The dragon enters the Great Game

May 20, 2006 - 0:0
Due to its strategic position, Central Asia has always faced security challenges.

Although the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was established in 1996 with China and Russia at its center in order to settle border disputes between China and four former Soviet republics, it soon transformed into a regional bloc with security and military objectives.

Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan are the other members of the SCO.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many problems arose in the newly independent Central Asian states that harmed the interests of both Russia and China.

It was hoped that the establishment of the SCO could help remedy the situation.

The SCO states also sought to use the organization to reduce the United States’ influence in Central Asia and pressure Washington to close all its military bases in the region.

The SCO is determined to establish stability in the region, particularly in Afghanistan, to eliminate the only excuse for a U.S. military presence in Central Asia.

China and Russia are also trying to strengthen the SCO in order to make it a major global bloc.

The fact that Iran, Pakistan, India, and Mongolia have been given observer status in the organization proves that SCO states are attempting to increase the group’s regional and global influence.

The tenth SCO summit was held in the Kazakh capital Astana in July 2005, with the main focus being on ways to counter terrorism. At this summit, the SCO formally approved the decision to grant Iran, Pakistan, India, and Mongolia observer status.

The eastward expansion policy of NATO has caused some concern among SCO states, but it is still unclear whether this will encourage them to gel into a cohesive bloc since the four smaller Central Asian countries are still wary of the intentions of their two giant neighbors.

Regardless of how that is resolved, Central Asia weighs heavily in China’s strategic calculations.

Chinese analysts believe security cooperation between Central Asian countries, the competition between the great powers, especially for access to oil and natural gas, and regional instability caused by terrorism will all increase in the next few years.

They also believe Central Asia will undoubtedly help provide the energy needs of China in the future and that the situation in the region will have a direct impact on stability in northwestern China.

Thus, China will surely try to be a major player in the 21st century version of the Great Game.