The balancing role of Turkey for the influence of China in Central Asia
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Today, there is a dynamic new ‘Great Game’ in Central Asia engaging multiple players and institutions who compete for influence in Central Asia, such as the Russian-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization, the U.S.-dominated NATO Partnership for Peace Program, and the Sino-Russian-dominated Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Of all the players, China is clearly one of the most dominant. China’s authoritarian regime, domestic problems, and huge energy demands hold potential threats for the long-term stability of Central Asia. To sustain the survival of the regime, Central Asia is open to the risk of aggression from China, especially if it diverts public attention from internal matters such as corruption, separatist movements, pollution, and particularly the Uyghur question. Since the Central Asian Countries (CACs) are not strong enough to withstand a possible Chinese aggression alone, they are more likely to accept Chinese-run policies. This will probably change into a win-lose game in which China becomes the sole hegemon in control of all Central Asia. Turkey, as a bridge country between East and West, is in a position to balance China’s potential long-term aggression in Central Asia. To mitigate China’s influence, as a model country, Turkey should encourage the CACs to build a regional economic and security organization. A CACs-led institution with the mediation of Turkey would help resolve regional issues like water shortages and poverty, and foster long-term stability. More interaction with Turkey will enable CACs to perceive the benefits of democracy and get the support of the West, and this could prod them in the direction of democracy under a self-development objective without reliance on a sponsor, China.
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