03/27/2023, 10.26
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Beijing, the 'Big Brother' of Central Asia

by Vladimir Rozanskij

The Chinese launch the new 5+1 format for dialogue with the former Soviet republics in the region. The focus on communication campaigns in Kyrgyzstan. The risk of being dragged into the geopolitical competition between the West and the China-Russia duo.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - China is creating a new platform for the development of cooperation with Central Asian countries, the 5+1 format according to Chinese Ambassador Du Dewen in Biškek, Kyrgyzstan. During a press conference he also announced preparations are being made for Kyrgyz President Sadyr Žaparov's first state visit to Beijing in May.

These announcements assume considerable interest after the visit of US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to the region, and that of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Russia.

Žaparov's visit will not be the only one, because in the run-up to the first formal 'Central Asia-China' summit, the other four presidents of the countries concerned are also expected to be welcomed to Beijing.

Meetings in the 5+1 format have been held before in less demanding formats: the last one in January this year to celebrate 30 years of diplomatic relations, and in early March between foreign ministers. In 2022, the Russia-Central Asia summit was held in Astana, Kazakhstan, and there is also a format with Japan.

Now Beijing intends to relaunch this model of cooperation, as Kyrgyz international relations expert Mars Sariev explains: 'China wants to achieve a very influential position in Central Asia, as a decisive factor in the bipolar world imagined by Putin and Xi, between East and West...

Deng Xiaoping also had a similar vision, the world balance for peaceful development'. Now these prospects take on a profile of 'great dynamism', in an attempt also to resume the Belt and Road Initiative with the construction of the new Sino-Kyrgyz railway line.

In addition to Ambassador Dewen's activism, several Chinese ministers and deputies have been seen in Biškek in recent times to discuss numerous agreements, such as the one set up with the new director of the Radio-Television Social Corporation, Bolotbek Tillebaev, for the dissemination of information of common interest in the two countries.

Beijing seems to attribute a crucial role to Kyrgyzstan's communication space; as early as October 2022, the OSCE Academy in Biškek published an extensive and complex research on 'Managing Interests in the Western Periphery: China's Information Operations in Kyrgyzstan', which highlights the growth of Chinese influence in the sector with '22 information platforms' in the country.


As the author of the survey Niva Yau explains, 'there is a very active exchange of journalists, whereby Kyrgyz journalists write for China, and Chinese journalists are used by us as influencers, to spread advertising messages between the two countries and throughout Central Asia'.

Chinese's attention is also on the support of the inhabitants of 'East Turkestan', the Chinese region of Xinjiang, and the Kyrgyz are more ready than others to support Beijing's positions in this regard.

On this point, another expert, Činara Esengul, a Kyrgyz with Japanese studies, believes that 'it would be better for the leaders of Central Asia to agree on a common position on geopolitical issues, in relations with the major powers', otherwise there is a risk of being crushed by conflicting pressures.

"It is good to be seen as one region, even if there is no shortage of internal conflicts between our countries, and the interests of the US, Russia and China push us towards cooperation and greater unity, but the outcomes should be considered more carefully, as the powers are not united in our regard,' Esengul concludes.

After Putin and Xi's meeting in Moscow, political scientist Emil Džuraev believes, "the attempt to build a single anti-Western bloc because of the Ukrainian conflict is increasing", and this poses a big challenge for Central Asia, "not to turn big friends into 'Big Brothers', starting with Beijing".

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