Central Asia and China’s security policy
China’s ‘new’ interest in Central Asia is rather a pivot back to Central Asia after two centuries of exclusion during the Russian and Soviet occupation of the region. With the independence of the Central Asian states in 1991 and the failure of Russia to sustain economic cooperation with the new republics, China emerged as a major player in the region, and today has arguably become the most important actor, especially in the economic realm.1 However, Russia still retains a preeminent role in the region’s security, even if it increasingly lacks the financial and military muscle to back its rhetoric and ambitions. While China initially largely excluded itself from the security sector for reasons that will be discussed later in this chapter, the tide has turned and today China has also emerged as a key security actor. There are still limitations to this role – to a large extent imposed by China itself to placate Russian concerns over the former’s re-emergence in Central Asia – but the question is how long this will remain the case, and what China is doing and under what conditions it would need to assert its presence.
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