Energy Dimension of Chinese Interest in Central Asia - Atahan Tümer


The Central Asian countries, which gained their independence after the dissolution of the Soviets and have been struggling to develop economically since then. They also have great potential. Due to their great potential, they are in a very open position to foreign investments. Central Asian countries, which occupy a key position both geographically and politically, attract many powers in the world. The reason behind Russia's inability to regain its former power in the region after the collapse of the Soviets is the other alternatives that emerged for the region's countries. Although Russia still has a great influence in the region, it is far from its old days. This creates an opportunity for superpower countries such as the United States and China. However, let's look at it from a realistic perspective. We see that it is very difficult for the US to gain power in the region, and China is advantageous due to geographical reasons. Today, China is investing quite a lot in these countries, focusing especially on developing countries. China, which has invested considerably in large geographies from Asia to Europe, the Middle East to Africa, and even North and South America, is preparing for a world leadership role. China focuses the most on the energy sector in the countries it invests in. One reason for this is the desire to meet the huge energy needs of the industry. At this point, especially Central Asian countries have a very important place for China. These countries are in an almost critical position for China, both in terms of border security and their potential to meet China's energy needs. It will be useful to consider these before examining China's Central Asian investments.

Central Asian countries have great energy potential. However, they have a lot of trouble marketing their potential. The difficulties they face in the Caspian Sea, especially due to Russia and Iran, prevent them from fully demonstrating their potential. Although they can bring energy resources to the European market with some breakthroughs in the coming years, this doesn't seem easy in the short term. Central Asian countries, which want to use their resources most efficiently due to the economic problems after the collapse of the Soviets, are in search of new markets.

Due to its growing economy and highly developed industry, China has difficulties in meeting its energy needs. Although they can meet some of their energy needs, they have to import the vast majority. Simultaneously, it seems very difficult for them to meet their energy needs with their resources soon. China, which meets most of its energy needs from countries far from it, such as the Middle East and Africa, has security concerns as these products arrive by sea. Due to such reasons, it will be very beneficial for China to meet its energy needs from geographies close to it. When examining the situation strategically, it seems more rational and logical for China to meet its energy needs from countries such as Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan instead of countries such as Angola, Venezuela, and Brazil. At the same time, turning to geographically close sources will greatly reduce the cost of these products. We have to say that China's orientation towards Central Asia is the most natural result of the energy need problem brought about by the huge industry.

Immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, China began to show interest in this region without delay. However, because of the East Turkistan issue, China first wanted to ensure its security. East Turkistan's deep cultural, religious, and ethnic ties with Central Asian countries pushed China to solve its problems with these countries. China aimed to cooperate with these countries in solving regional problems and, to a large extent, achieved this goal. Afterward, the establishment of organizations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization greatly strengthened the relations. China also saw Central Asia as an expansion area and aimed to dominate the region in the long term. We can easily say that this has succeeded or is close to success by looking at China's increasing trade volume in the region. This region, where China was initially taken to ensure its security, later became a Chinese influence area. Today it is interesting that; Kazakhstan's biggest trade partner in China. Kazakhstan makes a large part of its exports to China. China also invests in oil resources in Kazakhstan.

Among the Central Asian countries, China does not only invest in Kazakhstan. Turkmenistan, the other major energy producer in the region, also gets its share from China's investments. So much so that China aims to develop the countries' energy sector by making huge investments in the energy sector here. However, there is a country where that is uncomfortable with these investments in China. It shouldn't be difficult to guess which country this is. Russia is very uncomfortable with the emergence of the Central Asian countries as an alternative to Russia's energy supplier role. Moreover, China uses its investments in these countries as leverage in energy agreements with Russia. Seeing this, we can easily understand why Russia is uncomfortable with China's investments in the region.

China has become the second-largest economy in the world today due to its breakthrough, especially after the 90s. However, it will not take long for it to become the world's largest economy. If it maintains its current growth trend, it will become the largest economy in the world soon. Investments made in wide geography around the world bring along comments as China aims to establish global hegemony. In the following years, we may see that China takes a more active role in different geographies. It would be a great mistake to think that a country that has large investments and important commercial relations, even in Africa but will not show any interest to a region on its border like Central Asia. We should take China into account when examining Central Asia because it is an important power in the region.