So while Beijing refrains from all out confrontation with Russia’s interests (as opposed to PRC’s hawkish approach to its neighbours in the East and South-East Asia), Chinese policymakers certainly take advantage of the Kremlin’s missteps and limited capabilities.
China takes note of the stagnating Russian economy that is gradually losing positions in the region. Russia and Central Asia overall trade turnover reached $27.3bn in 2011, when China’s commerce with Central Asia topped $46bn in 2012. Single-handedly, Beijing has become a main trade partner to all former Soviet states of Central Asia, except for Uzbekistan, where it is the second.
Much to Russia’s dismay, the Chinese “trade revolution” is still in motion. . . .
President Xi Jinping’s proposal to create the “Silk Road” economic belt with Eurasia aims to promote investment opportunities. Within the past year, China sealed $30bn investment package with Kazakhstan, $15bn deal with Uzbekistan and $3bn financial aid with Kyrgyzstan in various industries from oil and natural gas extraction to infrastructure projects throughout Central Asia.
As much as Russia is having a tough time to adapt to the fact that China scooped the energy-rich Central Asia, it has already happened. Chinese-built gas pipelines boosted Central Asia’s regional integration without downsizing sovereignty of any of the states. China’s oil and natural gas pipelines help Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to reroute their energy resources away from Russia, receding their dependency on Moscow. By 2020, China will be the largest consumer of natural gas and oil from the region of Central Asia. Likewise, a Chinese-funded oil refinery plant in Kyrgyzstan is going to break the Kremlin’s fuel supply monopoly. . . .
However, the Kremlin will not to give up easily. Russia has aggressively re-appeared in Central Asia’s weakest countries, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, extending its military presence in these republics and committing close to $1.5bn for rearmament of the armies in both states. So far, the Kremlin’s foothold in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan has been firm. . . .
Russia’s cultural influence is dramatically shrinking elsewhere in Central Asia. Kazakhstan has now cemented the legislation to replace Cyrillic script with Latin as the country’s official alphabet by 2025 just as Uzbekistan did 10 years ago. The sharp decline of the ethnic Russian population in Central Asian republics and influx of graduates from Turkish schools and universities have contributed to Moscow’s waning cultural influence over the years.