Central Asian states are hedging their bets in the great oil and gas game. Pipeline projects that would bring regional resources to Western markets tend to grab most of the headlines, but Central Asian states are, at the same time, deepening trade relations with East and South Asian nations.
This engagement owes much to the rising demand of East and South Asian states for secure energy supplies to sustain their economies. But it also reflects changes in evolving security relationships that are bringing together East and South Asia with Central Asia. The ensuing diversification of the Central Asian governments' foreign policy agendas can only help these states including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan -- avoid the trap of excessive dependence upon foreign great powers.
East and South Asian nations are becoming increasingly involved with their Central Asian neighbors in the funding and development of major energy and infrastructure projects. This involvement -- encompassing Japan, South Korea, and India as well as Pakistan, China, Iran, and Russia -- signifies a new trend towards the genuine internationalization of the foreign relations of Central Asian nations.
For example, Russia, China, and Japan are now trying to work out arrangements for financing pipelines and expediting delivery of Russian energy supplies from the Kovytinskoye oil and gas fields in Siberia through Xinjiang and northern China to Japan. And Russia is developing transport projects tying it together with India and Iran. These projects obviously also involve Central Asian governments.
Meanwhile, Japan, as part of its overall Eurasian initiative, has substantially upgraded its profile and investments in Central Asia, thereby also meeting local interests in broadening the scope of foreign investment in Central Asia. South Korea also has made efforts to penetrate Central Asian markets. India's rising interest in Central Asia likewise owes much to its efforts to deny Pakistani influence there, and to improve relations with Russia and China while curbing the incidence of Islamic insurgency at home and in Central Asia.
In short, there is a noticeable convergence of East and South Asian interests with those of Central Asia states. This is not just a matter of seeking diplomatic, or even military support against Pakistan- and Afghanistan-based terrorists. The energy interests and overall investment needs of these states appear to coincide to a high degree.
Russia, like the Central Asian states, desperately needs markets, pipelines, and investment capital for its energy holdings. At the same time, Japan, South Korea, China, and India are searching for reliable and affordable sources of oil and gas to meet their rising demand for energy without becoming excessively dependent on OPEC. These East and South Asian states possess the capital and technical skills to invest in those alternative sources of energy in Central Asia.
Common economic interests are helping to reinforce regional security concerns. The East and South Asian governments' entry into Central Asia signals an understanding that stability in Central Asia can have a substantial impact on the internal security of China, Russia, and other states.
The deepening East and South Asian-Central Asian cooperation reflects both the interests of the concerned parties and the deeper and broader process of globalization. While not completely risk free, existing foreign policy trends provide Central Asian states with at least access to more resources with which to meet internal and economic challenges. Broadening trade ties also makes it harder for any one state to dominate Central Asia. It also makes the pooling of resources among multiple partners easier, more economically advantageous to the partners involved, and more likely an outcome where major projects are concerned.
This form of globalization also facilitates the multilateralization of Central Asian security, and offers some hope that at least some Central Asian states can successfully meet current economic and security challenges. Doing so would allow the states of Central Asia to focus on economic and, possibly, political development.
Stephen Blank is a professor at the US Army War College. The views expressed this article do not in any way represent the views of the U.S. Army, Defense Department, or the U.S. Government.