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meeting the challenge: foreign assistance remedies for problematic prc activity in europe, eurasia, and central asia

Meeting the Challenge: Foreign Assistance Remedies for Problematic PRC Activity in Europe, Eurasia, and Central Asia

Author: U.S. Department of State

May 20, 2024

Posted with the kind permission of the U.S. Department of State.

On April 22, the State Department Office of the Coordinator of Assistance to Europe and Eurasia and the U.S. Agency for International Development Bureau for Europe and Eurasia co-facilitated an all-day learning workshop on foreign assistance remedies for problematic People’s Republic of China (PRC) activity in Europe, Eurasia, and Central Asia. They convened a diverse set of State Department and other interagency stakeholders, including partners from the Departments of Commerce and Treasury, to discuss how foreign assistance tools can support partners in the region to counter PRC propagation of disinformation, use of corrosive capital, advancement of unfair trade practices, and other activities that counter U.S. values and policy goals. The workshop featured panel discussions among recognized experts and practitioners on these topics, including former Congressman Mark Kennedy, retired Ambassador Richard Hoagland, as well as senior members of research and policy centers in Washington, DC.

Key takeaways:

  • - China's Role in Central Asia and the Caucasus: China's growing role is driven by the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Middle Corridor, which offers an alternative trade route bypassing Russia. This shift has significant implications for regional dynamics, especially in light of Russia's war in Ukraine.
  • - Multi-Vector Foreign Policy: Central Asian countries practice a multi-vector approach to balance the influences of China, Russia, the European Union, and the United States. This approach allows these countries to maintain sovereignty while engaging with global powers, with China often seen as a counterbalance to Russia.
  • - China's Lack of Ideological Pressure: China's emphasis on territorial integrity, rather than ideological pressure, resonates with Central Asian countries. This lack of political demands differentiates China from Russia, contributing to a more favorable view of China's role by the countries in the region.
  • - The Importance of U.S. Involvement in Central Asia:  While China plays a significant role, there is a need for a broader U.S. presence to balance China's influence. The proposed "8 plus 1" format, an expansion of the current C5+1 format, could help the U.S. engage more effectively with Central Asia and the Caucasus, recognizing the interconnectedness of these regions due to the Middle Corridor.

 

Panel Topics:

China's Growing Role in Central Asia: 

The BRI, initiated in 2013, serves as a cornerstone of China's regional engagement strategy, facilitating massive investments and infrastructure projects throughout Central Asia. These endeavors have positioned China as a substantial actor in the region's economic and geopolitical landscape. The initiative's overarching goal of fostering connectivity and trade along the ancient Silk Road routes has propelled China to the forefront of Central Asian affairs, influencing regional dynamics and reshaping geopolitical alliances.

Multi-Vector Foreign Policy to Balance China and Russia:

The concept of a multi-vector foreign policy entails Central Asian countries adopting a diversified approach to engage with global powers, including China and Russia, as well as the European Union and the United States. By embracing this strategy, these nations aim to safeguard their sovereignty while maximizing the benefits of collaboration with various international actors. This approach allows them to maintain diplomatic flexibility and strategic autonomy, mitigating dependence on any single power. Central Asian states strategically balance their relations with China and Russia, both major regional players, to navigate complex geopolitical dynamics. The adoption of a multi-vector foreign policy underscores these countries' efforts to assert their agency in international affairs, cultivate diverse partnerships, and pursue their national interests amid competing global influences.

China's Middle Corridor and Regional Connectivity:

China's Middle Corridor initiative, a component of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), establishes a vital trade route linking Europe to China through the Caucasus and Central Asia. This route bypasses Russia, gaining significance due Russia’s war against Ukraine and subsequent sanctions against Russia. As a result, China's role in regional connectivity is amplified, enhancing its influence in the area. The Middle Corridor offers an alternative pathway for trade, reducing reliance on traditional routes. This initiative underscores China's commitment to expanding its economic footprint and geopolitical influence beyond its borders. Additionally, the Middle Corridor fosters greater regional integration and cooperation, providing Central Asian and South Caucasus countries with enhanced access to global markets and economic opportunities.

The Shift in Central Asian Dynamics due to Russia's Actions:

Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022 triggered a significant shift in Central Asian dynamics, prompting countries in the region to reassess their relationships with global powers. The invasion served as a wake-up call, leading Central Asian states to reconsider their reliance on Russia and to seek alternative partners. This recalibration of international relations creates opportunities for China to expand its influence in the region, particularly through initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Middle Corridor. As Central Asian countries navigate this new geopolitical landscape, they are increasingly open to engaging with China and other global actors to diversify their alliances and mitigate dependence on any single power.

China's Lack of Ideological Pressure:

China's approach in Central Asia contrasts with Russia's tendency to impose ideological pressure, as Beijing prioritizes maintaining territorial integrity over ideological alignment. This lack of ideological coercion appeals to Central Asian countries, allowing them to engage with China without compromising their sovereignty. Unlike Moscow, which often pushes political agendas, China's emphasis on pragmatic cooperation resonates with Central Asian leaders. This pragmatic approach, coupled with China's significant investments in the region through initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), has contributed to a more favorable view of China's involvement in Central Asia. As a result, Central Asian states cautiously embrace China as a strategic partner, appreciating its respect for their sovereignty and the economic opportunities it offers without ideological strings attached.

The Importance of U.S. Involvement in Central Asia:

U.S. engagement in Central Asia is critical to counterbalance China's growing influence in the region. U.S. engagement can be enhanced by recognizing the interconnectedness of the Caucasus and Central Asia. This approach seeks to address the evolving geopolitical landscape, particularly with the emergence of China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the strategic significance of the Middle Corridor. By actively engaging with Central Asia, the United States can promote stability, foster economic development, and ensure that regional countries have diverse options for partnership, thus reducing their dependence on any single external power.


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