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20-07-05, 22:09
China's Great Game

By Patrick Devenny

FrontPageMagazine.com | July 19, 2005

The recent comments of Chinese General Zhu Chenghu -
in which he threatened the United States with nuclear
attack over the issue of Taiwan - represent the most
public manifestation of China's growing belligerency
on the world stage. The concerted effort on the part
of the Chinese to establish their hegemony over the
critical region of Central Asia has been comparably
covert, but no less menacing. With America entering
the area militarily following the September 11th
attacks, these Chinese efforts have only intensified,
giving rise to a new "Great Game." Viewing American
deployments as dangerous encroachments into their
territorial periphery, the Chinese are determined to
eject America from Central Asia. Their efforts
represent a direct challenge to America and her
regional allies, as well as a serious threat to
America's stated goal of encouraging democratic
institutions in formerly authoritarian nations.

The most recent example of this broad strategy came on
July 5th, when the Shanghai Cooperation Organization -
a partnership of six nations including four Central
Asian states as well as China and Russia - called for
a "final deadline" for the withdrawal of American and
allied forces involved in combat operations in
Afghanistan. Such a declaration came as a shock to
the anti-terror coalition, which relies on these bases
for much of its in-theater firepower. Considering the
vast amount of largesse and economic aid foisted upon
the nations of Central Asia by the United States since
9-11, what could have prompted them to take such an
ungrateful stance?

To answer this question, one has to take a close look
at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Created
largely at the behest of China in 2001, the SCO was
designed to facilitate cooperation on fighting
terrorism and separatism. However, the SCO soon
expanded its docket and began to actively facilitate
the rapidly growing Chinese influence throughout the
region. The Chinese have energetically promoted and
funded the SCO, seeking to structure it as an
anti-American alliance totally reliant on their
support. Once one understands the history of the SCO
and the role China plays within it, the motive behind
the July 5th deadline announcement becomes clear. The
People's Republic of China, as the main power behind
the SCO, was undoubtedly the catalyst for the recent
effort to challenge the presence of U.S. bases
throughout the region. Such a hypothesis was
supported recently by General Richard Myers, Chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who charged China with
"bullying" weaker Central Asian nations.

Being a member of the Chinese-led SCO has benefits
that an American-sponsored alliance could never match;
namely, a SCO member has few rules to follow other
than loyalty to the alliance. Since every single SCO
member nation (except for, only recently, Kyrgyzstan)
in Central Asia is ruled by despots, the organization
is a welcoming oasis for human rights abusers and
corrupt dictators. The poster boy for this alliance
of thuggery is Islam Karimov, the dictator of
Uzbekistan, whose regime has been widely recognized as
thoroughly corrupt and violently intolerant of any
political dissent. The most recent display of this
aggressive absolutism occurred on May 13, 2005, in the
eastern city of Andijon, where Karimov's forces gunned
down hundreds of anti-regime protestors. Hiding
behind his familiar cover of fighting Islamic
terrorism, Karimov refused to allow foreign
investigators or observers to visit the scene. The
United States, worried about losing its military
basing rights in Uzbekistan, failed to aggressively
challenge the massacre at first, but did eventually
push for an international investigation.

Luckily for Karimov, his Chinese friends in the SCO
were more than happy to pat him on the back and
justify the massacre. Less than two weeks after the
Andijon slaughter, Karimov was welcomed with open arms
in Beijing by Chinese President Hu Jintao. During his
visit, the two heads of state signed the "China-Uzbek
Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation," which would, in
the laughably understated words of the Chinese foreign
ministry, "strengthen Chinese-Uzbek relations." The
Chinese also applauded Karimov for his work in
crushing dissent in Uzbekistan, "honoring" Uzbekistan
for its recent "efforts to protect its national
independence." Karimov's visit to Beijing was a
sickening victory lap for anyone who cares about
democracy in the region, but serves as a prime example
of China's ability to attract anti-democratic forces
into their policy orbit.

This acceptance of regional strongmen has served to
greatly expand China's economic reach throughout
Central Asia. Such influence is extremely important
given the vast mineral and energy deposits found
throughout the area, deposits which may rival those
found in the Middle East. Fueled by its own growing
energy dependency, China has expanded its own Central
Asian holdings and operations dramatically. In May
2005, the Chinese agreed on a $600 million dollar deal
with Uzbekneftegaz, the state oil monopoly of
Uzbekistan, giving China almost exclusive access to
that nation's developing oil fields. In a similar
vein, the Chinese have invested heavily in
Kazakhstan's energy holdings, funding the construction
of a massive oil pipeline that will eventually extend
from the enormous deposits in the Caspian Sea basin to
Shanghai. Additionally, the region's mineral wealth
is of intense interest to the PRC, with the Chinese
pouring $20 billion dollars into efforts to construct
an extensive mining system throughout Kazakhstan.

The recent Chinese bid for ownership of Unocal is yet
another example of this Chinese energy drive in
Central Asia. While Unocal's operations in the United
States and the South Pacific have garnered the most
attention, the company's extensive pipeline holdings
in Azerbaijan have gone relatively unnoticed. If the
sale goes through, China would own a part of the
critically important Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which
is currently being expanded to handle 60,000 barrels
of oil a day. These types of massive economic
agreements bring with them considerable political
influence, which China is more than happy to use
against the United States. Increasingly, Central
Asian leaders are taking their economic and political
queues from China, whose leaders regularly transit the
region developing extensive contacts among regional
politicos.

This political conjoining has given rise to disturbing
indications of substantial military cooperation and
coordination between SCO member militaries and the
Chinese armed forces. In 2004, the Chinese People's
Liberation Army, usually a fairly insular
organization, conducted joint exercises with the
military of Kazakhstan. In the most provocative sign
of this warming military relationship, SCO leaders
Russia and China have agreed to hold joint large-scale
military maneuvers later this year. These planned
exercises are the culmination of a rapidly developing
military relationship between China and Russia which,
considering Russia currently maintains military bases
throughout the Central Asian region, could aid future
Chinese power projections in the future.

This growing Chinese power across a broad spectrum has
had negative implications for the United States. The
SCO under Chinese stewardship is increasing its
opposition to the U.S. on issues far beyond the basing
agreements, with recent actions taking on a decidedly
anti-American and anti-democratic quality. This
confrontational tenor started at the organization's
inception, as the SCO has consistently eschewed any
consultation with the United States, denying it even
customary observer rights. The SCO has frequently
made statements promoting a uni-polar world, while
warning against America's supposedly destabilizing
influence. In early July 2005, SCO leader nations,
China and Russia, produced a joint declaration which,
in a barely veiled swipe at the U.S., warned against
the imposition of "models of social and political
development from outside." Other SCO members have
quickly adopted this anti-American party line, with
Islam Karimov declaring he wanted the U.S. out of his
country and deposed Kyrgyzstan leader Askar Akayev
blaming America for his overthrow. With such lockstep
anti-Americanism becoming the SCO norm, it has become
clear that the Chinese intend to use the organization
as a counter to American influence rather than a forum
for legitimate regional cooperation.