Chinese officials see Central Asia as a critical frontier for their nation’s energy security, trade expansion, ethnic stability and military defense. State enterprises have reached deep into the region with energy pipelines, railroads and highways, while the government has recently opened Confucius Institutes to teach Mandarin in capitals across Central Asia.
[…] Chinese officials are wary of what they view as American efforts to surround China, seeing American troops and military alliances in Central Asia, India and Afghanistan as the western arc of a containment strategy that also relies on cooperation with nations in East and Southeast Asia.
China is flexing its own military muscle in the area, conducting sophisticated war games in Kazakhstan in September as part of annual exercises that traditionally include several Central Asian nations. According to a State Department cable released by WikiLeaks, American officials suspected China of offering Kyrgyzstan $3 billion to shut down the American air base there.
But China’s new presence in Central Asia is in many ways more Silk Road revival than Great Game redux. Chinese analysts say one goal of Beijing is to economically integrate Central Asia with the restive western region of Xinjiang, breaking down trade barriers, even if the Central Asian governments are wary.