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China Letter-News and Human Rights

China human rights news with focus on the Uygur of Xinjiang, Tibetans and Tibet, Chinese mining workers, religion, corruption and censorship.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

China: Rise and Rise in Central Asia


"The increased presence of Chinese people and companies all over Central Asia is becoming a 'fait accompli'. "

So says the Times of Kyrgyzstan in an article that looks at China's 'peaceful rise'" as the most dominant nation not only in greater Asia but Central Asia as well.

My area of interest has always been the Uygur people of Xinjiang, the Turkic Muslims that inhabit China's north western "province" that borders four Central Asian nations.

The Uygur being Turkic and having more in common with the likes of Bishkek than Beijing in terms of history, language and culture has made watching developments in Central Asia of some importance to me.

Unlike some I have always thought that the dominant force in Central Asia would be either Russia, with it's history and knowledge in the area, India with it's desire to gain a foothold in this strategically important area, or, China for, well, all of the above. I believed that whilst America seems to have the upperhand now due to her involvement in Afghanistan this would gradually change and ultimately the US would be relegated to the reserve bench.

But, still I thought that both Russia and India would hold the top two places and China would run a distant third mainly because of cultural differences. I felt the central Asians would be far more comfortable dealing with Russia, India and Europe than China. Lately however I have had call to revise my earlier assessments and now place China squarely at the top of the pecking order.

There are two reasons for this change of heart. Firstly and foremost is China's great need for energy resources. As China continues to expand at it's current astronomical rate energy will be it's prime motivator in international affairs and trade. Where the energy is so will be China. The Central Asian countries are rich in energy resources that still remain under utilised and I believe the Chinese will wave whatever size carrot is needed to gain greater access to these resource and guarantee it's long term supply.

Secondly, the Chinese have an advantage over the other contenders, if they choose to make use of it, in as much as the Uygur people sharing many similarities with the Central Asians could be of great assistance in making further inroads into these countries. Already as a result of Russian and Soviet involvement in Xinjiang over the course of history and with refugees escaping Chinese oppression since 1949 there are several hundred thousand Uygurs already resident in Central Asian countries, many in business.

The Uygurs in Central Asia however are not universally loved despite their "kinship" with the Turkic peoples there. Of recent years the Central Asian countries have, in their drive to create close economic relations with China, taken very much to heart the Chinese claim of the existence "Uygur Terrorism" throughout Xinjiang and Central Asia. Many Uygur have been forcibly sent back to China, many to jail and some even to execution. People of Uygurs ancestry are often referred to as "Uygur terrorists' despite in some instances the families have been in their new homelands for over 100 years. As well the success of the Uygurs in business has led to some hostility and resentment toward them.

Appropriate treatment of the Uygur by the Chinese however could do much to "rehabilitate" the Uygur in the eyes of China's Central Asian neighbours and prove in the long term to be of invaluable use in China achieving ascendancy in the region.


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