China's Emergence in Central Asia

China's strategic relationship with Central Asia has grown expansively over the past decade, symbolized by both the 1996 founding of the "Shanghai Five," which in June 2001 became the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and with the signing of the China-Russia Friendship Treaty in July 2001. The events of September 11, 2001, and the U.S.-led war against terrorism in Afghanistan and beyond have dramatically underscored the strategic value of Central Asia to the West and present new challenges and opportunities to Chinese security, political, and economic interests. Geostrategically enmeshed with Central Asia, China will remain an integral and increasingly influential player in the region.

The project analyzed China's more prominent emergence in Central Asia, and its implications for future political, economic, and security developments in the region, the counterterrorism effort, the stability and expansion of the regional energy market, the spread of Islamic fundamentalism, the relationship between China, Russia and the United States, and U.S. interests in the region.

To address these issues, the project has proceeded in three principal stages. First, the project organized and convened four major seminars over the first half of 2003. The project commissioned leading experts from around the United States and abroad to present their relevant expertise at these seminars before a well-informed audience drawn from government, congressional, diplomatic, business, media, and policy analyst communities. The seminars addressed: (1) current state of China–Central Asia diplomacy; (2) counterterrorism, stability, and security in Central Asia/China; (3) China–Central Asia interests in energy development and energy markets; and (4) China's approach to Xinjiang and its Uyghur minority and its implications for China–Central Asia relations. The interplay of these issues with U.S. foreign policy interests was discussed at each seminar as well.

Second, the project incorporated the commissioned papers, seminar discussions, and ongoing research into a substantial analytical report prepared by the Freeman Chair in China Studies. The report China’s New Journey to the West: China’s Emergence in Central Asia and Implications for U.S. Interests outlines the seminar deliberations and their principal findings. The report also presents cogent recommendations for the United States government and other regional actors with an aim to fostering a more stable and productive set of security, political, and economic outcomes for Central Asia and the overlap of U.S. and Chinese interests there. Third, in mid-2003, the project published and widely disseminated the report to Washington policymakers, in both printed and digital format, including a formal launch event at CSIS.

The research, seminar discussions, and final report represent a timely and sustained effort to examine and understand the complex and vital China–Central Asia nexus, and articulate an authoritative set of policy approaches for businesses and governments with an interest in this strategically important region.

By working together to bring stability as well as political and economic development to Central Asia, China, Western nations and their partners in the region can counter problems of terrorism and political instability in the area. Cooperating to help establish a more secure and prosperous Central Asian region would bring long-term strategic and economic benefits to all involved, with energy extraction at the top of the list of development priorities.

— Bates Gill and Matthew Oresman from "NATO-China: A Romance Worth Entering", November 22, 2002