Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Freedom Not Quite on the March in Central Asia This Week

A story that didn’t receive a lot of ink because it doesn’t fit in with the “pastel revolution/freedom on the march in Central Asia” theme was the victory by Nambaryn Enkhbayar of Mongolia's former communist Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party in the country's presidential elections.

He promptly announced

"[The] number one economic partner and number one investor in Mongolia is China," he said. "We do have very good normal relations with China, and we do intend to keep on having those relations."

And just as promptly Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi, fresh from delivering a extremely pointed and highly significant snub to Japanese PM Koizumi, jetted to Ulan Bator to sign an 18-point agreement as reported in Ming Pao.

China also hurried to shore up its western flank by welcoming Uzbek bad guy Islam Karimov for a state visit.

Beijing is apparently banking on the hope that his savage crackdown in Andijon will play out in Tian An Men style, stabilize his authoritarian regime, and discourage Xinjiang Muslims from emulating Uzbeki strivings for popular, anti-government self-determination.

China’s main levers in Central Asia are economic, not military, and have unfavorable as well as favorable effects. Chinese economic penetration elicits popular resentment for crowding out local businesses and demonstrating Han Chinese encroachment on local cultures.

Therefore, alliance with China is not a source of political advantage for local leaders seeking to rally the electorate.

So the situation on China’s inner-Asian flank is relatively tenuous and risky, and the Chinese government doesn’t have a lot of tools. The best it can hope for is the continued viability of authoritarian regimes with as much interest in stability and as little interest in popular democratic movements as China itself has.

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