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Chinese Relationship with Central Asia and its Efforts to Curb Extremism
Ajay Mohan
2023-03-04
Region : China, Central Asia,
Issue : Security, Terrorism,
One of the most important relationships in the world today is that between China and Central Asia. Both are essential parts of the global supply chain, so developments in their relations have a widespread international impact. This relationship is set to become increasingly important in the near future.
Central Asia is seen as an important part of China’s long term ‘Belt and Road’ (BRI) connectivity plans. BRI is the Chinese Government’s grand economic project to improve economic ties with the wider world, and Central Asian states are a key part of that puzzle. These states offer a pivotal role in allowing China access to markets in Europe, the Middle East, and beyond. China wants to bring Central Asian countries into its economic orbit through various initiatives such as the Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road.
The relationship between China and Central Asia has grown in recent years. Since 2011, Chinese direct investment in Central Asia has grown significantly. Xi Jinping set the goal to increase bilateral trade with the region to $70 billion by 2030. Bilateral trade between Kazakahstan-china increased to $17 billion reaching new records. This includes infrastructure projects such as railways, roads, power plants, and other major infrastructure developments. China has also increased political ties with the five Central Asian states, offering diplomatic support and developing close economic and trade relations.
At the same time, China is striving to improve cultural links with Central Asia. This focus of cultural diplomacy has been a key area of cooperation. Niva Yau, a researcher in Bishkek has argued Beijing recognizes that “Chinese language promotion is the most effective way of encouraging a Chinese voice in global affairs”. China has invested in education and cultural programs to enhance intercultural exchange, traditional Chinese martial arts, Confucian thought, and even Mandarin language teaching in the region.
There are also major efforts by China to promote politics, trade and economic connectivity in Central Asia. Beijing is setting up various initiatives such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Kazakhstan-China Closer Economic Partnership Agreement. China also promotes trade agreements such as Preferential Trade Agreements and Investment Policies to facilitate further partnership between Central Asian countries and China. China’s investments in the region amounted to $40 billion at the end of 2020.
China has main concern terrorism or extremism in Central Asia so that China has been increasingly active in Central Asia in recent years, taking initiatives to curb extremism in the region. In a bid to tackle the problem of extremism, which has become a cause of concern in Central Asia, the Chinese government has implemented a series of measures.
Firstly, the Chinese government has strengthened dialogue and exchanges with various Central Asian countries. In 2022 meeting of the Foreign Ministers (FMs) of China and Central Asian countries within the framework of China +C5 took place in Nur Sultan. Recent years, Chinese officials have been engaging in high-level diplomatic discussions with their counterparts in the countries of Central Asia, as well as members of various religious communities, to address the threat of extremism. Through these discussions, the Chinese have sought to build better communication channels and stronger ties in an effort to exchange ideas, soothe differences and promote understanding.
Secondly, China has taken part in joint counter-terrorism operations with the countries of Central Asia. As part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, China has been instrumental in assisting in the coordination of multi-lateral efforts to address the root causes of extremism, such as poverty and corruption. This involves the removal of arms from the region, as well as the adoption of a common set of anti-terrorism regulations, aimed at curbing extremism in Central Asia. The Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) is a permanent organ of the SCO which serves to promote cooperation of member states against terrorism, separatism and extremism. The latest anti-terror exercise “Manesar Anti-Terror 2022” hosted by India under the framework of the SCO in 2022.
Thirdly, the Chinese government has invested heavily in education and social development in Central Asia as a means of countering extremism in the region. Through these development efforts, the goal is to promote material prosperity, as well as social awareness, so as to mitigate the attraction that extremist ideologies have in times of hardship and unemployment. By 2016-17 there were over 22,000 students from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan studying in China. Additionally, the Chinese have focused on providing aid to those who have been affected by extremism, such as the victims of terrorist attacks, in order to aid in their recovery and reintegration into the society.
Finally, China has taken steps to combat the spread of terrorist or extremist ideologies online. This includes the monitoring of online content and websites, especially those with extremist content, to ensure that they comply with Chinese regulations. Additionally, the Chinese have also sought to strengthen online censorship, as well as building up the capacity of local law enforcement departments to tackle online extremism.
In conclusion, it is clear that the relationship between China and Central Asia is set to become increasingly important in the years to come. China’s plans to improve connectivity in the region, combined with its diplomatic and cultural initiatives, demonstrate that the two sides are committed to a strong and long-term partnership. China’s commitment to fostering better economic, political, and cultural ties with Central Asia is essential to ensure regional stability and continued economic prosperity.
China has taken several measures to fight extremism in Central Asia. These initiatives have included promoting better dialogue, taking part in joint counter-terrorism operations, investing in social development and combating the spread of extremist ideologies online. In doing so, China has demonstrated its commitment to ensuring peace and stability in Central Asia.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s)

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