Xinjiang and Central Asia: China’s Strategic Shift

Friday, January 6, 2023: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Room 306

Jessica Ann Sheetz-Nguyen, University of Central Oklahoma

Central Asia—China’s Xinjiang: Reasonable Concerns and Development Interaction
Baktybek Beshimov, Northeastern University

Necessitated by Geopolitics: China’s Economic and Cultural Initiatives in Central Asia
Yi Sun, University of San Diego

Xinjiang—From Strategic Rear to Strategic Frontier
Xiao-Bing Li, University of Central Oklahoma

Will the New Local CCP Secretary Bring about Economic and Security Balance?
Xiaoxiao Li, University of Central Oklahoma

Comment: Harold Tanner, University of North Texas

Panel Description:

Beijing repositioned China by creating a new center of gravity in Central Asia, even though this policy faced new challenges and created new problems with the US. China’s policy shift changed Xinjiang’s status from the strategic rear to strategic joint in Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Historians on this panel discuss the profoundness and complexity of the issues relating to the conflicts and violence in Xinjiang, as well as different government attempts to find solutions. Moreover, the panelists strike at the very core of the issues to present how people confront difficulties and break barriers such as racial and ethnic conflict and ideological differences to reach their goals of sustaining human dignity and rights while fighting for peaceful coexistence in the fast-growing and diverse world.  

Paper Abstracts

  •  “Central Asia – China’s Xinjiang: Reasonable Concerns and Development Interaction”, Baktybek Beshimov, Northeastern University

The author explains why China’s Xinjiang issue regarding Muslim ethnic minority groups becomes the concern of Central Asian societies, how reasonable and legitimate these concerns are, and what kind of economic opportunities the rapid development of Xinjiang offers to its neighboring states in post-Soviet Central Asia.

  •  “Necessitated by Geopolitics: China’s Economic and Cultural Initiatives in Central Asia”, Yi Sun, University of San Diego

on January 25, 2022, China and the five Central Asian countries– Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan — held a video summit, celebrating the 30th anniversary of the establishment of China’s diplomatic relations with the five republics and affirming the multilateral intentions to continue their economic and security cooperation in an effort to create a “common community of destiny.” Largely overshadowed by other international news, this summit and the accompanying joint declaration nonetheless marked an important milestone in China’s relations with Central Asia. This paper is intended to take a close look at the development of this multifaceted relationship in the wake of the dissolution of the former Soviet Union during the early 1990s. Although political and diplomatic activities initially focused on resolving the border disputes and overcoming the uncertainties stemming from the new-found independence of these republics, China’s relations with Central Asia have increasingly reflected a desire to protect its border economic and security interests in that region. Even before the onset of the One Belt One Road (BRI) Initiative, a vast network of trade, transportation, and communication, including roads, railroads and oil and gas pipelines, had already linked China closely to Central Asia.  In recent years, the BRI, accompanied by over a dozen Confucius Institutes, has further deepened China’s economic and cultural influence in the area.  Arguably, beset by American-led geopolitical encirclement of China in the Indo-Pacific, Central Asia remains an oasis in China’s strategic achievements. 

  • Xiaobing Li, University of Central Oklahoma

When the Chinese Communist Party started its governance over Xinjiang in 1949, Xinjiang was the grand strategic rear and base of economic supply to the overall economic development for the whole country. Xinjiang has witnessed shifts of its political and economic positions from the first generation of leadership to the current Xi Jinping administration. To find a breakthrough and establish a system that enables China to further its economic development under the current turbulent economic and geopolitical environment and great changes not seen in a century, Xi Jinping proposed the Belt Road Initiative in 2013. Xinjiang, then, became China’s strategic frontier ever since. This presentation tries to answer questions such as “Is China’s BRI a response to the perceived US strategy to contain China?” and explores such questions by reviewing the brief history of Xinjiang’s geopolitical positions under different leaderships and its new role and strategic position in Xi Jinping’s BRI strategy and national security.

  • “Will the New Local CCP Secretary Bring About Economic and Security Balance?”, Xiaoxiao Li, University of Central Oklahoma

Ma Xingrui was appointed the Xinjiang CCP Secretary on December 26, 2021 to replace Chen Quanguo, who had come to Xinjiang on August 29, 2016 from his former position as the CCP Secretary of Tibet. At the start of Chen’s tenure in Xinjiang, in September 2016, his leadership announced the plan to hire 30,000 additional policing positions in an effort to increase surveillance capabilities in the region. Most of the new hires were associated with convenience police stations. Such tight control over the people halted economic development in the region that has become the main hub for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative.  How has Ma Xingrui been coping with these challenges in Xinjiang? This presentation will briefly review the differences between Ma Xingrui and his predecessor Chen Quanguo and how Ma tries to balance economy and security.