China is approaching this year's G-5 summit to be held July 5 in Dushanbe, Tajikistan -- with an agenda containing both traditional and new goals. In addition to China and Russia, the summit involves the Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Participants will seek to strengthen common interests in trade, border issues and regional security.
China's traditional goals have focused on security, trade, and petroleum development. In terms of security and cross-border ties, China seeks to contain and control ties between the Central Asian states and the Turkic peoples of China's Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous region (thus mitigating ethnic conflict between especially, the Uyghurs and Chinese in Xinjiang).
Trade, especially energy development -- both in Xinjiang, and potential Chinese investment in Kazakhstan's petroleum fields -- is the key economic goal. Central Asian countries and Russia have developed into major trading partners for China. While China's products are not competitive in terms of technology or financing, they have gained substantial market share in consumer goods imports in the other G-5 states.
China's energy needs continue to grow. The country remains dependent on coal, which has a devastating impact on the environment. Chinese leaders would like to tap into other energy sources, but alternatives have proven elusive. Output from domestic oilfields has generally peaked, though major exploration is underway in Xinjiang. At the same time, petroleum exploration has had social consequences. The opening up of trade in Xinjiang has greatly increased the migration of Han (or ethnic Chinese) to that region which comprises about one-sixth of all Chinese territory. Han migration and Xinjiang's geo-economic importance have increased the already fragile ties between Han and the other ethnic groups living in Xinjiang. The non-Han peoples make up a majority of the population, but no single ethnic group makes up 50 percent of the population of Xinjiang (of the total population approaching 18 million).
In seeking to secure additional energy sources, China has also aggressively sought to participate in the development of Kazakhstan's oil fields. Chinese officials have signed ambitious letters of intent for investment, and plans for a major pipeline to ship that oil to China had been formulated. However, the projected high costs of the projects have delayed actual development, and doubts are growing about whether any of these plans will come to fruition.
China's leadership (and the leaders of Central Asia) faces a contradictory situation. China needs to develop secure petroleum reserves. Xinjiang is the last major on-shore location with promising geological formations. The search for oil (and the building of a supporting prospecting infrastructure) has accelerated Han migration into Xinjiang. In turn, this has further heightened ethnic tensions, as Han seem to be the beneficiaries of at least the short-term prospecting boom. These tensions have led to heightened religious identification on the part of some ethnic minorities in China, in particular Uyghurs. They have looked for assistance from Uyghurs located outside of China. Given the rough, barren nature of China's borders with Central Asia, it is possible for arms and other forms of military aid to be smuggled across the border.
China is exerting pressure on Central Asia to not actively support, or even passively allow, such aid to flow across their territories. The separatist threat will require China's ongoing attention towards regional relations and Central Asian attitudes towards the non-Chinese people of Northwest China. Such issues and concerns are not going to disappear, and they require tactful handling. So far, Beijing has reason to be pleased. China and the Central Asian republics seem to have reached understandings in which Central Asian republics will refrain from aiding separatist elements in Xinjiang. Helping to foster stability is the fact that China's border with the Central Asian republics is now generally clearly demarcated.
While issues of trade, development and border security have been and will continue to be a major focus of China's interests in the G-5 process, this year they will take a backseat to Sino-Russian concerns about a possible U.S. decision to deploy a limited anti-ballistic missile system.
The current U.S. plan under discussion would violate the 1972 US-Soviet Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and has drawn protests from both Moscow and especially Beijing, which would see its nuclear deterrent seriously threatened should a US anti-missile system prove feasible.
Much of the action at this G-5 meeting will focus on meetings between Chinese leader Jiang Zemin and Russian President Vladmir Putin on coordinating a joint Chinese-Russian response to the American plan, and gaining the rhetorical backing of the other G-5 members for whatever the big two can agree upon. The other three G-5 members are caught. Neither Beijing nor Moscow can provide them with the financial and technological assistance they need, which can only come from the West and Japan, but they remain dependent in many ways on China and Russia for most products and access to the international market.
A great deal of rhetoric will emerge from the G-5 meeting about cooperation, deepening relations, expanding trade, and addressing common problems. China will work hard to form a united front with Russia against the US anti-missile system, and it will pressure its other neighbors to not take too active an interest in how China governs Xinjiang Province and its substantial Uyghur population.
Professor David Bachman is an expert on Chinese affairs. He is chair of the China Studies Program at the Jackson School at the University of Washington.
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