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Asia, Politics and Government, Russia and Eurasia

The New Geopolitics of Central Asia: China Vies for Influence in Russia’s Backyard

Kemal Kirişci – 1.2.18

China’s emerging Belt and Road Initiative—BRI, or the so-called “New Silk Road”—aims to improve dramatically trade connectivity between growing industrial production in China and lucrative European markets. As part of the initiative, Beijing also promises to deliver outcomes for transit countries. China is said to be spending several billions of dollars per year in 60-odd countries.

Kazakhstan is a critical node and is now on the verge of China’s embrace. Not surprisingly, the government in Astana is keen to benefit from the project: It seeks to diversify its economy away from exporting oil and natural resources and wants to improve its road and rail infrastructures in order to expand its logistics sector. If successful, this could help Kazakhstan move from being a middle-income to a high-income country.

Our recent visit to Kazakhstan and the Khorgos Eastern Gate area starkly revealed the dilemma that Kazakhstan faces. Here, we argue that for Kazakhstan to become a high-income country, it will be important that the United States, the European Union, and other major Asian countries take a strategic interest in Kazakhstan and its region. Russia is far from offering an economic outlet for Kazakhstan and the rest of Central Asia. By ensuring that BRI does not infringe upon free trade and liberal market principles, the United States and the EU together can help Kazakhstan to truly prosper, while also protecting the international liberal economic order.

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