What does China want?

Jonathan Steele

  • BuyRestless Valley: Revolution, Murder and Intrigue in the Heart of Central Asia by Philip Shishkin
    Yale, 316 pp, £20.00, June 2013, ISBN 978 0 300 18436 5
  • The Chinese Question in Central Asia: Domestic Order, Social Change and the Chinese Factor by Marlène Laruelle and Sébastien Peyrouse
    Hurst, 271 pp, £40.00, October 2012, ISBN 978 1 84904 179 9

The usual view of the ‘stans’, the five states that emerged in Central Asia after the Soviet Union’s collapse, is that they are a potential site of geostrategic rivalry: it is after all the only place in the world where three imperial powers are fighting for control of the same territory. Russia, the most recent external ruler, exploited the area for two centuries; for commercial as well as nostalgic reasons it is reluctant to lose its remaining influence. China sees the region as a temptingly underpopulated and energy-rich borderland ripe for investment in new infrastructure, transport links, migration and settlement. The United States has built large military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, which are all the more useful for being located on the frontiers of the increasingly assertive Russia and the rising military power of China. The risks of serious confrontation are clear.

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