In recent years, China has evidently become a significant actor in the Arctic – a region located around the circumpolar north comprising territories of eight states and the Arctic Ocean. In 2013, China’s achievement of observer status at the Arctic Council – the high level inter-governmental forum of these eight circumpolar states – provided the country with legitimacy in its growing engagement with the Arctic region and its actors. A number of interests in the region motivates this engagement, most crucially that the Arctic is a resource rich region full of potential to further boost China’s local economy. The region contains, among other resources, approximately one-fourth of world’s undiscovered oil and gas resources. The increased melting of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean as a result of global warming is gradually opening access to water routes, and the region itself. The Arctic sea routes, in particular the Northern Sea Route (NSR), have already been identified as crucial navigation routes for China to expand its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to the Arctic. The expansion is now widely known as the Silk Road on the Ice or the Polar Silk Road wherein China closely cooperates with Russia and other Arctic states to promote the infrastructural development to operationalise the NSR. China’s investments in a number of projects are making the country an influential actor in the Arctic region. As such, China’s Arctic engagement is at times perceived as an attempt to enhance its ambitions, not only in terms of its economic interests, but also to move a step further towards gaining great power status in world politics. While China firmly commits to respect the sensitive environmental considerations existing in the Arctic and the sovereignty of the Arctic states, it also explicitly highlights its legitimate rights under international law, i.e., freedom of navigation through the Arctic sea routes. In this context, the following article explores the extension of China’s Silk Road Economic Belt to the Arctic vis-á-vis the possible geopolitical dynamics, and whether China’s increasing engagement in the Arctic accelerates its political ambition to expand its great power status.
Regional cooperation and integration are among the most important trends in contemporary international relations. The Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan have joined pre-eminent international organizations and institutions, such as the UN and OSCE. However, there are challenges, similarities and contradictions within the multilateral relationships in Central Asia (such as the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Silk Road Economic Belt, Central Asia plus USA (C5+1), the EU strategy, Central Asia plus Japan, Central Asia–Republic of Korea and others). Moreover, there are link between local–regional–global processes in Central Asia. Descriptions and explanations must take into account particular local and regional situations, as well as internal and regional economies, cultures, and politics. Transformations are affected by the competitive international environment. Current and future Central Asian transformation will be prompted by interlinking local, regional, transregional, and global issues and challenges.
The article looks at the processes, metaphors and politics of the “Silk Road” as an ideological concept and the ways in which “authenticity” is actively constructed, implemented and performed as a strategy for development by government, non-governmental agencies and business owners. Case studies from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan are touched upon and material from interviews, observations and examples from material culture presented. This project seeks to analyse: the culture of the textiles business in Central Asia and how this operates at the seams of national-ethnic identity within the Eurasian context; the formal and informal business practices of the everyday, operating within the discourses of economic development; and how consumer culture may be interrogated as a means for performing identity at the local and global perspectives. Contemporary intersectional approaches to understanding the business of textiles and fashion in Central Asia should redress the marginalisation of academic efforts across multiple disciplines to unite the region inwardly and outwardly and call for an integrated approach to considering both the cultural and economic value of handmade textiles, which acknowledges and makes visible the role of the artisan, the designer, the entrepreneur, the retailer and all the stages that exist in the value chain between production the final consumer. The precursors to the current framework of research necessarily lie in the work of scholars of development and industrialisation established during the Soviet period. Their expertise must be called upon to enrich the perspective presented here, which is focused on contemporary craftsmanship and enterprise in Central Asia and how current practices in design and business may offer fruitful opportunities for development of the New Silk Road project, both intellectually and economically.
This study examines ethno-cultural associations—public institutions representing interests of minority groups—and discusses their role in the development of civil society in ethnically rich Kazakhstan. Minority associations developed in Soviet times inherited Soviet-era property and certain charitable and social practices. The Soviet footprint translates into hierarchy and state subordination. Based on interviews with representatives of associations and their visitors in Almaty, the study focuses on their quotidian activities and attempts to explain why these associations are providers of various resources for civil society development. The findings show evidence of the state being a part of the institutional synergy in the civil sphere. As part of the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan and being “government-organised NGOs,” ethno-cultural associations add their voice on “togetherness” and “unification” of diverse nationalities and to the official rhetoric of the new patriotic act. Despite transparent loyalty to the authorities and lacking a formal political agenda, cultural and social activities of these associations remain relatively autonomous. The study concludes that their real non-decorative functions deal with creating unionism, providing opportunities for social capital development, and fostering an understanding and appreciation of ethnic diversity. These associations have a potential to bridge the gap between communities while providing platforms for civic exchanges and being intermediaries between the public, the state and their kin states.
