Recent events, including COVID 19, have raised the U.S. interest in Central Asia. Of particular interest is are the unfavorable voices in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan that are congruent to the U.S.’s Strategy for Central Asia (2019-2025). The nations of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are of special concern to the U.S. given their central role in the U.S.’s Central Asia Strategy. In light of recent dissenting voices against China in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, U.S.’s Central Asia Strategy is a roadmap to its strategic placement and role as a peacemaker and better alternative in Central Asia.
Central Asia falls within the U.S.’s larger prospects prompting its (U.S.) promotion and implementation of strategies geared towards the success of Strategy for Central Asia (2019-2025). The prospects include countering terrorism, enhancing regional stability, promoting energy security, and enhancing economic prosperity (U.S. Department of State n.p.). At the core of the Strategy is building a stable and successful region able to pursue political, economic, and security prospects with like-minded allies on its terms in addition to building strong, democratic institutions, rule of law, and respect for human rights. Towards achieving the objective, the U.S. has extended $9 billion in direct aid for peace and security, democratic reform, and economic growth, in addition to humanitarian needs amid the ongoing COVID19 pandemic (U.S. Department of State n.p.). The promotion of the Strategy has also involved talks with some of the world’s lenders including the Asian Development Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to extend credit, technical support, and loans aimed at enhancing the development of the region.
China remains a great influence in Central Asia, which threatens the implementation of the Strategy for Central Asia, although unfavorable voices towards China in recent times could change the influence. Both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have seen a rise in protests against apparent Chinese economic invasion of the countries, especially with China’s blatant advertisement of its aid efforts in the two countries (Burkhanov and Chen 2129; Wong n.p.). While these voices offer a great opportunity for U.S. Strategy, especially in reinforcing the dissent, the proximity of the nations to China and the erratic, uncoordinated, ill-funded, and uncompetitive and counterproductive U.S. policies are ineffective in advancing U.S. values and interests. A well-coordinated implementation of the Strategy, however, could do more in reinforcing the voices as it will provide an alternative political and economic pathway from the communist tendencies of the Chinese government.
The success of the strategy hinges on the U.S. playing the role of a better alternative in the region. It is given that the region lies in Russian and Chinese backyards: both of which have great international and regional influence (Nelson and Grove n.p.). The dissenting voices across Central Asia allow the U.S. to sell itself as a better alternative as it continues to do through direct aid and leading talks with global lenders. Since the new governments in the region have vowed to follow political and economic transformation, including through bilateral collaboration with the U.S., the U.S. must support these commitments through non-interference reinforcing its role as the better alternative ally.
Despite the hurdles the U.S. faces in the region that is in the Chinese backyard, it (the U.S.) continues to see great progress in extending its influence in the region. The creation of the C5+1 platform, for instance, has shown great promise in improving interregional relationships: the U.S. is at the center of the platform (U.S. Department of State n.p.). Moreover, there have been improvements in U.S.-originating foreign direct investment into the region. The C5+1 platform thus provides a stage for the discussion and implementation of reforms including rule of law, international norms, respect for human rights, and funding for projects for the preservation of traditions, archaeological sites, and cultural antiquities for the region’s posterity.
The C5+1 platform is part of the 2015 United States Strategy for Central Asia infused into the 2019-2025 Strategy; whose plans are already in motion. The new Strategy builds on strategies such as joint military initiatives including Steppe Eagle and the State Partnership Program, already in motion (U.S. Department of State n.p.). Moreover, there are already exchange programs between the U.S. and the region including 1.4 million visits to the U.S. by Central Asians to gain in-demand skills, learn English, and cultural experiences (U.S. Department of State n.p.). These strategies are part of the U.S.’s counter-reaction to Chinese advertising of aids to the region. Essentially, it is a show of measure of might between the two largest economies in the world bound to spur greater aid and investment by the Chinese government to the region to bolster its influence.
Augmenting the U.S. interest and commitment to the region is the recent visit of Khalilzad (U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan) and his delegation to Central Asia for C5+1. Although regional consensus on peace in Afghanistan was at the top of the discussion, the meeting also included agreements on U.S. investment in the region as well as cross-border opportunities for the countries in the platform (Ariana News n.p.). There were additional discussions for a pooled, regional development fund, regional peace, and the benefits the peace will bring including improved regional connectivity, trade, and development.
U.S.’s Strategy for Central Asia (2019-2025) holds great promise for the U.S. in its vision of remaining a force of good in the region. The dissenting voices against China offer an opportunity for the U.S. to further promote itself in the region. It, however, faces an uphill task considering China’s involvement, proximity, and advertisement of its good deeds. To remain relevant, the U.S. must not only be aggressive in its approach but also convince the region of the better alternative it (the U.S.) is in comparison to the regional powers.
Ariana News. “Khalilzad Sees Afghan Peace in Favor of Central Asian Countries.” Ariana News, 2020. https://ariananews.af/khalilzad-sees-afghan-peace-in-favor-of-central-asian-countries/.
Burkhanov, Aziz and Chen, Yu-Wen. “Kazakh Perspective on China, the Chinese, and Chinese Migration.” Ethnic and Racial Studies, vol. 39, no. 12, 2016, pp. 2129-2148. https://www.tandfonline.com/action/showCitFormats?doi=10.1080%2F01419870.2016.1139155.
Nelson, Craig and Grove, Thomas. “Russia, China Vie for Influence in Central Asia as the U.S. Plans Afghan Exit.” The Wall Street Journal, 2019. https://www.wsj.com/articles/russia-china-vie-for-influence-in-central-asia-as-u-s-plans-afghan-exit-11560850203.
U.S. Department of State. United States Strategy for Central Asia 2019-2025: Advancing Sovereignty and Economic Prosperity. U.S. Department of State, 2020. https://www.state.gov/united-states-strategy-for-central-asia-2019-2025-advancing-sovereignty-and-economic-prosperity/.
Wong, Edward. “U.S. Faces Tough ‘Great Game’ Against China in Central Asia and Beyond.” The New York Times, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/13/world/asia/china-great-game-central-asia-trump.html.