An adviser to American presidential candidate Donald Trump has criticized United States policy in Central Asia as unnecessarily antagonistic, giving a rare glimpse into what a Trump presidency could mean for U.S. relations in the region.
The adviser, Carter Page, spoke Thursday in Moscow, and the main theme of the talk was that Russia and China have more successfully pursued their interests in Central Asia because they deal on the basis of “respect, equality and mutual benefit.” That, he argued, was one of the reasons for the flourishing of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Central Asia.
Page contrasted that with the American approach, which he said was characterized by books like "Chaos, Violence, Dynasty," and "Predatory Regimes." (He was referring, apparently, to academic monographs by Eric McGlinchey and Scott Radnitz.) This, Page argued, was evidence of "nakedly emotional approaches to news, often involving expressions of opinion and lacking verification of factual assertion" which typified "mainstream western discourse" on Central Asia.
This has led to an “often-hypocritical focus on democratization, inequality, corruption and regime change" in Central Asia, he argued. "The U.S. and partners in Europe have more of a security emphasis following the start of the war in Afghanistan and a focus on democracy-building and trying to fix some of the perceived shortcomings of societies, such as corruption. And very often, similar to the 'great game' approach, have looked to support energy route diversification, in other words avoiding Russia," he said.
By contrast, "China and Russia have focused on concepts of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit; they've also focused on tolerance and and an emphasis on access to resources and increased capital investment," Page said.
All in all, the ideas expressed were not too different from what you might hear from a Western businessman in Central Asia speaking off the record -- that hectoring on human rights and democratization only gets in the way of Western companies successfully making deals in the region. Page's background in investment banking (he was an executive at Merrill Lynch before going solo) no doubt informs this thinking.
There were no specific policy recommendations of how this approach might change U.S. policy in the region. Page did not mention Trump during the talk and issued a caveat that his ideas did not represent "other people or organizations I might be working with at the present time." Another caveat might be that no one knows how much Trump listens to anyone else, so even if Page is advising him, it's not clear how much Trump is taking on board. It does, however, not sound too different from the candidate's other business-oriented takes on foreign affairs. You can watch the entire speech (filmed, naturally, by Russian geopolitician Alexander Dugin's think tank) below: