Russia-China rivalry in Central Asia overblown
Chinese President Xi Jinping's recent Astana trip to participate in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit, which was merely three weeks after the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing, is a sign of continuous cooperation with not only leaders of Central Asia but also Russia.
Wendy Min reports in her article Russia-China rivalry in Central Asia overblown for Global Times that using every opportunity to discuss global agendas at international meetings offers an alternative to the bickering, sudden sanctions and unrest that so dominate current headlines in Western media outlets.
The popular view of a "lingering rivalry between Russia and China" or "Central Asia as battleground of two powerhouses" often overlooks the transparent dialogue and exchange that all parties are committed to.
While some will see Central Asia going through a process of "de-Russianization" primarily due to China's increasing economic input, the region is adapting to changes to suit interests that will be beneficial both domestically and regionally.
A fear of China could be sensed at the Belt and Road forum in Beijing last month where a Russian journalist asked President Vladimir Putin, "Do you not fear that if everything planned under the Silk Road project eventually becomes reality, China will economically swallow Russia as well?"
Putin replied, "We agree only to those proposals that benefit us so what is there to fear? It would be a shame not to make use of these opportunities this cooperation creates."
The SCO is an opportunity for all members to talk about regional stability, economic growth, initiatives, concerns and possible solutions. Russia's rather bilateral relationship with Central Asia, with a focus on security-related issues, does not conflict with China's trade projects. Sure there will be disagreements but much more could be gained by avoiding confrontation. Russia and China face similar problems, so cooperation in Central Asia can help both countries as well as the whole region.
Possible border insecurities, rising terrorism and ease of drugs being trafficked from Afghanistan are just some challenges that could be addressed. On top of all this, economic benefits that come from new infrastructure help to facilitate trade and generate growth. Be it gas pipelines or power plants, strengthening ties in this region will help countries to find ways to breathe when hit with sanctions, a slowing economy, currency devaluation and other unexpected shocks.
Whether it is BRICS, SCO, the Eurasian Economic Union or talks about the Belt and Road initiatives, Russia and China have clear incentives and goals to meet for further collaboration to ensure that the challenges in the region can be addressed and dealt with while maintaining economic growth through holistic engagements. This sustainability can only be achieved if all can continue to participate in open dialogue, maintain a "multi-vector approach" to such matters and strike a balance both domestically and regionally in their respective decision-making processes.
After coming back from Central Asia where the hospitable locals spoke candidly about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for the seven countries, their sense of optimism was my strongest takeaway from the trip.