China and Central Asia: Charting a New…

Monday, February 5, 2007
10:00 AM – 12:00 PM


Dr. Pan Guang
Professor, Shanghai Center for International Studies, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences


On February 5, The Jamestown Foundation hosted a lecture by Dr. Pan Guang of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. Pan currently serves as the Director and Professor of the Shanghai Center for International Studies at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS). Pan based his presentation on his forthcoming paper available in the February 7 issue of China Brief.

In his lecture, Pan reviewed the history of the relationship between China and the Central Asian states and provided recommendations on deepening Sino-Central Asian relations:

– 2007 marks the 15th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and five Central Asian states–Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
– In this short period, significant progress and coordination in Sino-Central Asian relations were achieved on three fronts: political and security cooperation, economic and trade relations and cultural exchanges.
– The way forward in Sino-Central Asian relations will depend on the maintenance of regional security and stability, given that these are the preconditions and guarantees required for the facilitation of increased regional economic and cultural cooperation.


Just one month after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, China dispatched a Chinese delegation to establish diplomatic relations with five Central Asian states–Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. In April 1996 and April 1997, China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan signed two crucial agreements that led to the disarmament along the borders of the aforementioned nations and the creation of the Shanghai Five (China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan), which would later become the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

Dr. Pan observed that within six years of the agreements, all disputes along the former Sino-Soviet border were resolved as troops on both sides of the borders were reduced in number, first by 30 percent, then by 50 percent and then removed altogether. SCO members formally declared they would strive for coordinated cooperation and support each other in combating "external disruptions to domestic stability and development." The current focus of the SCO is to cooperate in combating terrorism, extremism and separatism as well as other transnational criminal forces. For China, the primary regional security threat is the East Turkistan (ET) terrorist or separatist organization, which both the UN and the United States list as a terrorist organization.

Efforts to expand economic and commercial relations have resulted in tremendous success as trade between China and Central Asia has grown from $500 million in 1992 to $8.5 billion in 2005–an increase of more than 16 times in 14 years. Dr. Pan was quick to note though that China’s primary interest in Central Asia is its vast energy reserves, and any increase of growth in this area necessitates the construction of additional pipelines. As evidenced by the Atasu-Alashankou pipeline running from Kazakhstan to China that began to transport oil in 2005, China is looking to reduce its dependency on Middle East energy supplies. Additional gas pipelines from Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan to China will help to increase the supply of natural gas to China, which in turn will help diversify China’s current energy structure that relies predominantly on coal and petroleum. The construction of pipelines from Central Asia to China will also allow China to become an energy hub for Northeast Asian countries as well as avoid the maritime vulnerability of the Malacca Strait.

Increased cultural exchanges are likewise critical to greater regional understanding and civil relations. Dr. Pan pointed to a management training program for talented Central Asian youth in China as a good example of cultural cooperation efforts. Yet, he was keen to emphasize that existing bilateral cooperation needed to be expanded to multilateral efforts, such as mutual visits by artists, athletes and academics and culture-oriented tourism along the Silk-Road.

Looking ahead, Dr. Pan provided the audience with several areas in which Sino-Central Asian relations can be improved. He spoke at length regarding the need to support the creation of the SCO Development Bank. With some CIS members losing faith in the bank’s value, specific goals and an expressed mission need to be enumerated and agreed upon by all members in order to ensure the bank’s survival and purpose. Pan noted that ten agreements on regional development were signed at the bank’s first meeting that could provide a good financial platform for future cooperation.

The area where the greatest cooperation is needed and where relations can be deepened is security cooperation. Pan pointed to the "election-related turmoil" that resulted from the "color revolutions" in Eastern Europe and Central Asia as an area of utmost concern for China. He suggested the vehicle for progress would be the SCO Regional Anti-terrorism Structure which could combat extremist groups, such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir, that seek to destabilize the domestic cohesiveness of the region. Additionally, the Central Asian Nuclear-Free Zone (CANFZ) should be supported in order to avoid a nuclear arms race and effectively combat WMD proliferation. China and Central Asia should participate in the international efforts to create "anti-narcotic belts" around Afghanistan as well as provide assistance to stabilize Afghanistan.

Overall, the deepening of, let alone the status quo of Sino-Central Asian relations hinges upon the maintenance of regional security and stability as preconditions and guarantees to the facilitation of regional economic and cultural cooperation. During the question and answer session Dr. Pan fielded a wide variety of questions on pressing issues relating to Sino-Russian relations, specifically Central Asian states and energy security.

When asked about Iranian participation in the SCO, Dr. Pan noted that Iran’s observer status, which was initially proposed by Russia and later supported by Uzbekistan, occurred during the presidency of Khatami, suggesting that perhaps China’s current position on Iranian participation in the SCO might be different now with Iran under Ahmadinejad. There are currently four observer countries in the SCO: India, Pakistan, Mongolia and Iran.

When asked about Chinese efforts in the war on terror, Dr. Pan pointed to Beijing’s concern over Sino-Pakistani relations as the reasoning behind China’s limited presence in Afghanistan, in contrast with its very large presence in the UN-peacekeeping mission in Lebanon in which China has nearly 1,000 participants. Although he proposed an expanded role of China in regional security efforts and specified Afghanistan as a major source of worry–opium production, Taliban insurgency and arms trade–he cautioned that official Chinese participation was out of the question as it could harm relations with Pakistan. Currently, China has one police official working in Afghanistan as a liaison to NATO.

On questions of regional economic development, Pan highlighted the growth of Sino-Kazakh trade, noting that in 2005 overall trade with Central Asia was $8.5 billion of which $6.8 billion was with Kazakhstan alone. He also stressed the importance of Turkmen gas for China’s development, referencing his paper on East-West Shanghai gas development projects. He ended by emphasizing the need for Chinese economic investment in the Fergana Valley to offset the growing poverty in the Uzbek portion of the Fergana Valley, which could lead to regional instability if left unchecked.


The Jamestown Foundation
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7th Floor Conference Room
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