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Tag Archives | Russia

China’s Central Asia Engagements

America’s entanglement in Middle East has given China the perfect ploy to increase its footprint in Asia. The much-hyped Asia Pivot is in doldrums, with no policy framework or strategy to manage China’s rise. China clearly senses that its power projection in the Pacific is limited by the vast US presence and its network of allies, but in Central Asia, a viable power vacuum gives it the opportunity to expand its presence and influence. Central Asia is critical for China in three sectors, mainly trade, energy supplies and the fight against terrorism emancipating from Xinjiang.

 Energy Heaven and Russia’s Backyard-

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Chinese companies ran into Central Asia to chart out energy deals to secure China’s growing energy demands. Most of Oil and Gas Pipelines run through Caspian Sea, Central Asia and Xinjiang, deep into China. Russia continues to be the main geopolitical player in the region, with negligible US presence. But off late, it has been facing subtle yet stiff competition from China. With economic sanctions in place, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Russia to ward off China’s economic power play. China-Central Asia trade was valued at 50 billion dollars in 2014, a figure exceeding Russia’s for the first time. The China-Central Asia network of pipelines could supply up to 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas to China every year, or more than half of China’s total gas imports.

Xinjiang Factor-

Increasing terrorist activities in Xinjiang has put China on a high alert. Influx of the majority Han Chinese in the region termed as ‘Hanification’, and failure of developmental projects has angered the ethnic Muslim population to rise against Xi’s ‘Strike Hard’ campaign. Since most of the oil and natural gas pipelines pass through this region, China is concerned about the security of its investments, and has in recent years, tried to subvert the religious practices of the people in Xinjiang. Uyghur separatists used to move around the porous borders with other Central Asian states to reach Afghanistan, though in recent years their movements have been highly regulated due to increased Chinese clampdown. China’s domestic law enforcement agencies are coordinating with their counterparts in the region to capture the terrorists and bring them to justice. Stability and security is the buzzword in this region. China maintains a premium on stability, and will go at lengths to protect its trade interest in the region. After the killing of a Chinese hostage by ISIS, China has stepped up its counterterrorism efforts. Pakistan has also played a critical role in assisting China. Andrew Small’s ‘The China Pakistan Axis-Asia’s New Geopolitics’ provides a detailed description of their coordination on selective counterterrorism.

Trade-

Trade is a very important factor in China’s geoeconomic calculus in the region. President Xi Jinping unveiled the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative in 2013 to maximize trade and commerce between Europe and China, with Central Asia acting as a critical transit point. EU-China trade is worth around 580 billion dollars, with much of the trade traversing through Central Asia, a replica of the old Silk Road. During ancient times, China had become the most prosperous nation entirely out of trade with Europe and Middle East, and is using the old route to reemphasize its benefits to other nations. Furthermore, China wants to decrease its dependence on the lengthier sea route for trade with Europe, and hence has increased investment in infrastructure projects in the region. For this purpose, China has setup three institutions to fund the vast developmental projects in the region. AIIB, Silk Road Infrastructure Fund and New Development Bank will pool in a total of around 100 billion dollars, with the Silk Road Fund alone providing 40 billion dollars. They will mostly concentrate on connecting China to Europe through railway lines, roads and energy infrastructure. With slowing economic growth and output, OBOR is highly essential for China to succeed and provide the necessary impetus to bolster growth in coming years.

 

India is slowly engaging itself in Central Asia with oil deals and gas pipelines, the most notable being TAPI. But it continues to lag behind China in terms of investment and influence. India-Central Asia trade pegs at 800 million dollars, which would have been higher, if not for Pakistan. Lack of direct access to Central Asian region continues to be a hindrance in terms of trade, energy security etc for India. And as the Chinese say, India is still 2 decades behind them, more so in this region. Let’s see if India will be able to better engage itself in Central Asia, with its growing economic clout and energy demands. Prime Minister Modi visited all 5 Central Asian states in order to increase security cooperation and trade. As the TAPI pipeline finally materializes for India, another option for India is to let the pipelines pass from Xinjiang region through the disputed territory of Aksai Chin, though it is very less likely to get traction among policy makers on both sides. In choosing lesser of the two devils, China is a better option than Pakistan for energy trade.

Piyush Singh is Junior Research Associate at Takshashila Institution and a student of law at Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur.He tweets at @Piyushs7

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Afghanistan’s India outreach

The likely transfer of four attack helicopters from India to Afghanistan marks a significant change in the positions of not only India and Afghanistan, but also that of the US.

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

Suhasini Haidar reported in The Hindu on November 4, 2015:

India is discussing the transfer of attack helicopters to Afghanistan when Afghan National Security Adviser Hanif Atmar visits New Delhi this weekend (November 7-8) for meetings with NSA Ajit Doval.

As Haidar details further, these four Russian-made Mi-25 helicopters will be India’s first offensive weaponry transferred to the National Unity Government in Afghanistan.

This transfer marks a significant change in the positions of not only India and Afghanistan, but also that of the US, as explained below.

Up to this point, the Indian government had rolled back its engagement with Ashraf Ghani’s administration following his efforts (backed by the US) to reach out to all sections of Pakistan in the hope of getting the Taliban to the negotiating table. Back then, it made sense for India to let its displeasure be made clear to the Afghan government, which chose to throw its weight behind Pakistan-led talks while keeping the Indian connection on the back burner.

However, we had argued in our writings that India should look to refresh its Afghanistan relationship in light of three new developments: failure of the Murree round of talks, splintering of the Taliban movement and its relative weakness in the South, and the changing geopolitics of Afghanistan, Central and West Asia over the last six months.

It finally appears that the Indian leadership has decided to re-energise its Afghanistan desk. Reports suggest that it was the Indian government that reached out to Afghanistan—the invitation to Mr. Atmar was extended by Mr. Doval during a telephone conversation a few days back. This is a welcome change—India looks to have overcome its fear of aggravating Pakistan in order to boost Afghanistan’s quest for strategic autonomy.

Second, this move also reflects a change in the Afghan government’s position. Already frustrated by the failure of the Murree round of talks, the Kunduz attack turned out to be the last straw. Following the Taliban takeover of the important northern city, the Afghan government was forced to re-evaluate its relationship with all its neighbours. The Chief Executive of the government, Abdullah Abdullah welcomed Russia’s potential assistance by saying:

If any country wants to assist Afghanistan in war on terror, Afghanistan welcomes the offer.

This outreach to India is a reflection of this realignment of Afghan government’s priorities.

Third, the National Unity Government’s change of heart is impossible without a change in the US position. We had indicated that the U.S., in search of an honourable exit from Afghanistan, had been shaken by the Kunduz incident and was looking for more options:

The Kunduz attaack makes it clear that the optimism generated by Pakistan-led round of talks was misplaced. The halt in troop withdrawal until 2017 is meant to buy time until the U.S. finds a better roadmap to peace in Afghanistan. While the U.S. and China still continue to place their bets on Pakistan-backed efforts, there is a growing realisation that the price Pakistan demands will never be acceptable to large sections of Afghans. Nevertheless, the U.S. is said to be examining various other possibilities for securing peace.

It is most likely that in search of new options, the US would have encouraged the national unity government to re-engage with India.

A few important questions emerge in the light of the new development: given the new start, will India further deepen its military relationship with the Afghan government? And more importantly, will India help the Afghan government and the US in starting a new peace process with sections of the Taliban? These questions will be answered in the days to come. In any case, well re-begun is almost half done.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

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