighboring Central Asia to be of paramount importance for China. Therefore, China’s aim is to guarantee security and stability in the region through providing investment and development supports. Although, the author’s arguments seem reliable and plausible, they are mostly based on Chinese sources and do not provide alternative views or sources, such as European, Central Asian or other Non-Chinese sources regarding the CA in China’s foreign policy. Even if there are, they are very limited, and are not sufficient.

This makes one believe that the author might have limited knowledge of the issue, biased arguments or intentionally ignores alternative opinions. In third and fourth chapters “China’s main interests in Central Asia,” and “Policy statement and rhetoric” the author reiterates what he stated in second chapter reasons behind China’s presence in CA. Moreover, in chapter three Mariani argues that China’s foreign policy is more focused on its longtime complicated relations with the United State, Japan, Taiwan, Korea and India rather than on CA . Although, in the same chapter he believes that after significant economic and social transformations following the years of high rate growth, China, indeed, needs natural resources rich and territorially close CA for uninterrupted supply of natural resource to China and minimizing reliance on maritime routes.

The author quotes M. Laruelle and Peyrouse S, who also believe that Xinjiang region’s problems and China’s active role in CA are directly linked. Furthermore, it is assumed that China really cares about the region’s stability, and security and wants its partners in Central Asia, which also have sizable number of Uyghur population, active support China’s efforts to eliminate rising sensitive issues as separatism, and terrorism among Uyghurs in Xinjian. In the fourth chapter he quotes a Turkish newspaper, Turkish Weekly, according to which Chinese officials claim that PRC provides loans to countries without any additional conditions and terms which is the quite the opposite with other lenders . From his arguments, unfortunately, it is hard to figure out the main strategy and aim behind such kind of initiative.

All in all, in both chapters Mariani heavily relies on Chinese source and some ideas are very isolated and the reader struggles to comprehend them. For example, in chapter 4 does not give enough information on terms and condition of loans provided by China and the statement made relying on the Turkish Weekly which is impossible to access and double chick. In last chapter (Chapter 5) “Significant interventions and engagements” Mariani gives a detailed description of economic relations of China with each country of CA, and emphasizes that gas and oil export from Central Asia accounts for more than 10% of China’s overall import of those goods. Moreover, in 2011 China’s 4.39 per cent of overall crude oil imports came from Kazakhstan. Also, Kazakhstan is the largest recipient of China’s investment and there are largest companies in gas and oil industries which are owned by companies from PRC or have sizeable investment in them.

Furthermore, Turkmenistan China’s second largest partner after Kazakhstan is the main exporter of gas though the Central Asia -China pipeline to China. As of February 2013, Turkmenistan exported gas to China worth of $15.71 billion US dollars by this pipeline. The other countries of the region, namely Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have relatively modest economic relations; and investments from China mainly go to construction, transport, hydropower, communication, infrastructure development. Furthermore, Mariani notes that the western experts cast doubt on potential of SCO; and he also hardly believes in SCO potential to become an important regional organization considering already existing Russia initiated integration projects and immense influence in the region.

In addition, he notes that China proved adherence to its principles by not intervening in the turmoil that occurred in Kyrgyzstan in 2010. After analyzing the chapter 5 it becomes obvious that the author has different contradicting facts regarding the importance of CA of PRC. In previous three chapters Mariani used to belittle the role of CA in Chinese foreign policy, but the data provided in chapter 5 speak for themselves. This shows that author has organized his paper in a way that is not well structured and does not follow the logical flow of ideas.

On the whole, the Mariani’s paper has been developed to certain degree well, but with some omissions. The author used reliable sources to back his arguments but they might seem to some as biased, since he used overwhelmingly the Chinese’s sources and, to limited extend, other sources, which do not address the topic critically. Also, some arguments are neither clearly stated nor complete, therefore, uninformed readers find them troublesome to understand and need to consult other sources. Besides, the author has some contradicting arguments and one-sided conclusion. Regarding the structure, the structure of the essay is developed in a way that same ideas overlap almost in all chapters and they are repeated constantly. Despite these negative sides, the author delivers useful paper which provides vital information and gives readers enough food for thought.

11 February 2020
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