Via the New York Times: China Quietly Extends Its Footprints Deep Into Central Asia
Relative to China, the modern foreign policy of the U.S. in regards to Central Asia is fairly new. I believe this modern foreign policy began its life from September 11th, 2001, where from that moment since our armed forces and political leadership has sought to permanently eliminate Afghanistan as a safe haven for the planning and management of international terrorism. For those who follow the conflict closely, it is not news that the countries neighboring Afghanistan are able to, at varying degrees, make this effort easier or more difficult. Some countries provide the needed logistical support and increased trade links required to provide a sense of economic and social stability within Afghanistan. At the same time, other countries continue to remain as safe havens to those forces dedicated only to further destabilizing Afghanistan and prolonging the effort of U.S. and allied armed forces until they withdraw entirely. Unfortunately, when the U.S. government refers to Afghanistan, the focus remains on those efforts directly related to the military mission, including supporting activities managed by civilian administrators. The question remains as to what is being done by the U.S. and its allies on the periphery of Afghanistan to ensure it can continue on a self-supported, sustainable path after our armed forces are removed from the country?
This article by the New York Times reveals that, while China moves forward in executing a clear strategy of its own for increasing regional stability on its own borders, the U.S. is largely in reactive mode. The Chinese approach the region on multiple fronts:
"Chinese officials see Central Asia as a critical frontier for their nation’s energy security, trade expansion, ethnic stability and military defense. State enterprises have reached deep into the region with energy pipelines, railroads and highways, while the government has recently opened Confucius Institutes to teach Mandarin in capitals across Central Asia."
That America does not have a clear strategy for the region is highlighted in the Chinese weariness of American activities in Central Asia:
"Chinese officials are wary of what they view as American efforts to surround China, seeing American troops and military alliances in Central Asia, India and Afghanistan as the western arc of a containment strategy that also relies on cooperation with nations in East and Southeast Asia.
"China is flexing its own military muscle in the area, conducting sophisticated war games in Kazakhstan in September as part of annual exercises that traditionally include several Central Asian nations. According to a State Department cable released by WikiLeaks, American officials suspected China of offering Kyrgyzstan $3 billion to shut down the American air base there."
The article highlights a quote from anonymous American official that does not offer any insight into the American strategy for Central Asia and further paints the Americans as a spectator to developments outside of Afghanistan:
""The growing economic footprint in Central Asia is pretty significant," said an American official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about Chinese policy in the region. "In many ways, the investments are welcomed, not only by those countries, but also by the U.S. But there’s a lack of transparency in terms of China’s investments and relations with those countries.""
One official bluntly exposes the U.S. lack of strategy:
""China’s energy cooperation with Central Asian countries began in the 1990s, but in recent years, with the rapid growth of China’s national strength, China took advantage of the lack of initiative in the region by the United States and Russia," General Liu wrote in an essay published last summer in the news magazine Phoenix Weekly. "China has begun stimulating feverish consumerism in the area.""
There are obviously Americans and American enterprises working in Central Asia on projects that aim to help regional development, but it is past time that the U.S. government put forth a strategic context to these activities and help ensure our ongoing efforts in Afghanistan are not put to waste.