Existing literature and public discussions in Central Asia mostly describe the role of the People’s Republic of China in the region as strictly an economic one. This report identifies and describes Beijing’s goals and influence in the security and military sector in Central Asia. It begins by discussing Chinese security interests in the region by analyzing 265 official records of high-level meetings conducted with Central Asian states, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, between 1993 to 2020, where security topics were discussed. These security concerns evolved over time, from emphasis on Uyghur political movements to security of Chinese investments and anti-Chinese sentiments in Central Asia.
Then, it details the PRC-led multilateral, bilateral, and domestic security activities carried out towards addressing these security concerns. Within and beyond the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), multilateral dialogue on security issues have been regularized among all ranks of Central Asian security officers. The SCO has conducted annual security exercises since 2010, though the size of deployment, focus, and scope have changed. Between 2010 and 2019, the SCO created five expert groups to coordinate regional law enforcement agencies in order to address specific security issues. Still, in comparison, bilateral security engagement remains more diverse. The number of meetings is increasing, and their formats are becoming more efficient. There are joint patrols and operation, regular military exercises pre-pandemic, short-term training and long-term military degree programs in China, transfer of security equipment, construction of security infrastructure, and the presence of Chinese private security companies. Domestically as well, the PRC has increased its military capacity in its western region. More emphasis has been placed on increased combat readiness, as well on the condition and human capacity on the border.
While some areas of existing security cooperation are productive in meeting security goals, such as consensus over non-tolerance of Uyghur independence supporters and tightening illegal cross-border activities, two problems persist. First, while the PRC to an extend desires a regional approach to security, deliverables are more visible as the outcome of bilateral cooperation in Central Asia. These regional efforts are meant to deter any Central Asian governments from making independent assessments and forming their own foreign policy on Xinjiang without PRC participation. Second, language remains the most difficult operational obstacle to overcome. The dominance of the Russian language cements a substantial cultural and operational gap between the armies.
This online event launches the report “China’s Security Management Towards Central Asia” which will be made available in Russian language on June 2. The event will start with a 45-minute report presentation and then a Q&A section.
14:00 - 14:45 Report presentation: China’s Security Management Towards Central Asia
Niva Yau, a Senior Researcher at the OSCE Academy in Bishkek
14:45 - 15:30 Q&A Session
Niva Yau is a Senior Researcher at the OSCE Academy in Bishkek and a Fellow at the Eurasia Program of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia. Her research focuses on Global China affairs, particularly on China’s foreign policy, trade policy and security in its western neighborhood, including Central Asia and Afghanistan. She has conducted a number of commissioned research on China affairs in Central Asia, concerning private security companies, Belt and Road Initiative, governance export, influence campaigns, renewable investments in Central Asia, and more. Ms Yau is quoted by news agencies globally, such as BBC, The Independent, Nikkei Asia, The Economist, VICE, Le Monde, Deutsche Welle, Al Jazeera and others. Ms Yau was awarded the Albert Otto Hirschman prize for best political economy writing in 2020 by The Washington Post for her work on the latest development of Chinese policy banks in Central Asia. Originally from Hong Kong, Ms Yau has been based in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan since 2018, she is a native speaker of Cantonese, Mandarin, English and a learner of Russian.
OSCE Academy in Bishkek (https://www.osce-academy.net/) is a public foundation, established in 2002 between the Kyrgyz Government and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The Academy promotes the principles and values of the OSCE through post-graduate education, professional training and intellectual exchange. Moreover, the Academy hosts Research Fellowships, as well as publishes articles, policy briefs, and research papers on questions relevant to the Academy’s mission.