There is considerable debate over how and in what form Central Asian (CA) states should conduct relations among each other and with other post-Soviet states. The notion of the “Silk Road” has become one of the symbols of extended economic and political cooperation. Notably, however, Japan (Silk Road Diplomacy, 1996–1999), China (One Belt, One Road [OBOR] or the Belt and Road initiative [BRI]) and South Korea (Silk Road Strategy, 2011) have used the rhetoric of reviving the Silk Road to imply closer engagement with the CA region but with different connotations. This paper focuses on the formation of this discourse of engagement with the CA region through the notion of the Silk Road in China, South Korea and Japan and raises the following questions: What are the approaches that facilitate the most effective ways of engaging CA states under this “Silk Road” rhetoric? What are the principles that have detrimental effects on the successes and failures of the engagement of China, Japan and South Korea? The primary objective of this paper is to address these questions and to stimulate debate among both academics and policy makers on the formats of engagement and cooperation in Eurasia.
The term energy security is undergoing a sea change from a state-centric economic conception to a sociological one. The definitional aspect is undergoing a transformation because of the changing pattern of relations between “energy producing and consuming states” along with “transit states”. Eurasia is one such region where the broader definition of energy security can be applicable. The existence of historically rooted social conflicts like Chechnya, South Ossetia, Crimea, “simmering discontent” in Siberia and Far East, and primordial apprehensions between ethnic groups (Armenian and Azeri) in Nagorno Karabakh are providing a structural basis for the accentuation of regional conflicts. Most of these conflicts are taking place in Eurasia due to existence of natural resources like energy. Often competition over controlling transportation corridor is also generating societal tension. Some of these trajectories are putting this geopolitical space into a “cauldron.” Against this backdrop, Constructivism is emerging as a major theoretical approach to study the securitization processes in Eurasia.
This article takes a long historical perspective on the Silk Road, attempting to see it from a Chinese point of view. It focuses on five themes that figure in the Chinese imagination of the Silk Road, all rooted in China’s history. These include influences that came to China via the Silk Road in prehistoric and early historic times, patterns of military expansion of Chinese power in the Western regions, the threat of invasion from the northern and north-western frontiers, commercial exchanges and individual travel. Individuals journeyed across the Silk Road for diplomatic, military, commercial and sometimes religious reasons and the various themes overlap to some extent. Some myths are also dispelled: first, the Silk Road was not one route but many; second, other commodities besides silk travelled along it and third, the maritime Silk Road should also be included in the concept. Under Mongol rule, the route was at times an unbroken corridor between East and West on which many people travelled in both directions. When the Mongol empire broke up, travel overland was restricted again, which may have been why China took to the seas in the Ming. At present, China is building a New Silk Road to connect with the rest of the world in a more integrated way than ever before. The focus of this article is on establishing the patterns of the past in the hopes that it will contribute to the discussion of whether these patterns will be repeated in the present or if we are in completely uncharted territory.
This article argues that the Security Dilemma can in fact be abolished by integrating the militaries into one common global organisation, possibly under one common command. The existence and workings of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are an approximate example of this ideal in a geographically limited space. For illustrating this argument, this article discusses the logic of the Prisoners Dilemma, as the intellectual model underlying the Security Dilemma, and proposes an alternative version of the Prisoners Dilemma. It is then argued that the Security Dilemma only persists in a politically and economically ever farther integrated world because the international militaries are not integrated and hence partial anarchy persists at least in the military realm. The solution to remaining international conflicts, such as arguably one between NATO and Russia recently, would be to expand NATO to include “threatening” states’ militaries until all militaries are joined in a global organisation, a truly global NATO. Finally, revised non-violent functions for NATO, as well as a global welfare state and an early warning system for civil wars, are proposed and discussed.
