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International Relations

China, Russia compete for interests in Central Asia

Raw materials and energy reserves in Central Asia make the region of particular interest to both China and Russia. The two countries share interests in region but are also each other's biggest competitors.

The relationship between Russia and China is complicated by both cooperation and competition. That could make the first official visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping in Moscow a tense one. Bilateral political and economic issues are set to dominate the agenda when Xi meets Russian Putin Vladimir Putin for two days of talks, which started Friday.

The countries enjoy what experts have often called a strategic partnership, but that does not mean relations are without problems. The energy sector often crops up as a bone of contention between the nations as both look to increase their power and influence in Central Asia.

Competition for raw materials and trade routes

A refinery in Kazakhstan 
Photo: Anatoly Ustinenko +++(c) dpa - Report+++

China is very interested in Central Asia's energy resources

Russia and China have never been able to find common ground when it comes to Central Asia - and are unlikely to do so in the future, according to Günter Knabe, a German expert on the issue.

"They have a number of common interests that are temporary and limited," he said. "But there are many more issues on which they are competitors - if not even enemies."

Chinais currently driven by one main interest: expanding its own economy. That's one of the goals the leaders of China's Communist Party set themselves.

"China needs raw materials and energy and it is trying to get them wherever it can using whatever means it can," Knabe said, adding that Central Asia looks like a treasure chest of raw materials and energy reserves to leaders in Beijing.

Russia, which has raw materials of its own, is trying to increase its political and military influence in the region. A main interest is maintaining control of key transport routes for its fuel. Knabe said he is convinced that competition between Moscow and Beijing will increase in the region.

Moscow counts on Central Asia

However, Andrej Grosin of the Russian Institute for CIS Countries said there was no pronounced rivalry between the two countries. He said Chinese business interests did not pose a problem to Russia and that the past decade had shown that China's economic expansion into Central Asia came at the expense of Western rather than Russian businesses. Unlike Chinese companies, Russian businesses are not looking to extract massive amounts of gas from Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan because Russia has enough energy reserves of its own. He added that Moscow also did not have major mining plans for Central Asia.

Grosin said China's influence in the region was limited.

"Beijing would love to have provinces in Central Asia that deliver oil, gas and metals to China," he said. "But Chinese leadership takes a realistic view of Russian interests and those of Central Asian countries."

He added that he thought Central Asian nations would continue to focus on their relations with Russia. While elites in Central Asia are corrupt, the Russia expert admitted, they would not let themselves become puppets. China, he added, would rather have Russia assume responsibility for political, and especially military, developments in the region.

Shared security interests

A German tnak in Afghanistan
Photo: Maurizio Gambarini dpa ( +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Safety in Afghanistan after NATO leaves concerns China and Russia

Particularly when it comes to security issues such as Afghanistan and the surrounding region, Moscow and Beijing have shared concerns. The two countries expect difficulties as radical Islamists are set to gain influence as NATO pulls out of Afghanistan, according to Knabe, who added that this was a problem for both nations.

Russia and China could also be of use to each other when it comes to dealing with the United States, Knabe said, adding that Washington is looking increasingly to Asia while Beijing focuses on the US, which will increase competition between China and the US.

Grosin, however, disagreed. He said China will not rely solely on its partnership with Russia. The Chinese have a simple formula for success, he added: "cooperation with Russia as well as with the US."

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