Institute for East Strategic Studies 31 Dec 2020 - 13:30 https://www.iess.ir/en/interview/2401/ -------------------------------------------------- Title : Dimensions and formation of 5+1 platform between China and CA countries -------------------------------------------------- China is an emerging world power that has increasingly extended its influence in Central Asia. Since 2010, the development of bilateral relations between China and Central Asian countries has grown significantly within multilateral initiatives such as “Belt and Road Initiative”. At the same time, on institutional platforms, the the Shanghai Cooperation Organization has been working in cooperation with Russia, but Chinese idea. In this regard, there have been some Chinese mutual plans without Russia in Central Asia, namely the joint military exercises. However, these all have never been without challenges. The Sinophobia is among the most important obstacles, pulled back Beijing in some projects and increased the costs. However, apart from all these, China has focused on the 5+1 platform that has been used by United States, as well as other Asian actors such as Japan and South Korea previously. The dimensions, backgrounds and consequences of such a platform is the key subject to our interview with Yau Tsz Yan. Yau Tsz Yan is a Junior Researcher at OSCE Academy in Bishkek specialized on China and Central Asia. Text : China is an emerging world power that has increasingly extended its influence in Central Asia. Since 2010, the development of bilateral relations between China and Central Asian countries has grown significantly within multilateral initiatives such as “Belt and Road Initiative”. At the same time, on institutional platforms, the the Shanghai Cooperation Organization has been working in cooperation with Russia, but Chinese idea. In this regard, there have been some Chinese mutual plans without Russia in Central Asia, namely the joint military exercises. However, these all have never been without challenges. The Sinophobia is among the most important obstacles, pulled back Beijing in some projects and increased the costs. However, apart from all these, China has focused on the 5+1 platform that has been used by United States, as well as other Asian actors such as Japan and South Korea previously. The dimensions, backgrounds and consequences of such a platform is the key subject to our interview with Yau Tsz Yan. Yau Tsz Yan is a Junior Researcher at OSCE Academy in Bishkek specialized on China and Central Asia. Q: China has pursued strong bilateral relations with each of Central Asian Republics, as well as multilateral ties through SCO. However, we see a new 5+1 platform has already initiated with 5 Central Asian nations. What’s the reason behind? Yau Tsz Yan: Since trade war with the US, China has been increasingly isolated from the international community. This has taken to a new height over issues in Hong Kong. In early July, when China implemented the controversial national security law in Hong Kong, 53 countries stepped forward to support it. Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan did not. This was very upsetting for China. In June, many high level Chinese officials reached out to these countries for talks, but China did’t get their support for Hong Kong. These countries can not afford to be dragged into this new China against the Western world war. Xinjiang was a regional, religious issue, Hong Kong is about value and economic system of the Western world. This new 5+1 platform is China’s effort to bypass Russia, to one-sidedly induce Chinese thoughts to Central Asian leaders. Bilateral relations weren’t enough, and Russia is always lurking behind SCO. This new 5+1 platform is China’s way of telling Central Asia that the region needs to have consensus.    Q: A hypothesis regarding the formation of the Chinese 1 + 5 platform, is the competition with American version specifically, as well as looking forward to acting against the strategy of connecting Central Asia to South Asia (Which is also an objective pursued by Moscow). Can we consider the hypothesis by a Chinese alternative of “Pivot to East” in Central Asia?  Yau Tsz Yan: For China leaders, it is considered that US already has no place in Central Asia. It is Russia that China is concerned about in Central Asia. China have always wanted Central Asia to become more “Asian”, that is, connecting the region to Asia-Pacific, and not South Asia. Connecting Central Asia to South Asia helps Russia and US to isolate and cut China off with Eurasia, which is strategically very damaging for China that China is trying to avoid. Apart from 5+1 platform, China is going against this strategy with Belt and Road Initiative and mechanism within SCO, by building logistics network across Caspian Sea for example. In this sense, Chinese “Pivot to East” for Central Asia already started 20 years ago.    Q: Due to some mutual interests, Moscow has so far not shown a strong confrontational stance in many of Beijing s steps forward. However, such an approach seems inevitable. What‘s Russia’s “Red Line” or “The threshold of silence” for China? Yau Tsz Yan: Security and military. The Chinese Communist Party has stolen a lot of Russia military secrets, for example in plane and missile building. It’s very obvious, Chinese military gear in recent years is mostly not very good version of Russian gear. However, Chinese telecommunication gear is very good, especially in dual-use technology in military, this is something Russia needs China for. China started arms export to Central Asia only under Xi Jinping’s watch, because he’s not afraid of Russia and wants China to have real influence in Central Asia. If we look at Russian history in China, any Russian invasion or provocation will only start after some other big power already started doing towards China. So despite Russian dislike for China over security and military issues, Russia will only act on it when the West start acting on it.    Q: How do you see the pattern of Chinese relations with Central Asian States? Will China adjust its relations with other countries with a focus on Kazakhstan or will it move towards more balanced relations? Yau Tsz Yan: Kazakhstan despite very close relations with China have long opted for a balanced and careful strategy. Kazakhstan is not too depended on China, their economy is very diverse, and logistics are already connected to Europe (at the moment through Russia but soon it will be across Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan and Turkey, bypassing Russia). Kazakhstan is also interested to act more Western, in terms of values, and thus will not tolerate China’s authoritarian human rights issues openly. At the moment, China is actively pursuing Uzbekistan a lot. Uzbekistan has traditionally isolated itself from other big powers and China considers this a good opportunity for China to become Uzbekistan’s close reliable partner. The Uzbek economy is going though a strong wave of transition and is enjoying a lot of help from China in both cheap products and technology transfer. Uzbekistan is becoming China’s new focus.    Q: One of the important issues for China is the political stance of Central Asian Republics on so-called internal affairs of Beijing, such as the suppression of Uighur Muslims or Hong Kong issues. How do you assess the position of Central Asian countries on the mentioned issues? Yau Tsz Yan: Russia cannot afford to have another issue with the West, there’s not gain for Russia to support China’s action in Hong Kong. As I said above, Kazakhstan wants to appear more like the West, so will stand on the side of the West. Uzbekistan’s foreign policy is to abstain itself from joining a bloc (not to the extreme extend like Turkmenistan, but in general the Uzbeks will avoid it), and thus will not go against the West in the Hong Kong  case because it does not concern Uzbekistan. But for Uyghur issue in Xinjiang this concern Uzbekistan therefore the joining of SCO and high participation. Kyrgyzstan is a very fragmented society, even politicians are spilt into pro-russia, pro-west or pro-china, but in general Kyrgyzstan follow decision of Kazakhstan and Russia. Tajikistan is in China’s pocket, high debt and leaders families own companies that benefit from China. Also Tajikistan is not worried about ruining relationship with West because West will always forgive Tajikistan to avoid it becoming meddled in Afghanistan issue.   Q: Significant anti-Chinese protests have recently taken place in Central Asia, particularly in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, which have affected Chinese trade and investment trends. Will it move Central Asian countries towards a trade balance with China as a result of these protests? Yau Tsz Yan: Kazakhstan no, Kyrgyzstan yes. Chinese businessman already view Kyrgyzstan as a troubled country, and anything they want to do in Kyrgyzstan they can find better environment to do it in Kazakhstan. However, for Chinese Communist leaders, they do not want to rely too much on only having Kazakhstan as the way out of Xinjiang (in logistics), so they try to engage Kyrgyzstan too. For Chinese Communist leaders, Kyrgyzstan is like Tajikistan except Kyrgyzstan has nothing to show for it (it doesn’t support China’s political goals as much as Tajikistan).