Sputnik/Sergei Karpukhin/Pool via Reuters
- Russia’s status as a resource of security in Central Asia has weakened, a new GIS report says.
- Meanwhile, the relationship between Moscow and Beijing has become increasingly skewed toward China.
- “The main question for Beijing is how much it will capitalize on the Russian vanishing act.”
Russia’s standing as a world power has deteriorated since its invasion of Ukraine began, and that presents an opportunity for China to take advantage of Moscow’s weakening economy, according to a report from Geopolitical Intelligence Services.
Before Vladimir Putin started the war last year, he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and the pair spoke of a “limitless friendship.”
But to GIS expert and economist Stefan Hedlund, ties between the two countries have tilted unequally away from Russia. Since the war started, Beijing has helped itself to Russian resources while providing little in return.
There’s been little direct investment from China in the rollout of the Chinese Belt and Road initiative, for example, even though Russia did expect to gain from the project. Plus, the promise for China to help build a high-speed railway between Moscow and Kazan also did not pan out.
As if to add insult to injury, Hedlund pointed out, China is set to host the China-Central Asia Summit on May 18 without Russia.
“Closer to home, the implosion of Russia as a great power has wide-ranging implications for Central Asia,” Hedlund said. “It has long been assumed that there is an implicit separation of roles between Moscow and Beijing – Russia provides security while China delivers investment and business development. If that compact ever existed, it no longer does now.”
Russia’s armed intervention in Kazakhstan in 2022 may have been Moscow’s “last stand” in Central Asia, he added, as joint military drills with other countries have been canceled.
And with Russia’s economy under pressure, the Kremlin’s future role in regional trade and development is in doubt.
“The main question for Beijing is how much it will capitalize on the Russian vanishing act,” Hedlund said.
China, for its part, saw its investment in Central Asia soar to about $40 billion by the end of 2020. At the end of 2022, too, Chinese trade with the region had reached $70 billion, marking a 40% jump from the prior year.
Meanwhile, Turkey also looks poised to take on a greater role in Central Asia as Russia’s continues to shrink, Hedlund said.
“As Russia is being phased out of Central Asia, Turkey and China will become the most active players. In such a competition, the brute strength of the Chinese economy will give Beijing an edge that Ankara’s economy cannot match.”