Photo Credit: Noel Celis
China is moving to reassert its influence throughout the majority of Asia. After staying inside China for a thousand days as a result of the Covid limitations, Chinese leader Xi Jinping flew to Central Asia.
According to sources, Xi will go to Kazakhstan on Wednesday before proceeding to the regional conference in Uzbekistan. Xi will meet with other political leaders during the conference, most notably Russian President Vladimir Putin. Since Putin waged war on Ukraine, that would be the two superpower leaders’ first face-to-face encounter.
Recall that weeks prior to Putin’s war on Ukraine, Russia had China’s support. Xi declared that China would stand behind Moscow throughout the struggle. The meeting between the presidents of Russia and China would stir up new controversies over the future of the international system now that Putin has come under fire from world leaders, including the G7.
In the forthcoming elections, where the incumbent leader is hoping to win a third term, Xi’s Central Asia trip will probably increase his appeal. If Xi were to win, China would recognize him as one of Beijing’s most influential leaders in decades.
The fact that Xi is beginning to travel during the global economic downturn and tensions between the nations involved in the Russian-Ukrainian war suggests that he is secure in his ability to exert influence and authority, according to Steven Tsang, director of the China Institute.
“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,” Tsang said.
“[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 strategy
With what China is doing at the moment, experts are not shocked. China intends to cement its domination in Central Asia first since it is a crucial region for the country. The action also reveals the nation’s top foreign policy priorities.
“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,” stated Niva Yau, a senior researcher from the OSCE Academy in Kyrgyzstan.
China’s push into Central Asia is also prompted by the criticism the nation has faced as a result of the mistreatment the Chinese authorities perpetrated on the Uyghur Muslims living in Xinjiang. Other Uyghurs have protested the nation and asked the UN Human Rights Office for assistance.
“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,” the professor added.
The goal of the SCO Summit
Since then, the Shanghai Cooperation Agreement (SCO) has committed to enlisting other countries in its efforts to support China and Russia. In 2017, India and Pakistan joined, and Iran and Afghanistan are scheduled to follow in their footsteps. The SCO’s objective, according to analysts, is to prevent Western giants like the United States from expanding their influence and control over Asian countries.
The SCO is now fragile, according to analysts, and its power is still inferior to that of long-standing 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,” said Brian Hart, a fellow from the China Power Project.
“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.”