Afghanistan has been the political and military focal points of the United States (US) and Russia (formerly the Soviet Union) for over a half a century. Initially, from the 1950s through to the 1970s, the superpowers competed for influence through educational, economic and technical development projects. They used their international development aid as a strategic tool to penetrate the country’s political elite circles to create a space for their political and strategic influence. The nature of development aid then changed to a series of proxy military conflicts throughout the 1980s, which also changed the fate of Afghanistan from that of a developing to that of a conflict country. The current US occupation of Afghanistan (October 2001-present) is the latest in the cycle of conflict and rivalry between the US and Russia in Afghanistan and Central Asia. Against this background, this article presents an analysis of how (i) the US and Russia create a context and a situation in which they develop, advance, and implement their political and military discourses and strategic concepts, intending to influence each other’s areas of strategic interests; (ii) the different components of conflicts and violence are interconnected with one another; and (iii) their rivalry for strategic influence in Afghanistan and the broader region of Central Asia triggered a cycle of conflict and a series of continuing proxy wars in Afghanistan. This article applies Johan Galtung’s theories of conflicts as the broader theoretical framework. The developed framework combines Galtung’s three theories of conflict, namely the ABC triangle of conflict, triangle of violence and triangle of peace strategy (Galtung, 1967, 1996). The findings of this article demonstrate that both the US and Russia fight each other in Afghanistan as well as in the wider Central Asia region by supporting and maintaining their satellite countries and periphery elites in power and negotiate each other’s spheres of strategic influence on that basis. This article demonstrates that while this approach provides political leverage and strategic gains in the short and medium period, there are significant losses for both parties. While Afghanistan suffers from the continuing political game, the war in Afghanistan is also making a lasting impact on both the US and Russia as well as all other regional powers that are directly and indirectly involved in this conflict.
This article looks at the mobility of Tajikistani students and how they negotiate their place in an increasing globalised world, where national boundaries are becoming more navigable. It explores how structural and cultural factors intersect and influence young people’s choices as they re-shape their connections to their homeland, and re-negotiate cultural meanings in the new geographical and cultural contexts they find themselves in. This inquiry uses the concept of translocality which frames the negotiation of cultural meanings in a distant geographical and (host) cultural space by acknowledging the place of the “local connection” within international mobility. It does this by examining students’ perceptions of two cultural concepts: nomus or “keeping the family name high in the community” and kase shudan or “being the shaper of one’s own destiny.” Drawing on Stephen and Storey’s conceptualisation of culture (and the local notions of agency) the article explores how continuity and contestation are juxtaposed and brought to bear on the new meaning-making by the students, against the national and international agendas that define student mobility choices. Using qualitative methodology, the researchers engaged with Tajikistani research participants in England and Japan, and looked at what those decisions about mobility mean for the individual students, locating them in a translocal (as opposed to a transnational) space. The article finds that contrary to the usual expectations of immigrants adhering more closely to cultural values (for fear of diluting them) in a new setting, while the local cultures keep evolving, these students re-interpreted traditional values to take account of their new settings and their exposure to new cultures and spaces and sought to expand meanings rather than constrain them in traditional moulds.
Mackinder’s theory of geopolitics pitted naval powers such as the United Kingdom and later the United States, against land-based powers such as Germany and Russia for control of the Eurasian Heartland. In the context of the Cold War, the heartland was often defined as the Soviet Union and these ideas would play a crucial role in influencing American strategies towards the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). However, all of these fell apart with the collapse of the Soviet Union, which in turn appeared to grant the United States control over Eurasia and perhaps over the fabled World Island. Despite this turn of events, it would also appear that no one power possessed control over the region. Therefore, the core argument of this essay is that it is China rather than Russia that is the land power of the 21st century. This is partially due to changes in the Post Cold War international system, primarily those in Sino-Russian relations, as well as China’s increasing centrality to the former Soviet states. Therefore, in order to explore this question, the study will attempt to utilise Mackinder’s theories outlined in “Democratic Ideals and Reality” in the context of Chinese policy towards Eurasia, in order to determine how China contributes as much to the concept of Eurasia as Russia did. By doing so, China is following a precedent in Eurasia that predates Mackinder's theories and Russian involvement in the region by several centuries, thus posing a new source of experience from the 20th-century power politics that had dominated Eurasia for the past century.
It has often been argued that since 1991 Central Asian and Caspian region had become a playground for the New Great Game between the global superpowers. Analysing the geopolitical competition for Caspian energy resources, this article argues that the New Great Game framework has its limitations as it fails to incorporate the active role played by the Newly Independent Caspian (NIC) states. One cannot deny the fact that the strategic competition among the geopolitical powers for hydrocarbon resources of the Caspian shaped the trajectories of the new pipeline routes. At the same time, the NIC states, namely, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan benefited from the competition as they managed to diversify their export options, achieving greater political and economic independence. In the end, the interaction between the NIC states and energy consumers has led to strengthened energy cooperation along the same area where the ancient Silk Road crossed East Asia, Central Asia and Europe. The findings support the theoretical argument of the article, which stipulates that in exploring the developments in the Caspian region both realist and liberal theories of international relations should be applied in conjunction.
Cambridge Journal of Eurasian Studies E-ISSN: 2514-4634