By Richard Weitz
Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov’s demise adds to the ongoing transforming of local conditions that present both opportunities and challenges for China-Russia relations.
Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov’s death could reshape Sino-Russian ties in Central Asia. So far, Central Asia has not become an object of rivalry between China and Russia. Within the region, Beijing and Moscow cooperate on some issues and avoid open conflict on others. In particular, China has respected Russia’s security primacy in Central Asia, while Moscow has not visibly impeded Beijing from developing strong economic ties within the region. But Karimov’s demise adds to the ongoing transforming of local conditions that present both opportunities and challenges for China-Russia relations.
Beijing and Moscow share important interests in the region. For example, they both want to limit transnational terrorism in Eurasia. Not only do both countries oppose terrorism in principle, but they fret how instability in Central Asia, fuelled by the violence in Afghanistan and the Middle East, might harm their interests in Central Asia – or worse spillover into their own borders. Beijing is especially worried about its western province of Xinjiang, whose socioeconomic traits look like those of Central Asia. Uighur extremists, who employ violence to press for Xinjiang’s autonomy, were allegedly involved in the recent terrorist attack on the Chinese Embassy in Bishkek. Russia fears spillover into the North Caucasus, which has seen the local Islamist threat wax and wane.
The anxieties in Beijing and Moscow about transnational terrorism are long standing, but have become newly focused on the rise of the “Islamic State” – also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or its Arabic language acronym Daesh. The group has claimed responsibility for attacks against both countries. Uzbeks and other Central Asians have joined the Islamic State’s ranks in Syria, or the related militant groups affiliated with al-Qaeda fighting there; many of these groups also wage jihad with Beijing or Moscow.
About the Author
Richard Weitz is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at Hudson Institute. He is also an Expert at Wikistrat and a non-resident Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security.