Academic journal article The Journal of Central Asian Studies

China's Changing Strategic Engagements in Central Asia

Academic journal article The Journal of Central Asian Studies

China's Changing Strategic Engagements in Central Asia

Article excerpt

The term 'geopolitics' is the key word in understanding the principal international power relations. In the intellectual discourse to understand fundamentals of Central Asian geopolitics, it is all the more important. Interestingly, the ideas of classical geopolitics which were propounded by the Swedish political scientist Rudolf Kjellen, German geographers, Friedrich Ratzel and Gen. Karl Haushofer who formed the 'Munich School' of political geography, were used by Adolf Hitler to justify German nationalism and the doctrine of Nordic superiority. But this led to the discrediting of all discourses of geopolitics of international significance. It was only with the beginning of the Cold War that the term 'geopolitics' began to be used in reference to theories and interpretations of international politics based on policies of great powers. Subsequently, the views of Alfred T. Mahan, a US naval officer, and British geographer Sir Halford Mackinder, on control of the sea as the key to world power and eventual emergence tempted by geography of a globally dominant empire located in the heartland of Eurasia occupied by Russia, were used to reinforce Cold War. Mackinder in his later formulation expressed the view that the states of Western Europe and North America constitute a natural defense community which can balance the Eurasian heartland in population, resources and strategic potential.1

The 'Great Game' over Central Asia which Britain played against Russia was mainly explained in terms of the strategic significance of the region because of its geographical location as the gate way to the Indian sub-continent and the Persian Gulf. At present, Central Asian-Caspian region with its large hydrocarbon reserves and natural gas resources, has undoubtedly become a region of critical strategic importance and an object of international interests, particularly, between United States, Russia and China. According to Western experts' estimates the real hydrocarbon reserves in Central Asia are staggeringly large, perhaps equal to those of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait combined if both the onshore and offshore Caspian Sea resources are included. In his work, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives, President Jimmy Carter's National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, has tried to revive geopolitics' which was propounded by Mackinder and Mahan to prop up the North Atlantic alliance against the Socialist World during the Cold War era. In his book, Brzezinski promotes the idea that there is a 'zone of instability' that encompasses the Transcaucasus and Central Asia in which the intelligent chess player can manipulate the tribal, ethnic, or religious differences to his advantage.2 A central theme of his book is to deny Russia any influence over developments in these newly independent Central Asian Republics. At the same time, Brzezinski has also advocated in extending his theoretical support to the Anglo-American oligarchy's grab for the region's extensive oil, natural gas and mineral wealth.

At the turn of the twentieth century China emerged as a significant international player. Many factors have contributed to China's global role on the international arena. Scholars usually emphasise the phenomenal growth of China's economy, its growing military power, and its enormous potentialities because of its geographical dimension and the policy of opening up of its economy. These factors have largely contributed China to emerge as a global power. But apart from these factors, underlying changes occurred in the direct vicinity of its western border caused by the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the Central Asian states forced Beijing with its global interests and aspirations to redraw its regional policy and strategy. This historical event created new geo-political, geo-strategic and geo-economic imperatives for the reshaping of Chinese policy towards the Central Asian region. As a result, since the break-up of the Soviet Union, China has emerged as a major player in the geo-political affairs of Central Asia. …

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