We are seeing the emergence of a dual power structure in Central Asia, with China as the dominant economic power and Russia as the big security player.
Or, as Alexander Gabuev, senior associate and the chair of the Russia in the Asia-Pacific program at the Carnegie Moscow Center, told Foreign Policy: “China would be the bank and Russia would be the big gun.”
China continues to take the lead in economic-power ventures including the AIIB and the potential SCO development bank (which Russia is finally warming up to). Additionally, China has become the main moneylender in Central Asia: Its trade volume with the region surpassed that of Russia in 2009.
At the same time, Russia wants to keep its military bases and arms deals in Central Asia, as well as the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, a security bloc of former Soviet countries.
China “sees economics as power,” according to a report by Stratfor. “For Beijing, military might rests on a strong economic base, and global power stems as much from the ability to shape global markets as it does from military force.”
The same reports suggest that Russia is pursuing the regional muscle role because Moscow “believes military might is the basis for national strength, power, and influence.”
That may be partially true, but it’s difficult to make that call considering that China is the economic leader in the region.
Alternatively, there’s the sense that Russia is pursuing security power in Eurasia because, simply put, that’s the second best option.
“The Kremlin knows that they won’t be able to compete with Chinese investment,” Luca Anceschi, a Central Asia expert at the University of Glasgow, told Foreign Policy. “Russia simply can’t catch up.”
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