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A New Horde For The Red Dragon
Victoria Clark, Epoch Times Australia Staff

Being a landlocked region, Central Asia has often been disregarded by the international community. For many years it was of course part of the former USSR and prior to the war on terror it was just the five "stans" - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan.

Since September 11 Central Asia has been experiencing something of a renewal in international circles. America has poured financial aid and humanitarian aid into the region, not to mention establishing military ties which have allowed it to develop bases for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Yet old habits die last. Many of the authoritarian leaders in the region are becoming uncomfortable with Washington's demands for greater human rights and democratic change. Instead they are moving backward into the hands of the past by tying the knot with Communist China.

In recent years Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have tightened their economic dependence on China. Only last year Kazakhstan confirmed that the state's private Canadian-based oil company, PretoKazakhstan, had been sold to China's National Petroleum Company (CNPC). 2006 will also see the opening of the Kazakh-China oil pipeline which, although not fully operational for another year, will deliver an estimated 150,000 barrels a day to China.

The Shanghai Five

The red dragon's influence has not been an overnight phenomenon. In 1996 the former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin initiated what has become known as the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) or the "Shanghai Five" a political alliance between Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Despite its seemingly benevolent goals of combating "terrorism and extremism" in the region, as well ensuring economical cooperation, the SCO is rapidly emerging as a strategic competitor to the United States and its allies throughout Asia.

Last year's reprimand by the SCO's member states of the United States usage of the military bases within the region for its continued War on Terror is an example of China's influence. The result was the ejection of the US forces from their Uzbekistan rented air base.

Nevertheless, many Central Asian leaders see China as a balancing force to Russia and the United States. They also welcome the billions of dollars China can throw at the region, raising the standard of living for many in these developing states.

But Murat Auezov, a former Kazakh ambassador to China, was less than impressed with these increasing ties.

"I know Chinese culture. We should not believe anything the Chinese politicians say," Auezov said. "As a historian, I'm telling you that 19th-century China, 20th-century China and 21st-century China are three different Chinas. But what unites them is a desire to expand their territories" he said in Radio Free Europe report.

The Fear Factor

Many analysts argue that China is pushing its way into the region for another reason. According to recent reports, the communist authorities were deeply concerned over the rainbow revolutions that have sprouted throughout Central Asia and the Caucasus states. China therefore sees their neighbours' example as a dangerous precedent, taking particular interest in their political affairs.

According to the Hong Kong-run magazine Open, Chinese President Hu Jintao has even issued a special report entitled "Fighting the People's War Without Gun smoke" to guide the party in dealing with such revolutionary forces. In a possible move to offset dissents at home, Beijing has sent out observers to study and report on the phenomenon within the states experiencing these revolutions.

If this is the case then China's involvement in Central Asia is not driven just by the need for oil or economic resources. By keeping their neighboring states not only friendly to them but also entwined into their economy and thus government institutions, they are assured of their western flank's security.

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