Central Asia: China To The Rescue

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September 14, 2008:  In Turkmenistan's capital, there was a clash with Islamic radicals, leaving twenty policemen dead. The fighting continues, with armored vehicles moving through the capital. This is not seen as the start of an uprising, but just another example of the government coming down hard, and successfully, on an Islamic radical group. These Central Asian nations know that, if they have too much trouble with Islamic radicals, they can call on Russia and China for additional help.

The center of Islamic radicalism remains the Ferghana Valley (which runs through Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.) This fertile area has, for centuries, been a regional center of population, commerce and culture. But the three governments have kept the pressure on to the extent that exiled terrorists continue to show up in Pakistan, and other parts of the world. Counter-terrorism forces in Central Asia spend most of their time tracking down Afghan drug smugglers. The heroin trade is where the money is, and money buys guns and manpower. The Islamic terrorists have few sources of funding, and eager young men is not, by itself, sufficient to make much happen.

The Russian invasion of Georgia last month made the Central Asian members (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) of the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), nervous. It reminded them that they are at the mercy of the Russians, and now the Russians have demonstrated a willingness and ability to revive their ancient imperialist attitudes. China, however, has been reassuring the Central Asian states that they can look east for protection from Russian aggression. This adds to the tensions between Russia and China. These two countries compete in trying to build pipelines for Central Asian oil and natural gas. The invasion of Georgia put a halt to any plans for building pipelines to the outside that avoid going through Russia or China.

The Central Asian nations refused to condemn Georgia, as Russia urged them to, because these nations are wary of Russian intentions. The Central Asian countries have Russian minorities (left over from the Soviet Union period) that are not treated well. There are also other minorities from neighboring countries (Russian conquerors drew the current borders in the 19th century, with a few 20th century tweaks by communist officials.) Russia has recently stated that it would defend Russians, and Russian business interests, wherever they are.  

 

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