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(Opinion) China's New Silk Road and Its Impact on Xinjiang

2015-03-06 08:48:01       source:The Diplomat

By Su-Mei Ooi and Kate Trinkle


March 5, 2015


"China's New Silk Road is of interest to the West largely because of the great power rivalry that appears to be once again emerging in the Central Asian region. Some pundits have suggested that China may well be displacing the U.S. and Russia in Central Asia, a region of longstanding geostrategic significance to all parties. Of course, this is not entirely a surprise for those who predicted that U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan would leave a power vacuum. While economic integration with Russia holds its attractions, resistance to the geopolitical designs of Russia is finding expression amongst the wealthiest Central Asian countries. The U.S. invariably ties deals to some kind of reform. China, on the other hand, is increasingly seen by many Central Asian governments as a genuine partner for mutual security and development, not least because it does not interfere in their domestic affairs.


However, China's newly unveiled Silk Road Economic Belt initiative in effect ties Central Asia in with the restive Xinjiang region, which opens up a new angle of interest – namely, what impact the New Silk Road is likely to have on the Uighur minority in Xinjiang. Although this initiative represents China's primary interest in energy, raw materials, and markets that will continue to drive economic growth, it cannot be understood only in economic terms. The New Silk Road is undeniably related to security issues in China's Western frontier, beset with what Beijing calls the "three evils" of terrorism, separatism and fundamentalism. The repression of Muslim Uighurs has long inspired fighters from Central Asia (and Afghanistan) to support them. Indeed, Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s recent threat to occupy part of Xinjiang and his message to the Uighurs that "your brothers all over the world are waiting for your rescue, and are anticipating your brigades" appears to have been taken seriously by the Chinese leadership. One can reasonably infer that Central Asia has become even more significant to the security of China."


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