Counter-Terrorism: China Expands Into The Wild West

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May 15, 2011: On May 6th, the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) held another counter-terrorism exercise. This one was in northwest China, where commandos from China, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan held drills that showed off specialized skills needed to deal with heavily armed terrorists. What was also demonstrated was the emergence of China as a major Central Asian power.

Although Russia dominated Central Asia for centuries, China, and the booming Chinese economy, is now moving in. Chinese traders and businessmen are all over the place. The traders offer the best prices and the widest variety of goods. The Chinese businessmen offer the most attractive deals, although Kazakhstan turned down a Chinese proposal to rent a million hectares (2.5 million acres) of unused farmland, and allow Chinese farmers in to work it. This sort of thing scares Central Asians, who have a population of less than 65 million, compared to 1,400 million Chinese. But the Chinese are being allowed to build highways and railways that will connect all of Eurasia, as well as oil and gas pipelines carrying energy to China.

This is all good, as long as the Chinese don't try to export a lot of people. This is a real fear, because Russia conquered Central Asia in the 19th century, and held on to it until the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991, in part to prevent any large scale Chinese migration. But now China is in the process of replacing Russian influence, and there isn't a lot the people of Central Asia can do about it. Despite that, the Central Asian states believe that the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) may help keep the Chinese under control. The SCO consists of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, with Mongolia, Pakistan, India and Iran as associate members, or "observers". Russia, and the Central Asian states, are trying to get India made a member, as a counterbalance to China.

SCO, unofficially, exists to keep the peace between China and Russia over economic activities in Central Asia. At the moment, China is winning the race to develop large oil and gas fields in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. China needs the energy, and is willing to pay whatever it takes. Since the Central Asian nations are run by corrupt leaders, often dictators, the Chinese have an easy, if expensive, way to gaining control of natural resources. At the moment, Russia is more concerned with halting, or much reducing, the flow of opium, hashish and heroin from Afghanistan to Russia. These drugs have created millions of addicts and major social problems. Russia has supplied the United States with extensive information on the drug gangs in Afghanistan, and throughout Central Asia, and how the smuggling networks operate. Russia is also trying to get more cooperation from Central Asian governments as well. But in many of these countries, senior officials are on the drug gang payrolls.

 


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