News / Asia

China Displaces Russia in Central Asia

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev (R) with Chinese President Hu Jintao (L) at a pipeline opening ceremony in Astana, 2009. President Hu Jintao's visit highlighted Beijing's growing influence over Central Asia's strategic energy resources.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev (R) with Chinese President Hu Jintao (L) at a pipeline opening ceremony in Astana, 2009. President Hu Jintao's visit highlighted Beijing's growing influence over Central Asia's strategic energy resources.

Multimedia

Audio
James Brooke

The vendor is Chinese, the products are Chinese, but the market is here in Almaty, capital of Kazakhstan, the most prosperous of Central Asia's five "stans," or former Soviet Republics

In Baraholka, the city's largest bazaar, vendors offer blue jeans, humidifiers, mobile phone chargers, and fresh apples - all from China.  The trading language is still largely Russian, a legacy of the old colonial power.  But as Alira, a vendor here, says, the products are not.

"Russian products?  We have no Russian products," Alira says adamantly.

China is doing more than selling pots and pans to Central Asia's 62 million people.  A thirst for energy is behind China's massive oil and gas investments in Central Asia, long the privileged sphere of Russia.  

Chinese demand for energy edges U.S.

The International Energy Agency reports China is displacing the United States this year as the world's-largest energy consumer.  Over the next 25 years, China's energy consumption is expected to double.

But the bulk of China's imported oil and gas passes through vulnerable sea lanes.  Hongyi Lai, a professor at the University of Nottingham, studies China's global search for energy.

"The importance of Central Asia for China is in terms of energy security," says Lai. "It provides transport of oil and gas overland, not through sea lanes. So in this form, it is more secure for China."

Central Asia has some of the world's largest reserves of oil and gas.  Once a dusty stretch of the Silk Road for camel caravans taking Chinese products to Europe, Central Asia is now a destination for Chinese investment - about $25 billion at last count.

New infrastructure

Last year saw the openings of the first pipelines carrying Central Asian oil and gas east to China.  Now Turkmen gas heats apartment buildings in Beijing.

Almost overnight, Turkmenistan, which holds the fourth-largest gas reserves in the world, is selling more gas to China than to Russia.  Kazakhstan, which plans to be among the world's top 10 oil producers, now sells one quarter of its oil to China.

In addition to paying for pipeline expansions, China is paying for a 3,000-kilometer highway across Kazakhstan that is to be part of a new, asphalt Silk Road, allowing trucks to drive from China to Western Europe.

Fading Russian legacy

American author Parag Khanna, says in his new book, "How to Run the World," that these new pipelines, highways and railroads radiate out of China into Central Asia, "like five fingers on a hand."  This puts Russia on the defensive in Central Asia, long its privileged sphere of influence.

"Russia, if it wants to remain relevant, is going to have to be putting its money where its mouth is, and buying into these kinds of deals as well," Khanna points out. "It has a very strong legacy position in electricity and energy and other sorts of sectors in the former Soviet Republics in Central Asia, but it needs to defend that turf more actively, particularly given the generational change, linguistic change, western orientation, as well as eastern orientation, among the next generation of leadership in all of those countries.  It really cannot take anything for granted," he says.

With daily flights between Almaty and Urumqui, China's nearest regional capital, a generation of Central Asians is growing up with no memories of the Soviet-Chinese confrontation that kept the border frozen shut for most of the 20th century.

Kazakh political scientist Dosym Satpayev watches the surge of young Kazkakhs studying Chinese and winning scholarships to study in China.

"A lot of young people receive education in China and when they will return to our countries, maybe China will use these people as [a] lobby to realize their own interests, not only in economic sphere, but in culture sphere, in informational sphere," Satpayev says. "As for Russia, I believe this country will decrease position in our region because Russia is not a very strong competitor.''

Kazakhs now say, in Russian: 'If you want to leave, study English.  If you want to stay, study Chinese."

Some unease with new order

But a backlash may be brewing. Kazakh authorities dropped a plan to rent one-million hectares of unused farmland to Chinese farmers.

Aidos Sarym, who runs an opposition research organization in Almaty, says many Kazakhs are uneasy about the Chinese giant. Kazakhs worry about their eastern neighbor with a population 100 times that of Kazakhstan, says Sarym.

But China's rapid economic thrust may now be irreversible.  An American-trained Kazakh businessman, Baurzhon Doszhanov, looks around Baraholka bazaar as he shops for a Chinese-made camping lantern.

"If we remove Chinese stuff, we will be naked, " says Doszhanov.

You May Like

Analysis: China Raises Hong Kong Rhetoric to Tiananmen Level

A front-page commentary in The People’s Daily called the current demonstrations 'chaos,' the same word Party officials used 25 years ago to describe the Tiananmen Square protests More

US Airstrikes Anger Syrian Civilians Fleeing Their Homes

Pentagon officials say they have seen no credible evidence of civilian deaths caused by US airstrikes against Islamic State militants More

Child Sexual Exploitation to Worsen in SE Asia

Southeast Asia’s planned economic integration is a key step for boosting the region’s productivity, but carries downsides as well More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid