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  • » 03/03/2015, 00.00


    China sets its sights on economies of Central Asia

    Beijing is investing in the manufacturing sector in Kazakhstan. Tajikistan receives $ 200 million from Beijing to for lead extraction. China’s goal is to limit Russian influence in Central Asia. Experts say China wants to infiltrate the vast market of the Eurasian Economic Union and contain the threat of terrorism in Xinjiang.

    Beijing (AsiaNews) - In recent months China has signed a series of trade agreements with the countries of Central Asia, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan in the lead, with the main aim of  counterbalancing Russian influence in the region. This has been confirmed by the East Asia Forum website which has published Beijing's future investments plans for Kazakhstan.

    Visiting the Kazakh capital on December 14, 2014, for the first meeting of the Council of Heads of Government of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announced a new economic agreement between the two countries, which is an investment of 14 billion dollars. This was followed in January 2015 by an agreement between Beijing and Astana to enter into joint ventures in manufacturing and other key industries, such as mining, petroleum, chemical, gas and transport.

    Kazakhstan is the largest recipient of Chinese investment among Central Asia's former Soviet bloc nations. In fact, between 1991 and 2013, the country received a total of $ 22 billion.

    According to experts, these agreements come at a crucial time for the Kazakh economy, which has recently suffered a slowdown. Because of the political situation in Russia and the fall in oil prices, growth forecasts in Kazakhstan the have fallen from 5.1 to 1.5%. What's more, the slowdown of the Chinese economy has caused a decrease in demand for metals and other raw materials, resulting in falling prices. During the first half of 2014 exports of iron ore to China fell by 41%. All of this has led the Astana government to announce a new program of infrastructure investment to attract Chinese investment in the manufacturing sector, as was the case with the January agreement.

    In addition to Kazakhstan, China has decided to invest in Tajikistan. On February 25, 2015, the Tajik parliament ratified an agreement between the government and the (Chinese-owned)  Sino-Tajik Mining Company that provides for the development of the mineral deposit of Zarnisori Shimoli. Lochin Fayzullozoda, vice-president of the State Commission on investment and management of state property, said that the Beijing government has allocated $ 200 million for the the project. Under the new plan, the mineral deposit - located in the administrative region of Sughd (in the northeast of the country), currently slated to receive World Bank funds for a project to upgrade the roads - will generate two million tons of ore and 20 thousand tons of lead will be produced per year. Fayzullozoda added, moreover, that the project will create more than 2 thousand new jobs in the area.

    Beijing's main aim is to increase Chinese influence in the region, taking advantage of the opportunities offered by the Russian recession and the diplomatic isolation of Moscow caused by the war in Ukraine. By increasing investment and establishing joint ventures with Kazakhstan, China may also gain access to the immense market of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), which came into force on January 1, 2015.

    Some critics of this economic integration between China and foreign countries argue that Chinese investment could be very risky. For example, China could transfer obsolete and highly polluting industries that it has decided to close in its own territory to Kazakhstan, causing serious environmental problems.

    Other experts claim that the strengthening of economic cooperation between China and neighboring nations will complicate emigration for the ethnic Uighur Muslim minority from the Xinjiang region. Incorporated into the territory of communist China in 1949, the Xinjiang region is inhabited by ethnic Uighur, who speak a Turkish dialect, profess Islam and identify with the populations of Central Asia rather than the cultural traditions of China.

    The ethnic group has always promoted the creation of an autonomous state, East Turkestan, and expressed full support for separatist groups at the time of the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1990, with an enthusiastic welcome for the creation of independent Muslim states in Central Asia. The Beijing government, on the other hand, has suppressed demonstrations and imprisoned activists, encouraging the settlement of the Chinese Han majority in the region.

    Since the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States, Beijing has represented the Uighur separatist groups as affiliates of al-Qaeda terrorists, claiming they are being trained in military camps in Afghanistan and then returning home to threaten the Chinese territory. More recently China fears that the Uighurs may adopt the ideology and tactics of the Islamic State (IS) extremists.

    The discriminatory policies implemented against this minority has caused a mass migration to the territories of Central and South Asia, especially through Thailand and Malaysia.

    Therefore, according to experts, the trade agreements that China has signed with the countries of Central Asia would strengthen integration and cooperation in the economy and help to contain a hypothetical threat of Islamic terrorism in Xinjiang.






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