Photo Credit: Noel Celis
China is attempting to reassert its influence over most of Asia. A thousand days after being imprisoned in China due to the Covid restrictions, Chinese leader Xi Jinping traveled to Central Asia.
According to sources, Xi will go to Kazakhstan on Wednesday before traveling to Uzbekistan for the regional conference. Xi will meet with other political leaders during the summit, most notably Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia. The two superpower leaders would meet for the first time in person since Putin waged war on Ukraine.
Recall that China had Russia’s back weeks before Putin attacked Ukraine. China, according to Xi, would stand behind Moscow throughout the conflict. Putin has recently been under fire from world leaders, including the G7; therefore, there will likely be new debate over the future of the international system as a result of the meeting between the presidents of China and Russia.
Traveling would probably increase Xi’s popularity ahead of the upcoming elections when the current president hopes to win a third term. If Xi won, China would consider him to be one of Beijing’s most influential presidents in recent history.
Director of the China Institute Steven Tsang noted that despite the global economic slump and tensions between the nations involved in the Russian-Ukrainian war, Xi appears to be confident in his ability to exert influence.
“This is somebody who wants to be in control of everything. At the G20 summit, he is one out of 20 and not quite so much in control,” stated Tsang.
“[Xi] wants to send the signal that he is in charge and working with friends and partners. The SCO summit in Central Asia, with Putin joining, ticks all the boxes.”
A part of China’s bigger plan
The present actions of China don’t surprise experts. China intends to establish its domination first in Central Asia since the region is strategically important to it. The action demonstrates the nation’s goals for its foreign policy.
“Central Asia has always been the strategic pivot for China whenever conflicts loom in the East Asia side. Every time China gets into tension with Taiwan, Central Asia all of a sudden opens up to be the place that they make grand gestures,” said a senior researcher from the OSCE Academy in Kyrgyzstan, Niva Yau.
The criticism China has faced since its authorities mistreated the Uyghur Muslims living in Xinjiang is another factor driving China’s push into Central Asia. Other Uyghurs have protested the nation and requested assistance from the UN Human Rights Office as a result.
“So China knows that Central Asia is about to be hit by this international pressure, and they need to go there and get reassurance that they are ready for this, or that they are on China’s side. Especially because at these UN votes, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan haven’t been voting along with China the way Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have. I think it’s fairly obvious what’s on the agenda,” added Yau.
What the SCO Summit entails
Since then, the Shanghai Cooperation Agreement (SCO) has vowed to rally countries behind China and Russia. Afghanistan and Iran are set to join the group after India and Pakistan joined in 2017. Experts claim that the SCO’s objective is to prevent Western giants like the United States from having more sway and control over countries in Asia.
However, analysts claim that the SCO is currently in difficulty and still lacks the power of established international organizations like the ASEAN or EU.
“There has actually been some tension at times within the SCO. Russia has tried to advance some of its interests which aren’t always aligned with China’s in the region. I don’t think it’s perfectly set up to be this kind of platform for shaping a new world order,” stated a fellow from the China Power Project, Brian Hart.
“But I do think it is an important organization, one that Beijing hopes to continue to support and lead – and one that it does appreciate Russian buy-in on.”
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