Temur Umarov

PANEL 4: China’s Security and Military Presence in Central Asia

Russia and China in Central Asian Security: Partners or Rivals?

Temur Umarov, Fellow at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Berlin, Germany

Those trying to find the weakest link in Sino-Russian relations generally point to Central Asia. It is believed that the two powers traditionally have divided their spheres of interest in the area, with China being responsible for its economy and Russia focusing on its security. Some claim that this status quo is now changing, which is bound to trigger a conflict between Moscow and Beijing. However, this view fails to treat Central Asian countries as autonomous forces, and assumes that their larger and more powerful neighbors make decisions for them or force them to make certain decisions. In reality, the countries in the region have never been more autonomous than they are today, and their people have never demanded as much accountability from their governments, including on foreign policy issues. Landlocked regional states derive no benefit from switching one influential neighbor for another. All of them try to diversify their connections to the outside world, and in that, both Russia and China are equally important to them. Moreover, Moscow and Beijing are not interested in seeking conflict; their own bilateral relations take precedence over their interests in Central Asia.