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于滨:Central Asia Between Competition and Cooperation

更新时间:2009-06-12 12:41:25
作者: 于滨 (进入专栏)  

  

  Great power competition in Central Asia ebbs and flows in a timeless and tireless fashion. Unlike in Europe and East Asia during the Cold War and after, the fault line for the current jockeying for position in Central Asia between Washington and Beijing is not easily discernible. Instead, fluidity, uncertainty, and even outright reversal of fortunes among the major players have been the norm.

  Since September 11, the world's sole superpower made a massive strategic return to the region, only to make a partial exit to Iraq for its greater Middle Eastern project. China, though rising, has no such option to disengage. It tries to cope with a volatile region while dealing with its “strategic” partner of Russia, the more seasoned player of power games in Central Asia. Under these circumstances, the U.S.-China strategic interaction in Central Asia is bound to be asymmetrical, complex, and open-ended. While competition is somewhat inevitable, compromise and even cooperation are and should be part of the geostrategic equation.

  In specific terms, the United States pursues its security goals with largely unilateralist and military means. In contrast, China carefully plays its diplomatic, economic, and cultural cards in multilateral and bilateral ways. In other words, Beijing's soft power faces off against Washington's hard power in the heartland of Eurasia. In recent years, the locus of this asymmetrical competition has been the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a new institution that Washington fears is a vehicle for Chinese power projection in the region.

  

  The “Sins” of the SCO

  

  As a platform from which China is seen to be able to deflect, frustrate, and neutralize America's influence, the SCO is at best an irritant to Washington. It was originated in 1996 with the Shanghai Five (China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan) to which Uzbekistan joined in 2001. Not only did the SCO survive the post-9/11 era of U.S. preemptive action, it developed considerably more organizational cohesion and even thrived in non-security areas such as economics and culture. If observer member-states India, Pakistan, Iran, and Mongolia are counted, the SCO is the largest (in terms of population and size), though not the strongest, regional group in the world.

  The SCO has appeared to compete with the United States for influence in Central Asia. For fear of an indefinite U.S. military presence, the SCO urged NATO forces in Afghanistan in July 2005 to set a timetable for withdrawing their troops from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Since then, U.S. forces have left the Uzbek base and worked out a bilateral basing plan with Kyrgyzstan. More recently, the SCO seems to have developed some real teeth as several rounds of military exercises (2003 in Kazakhstan and 2005 in China) have gone on in the name of anti-terrorism. A joint SCO drill will be held in Russia in July 2007.

  To date, the SCO remains the world's only regional security mechanism without direct U.S. participation. Washington's suspicion and negativity toward the SCO are therefore not a surprise.

  

  Not an Anti-American Bloc

  

  The SCO's “anti-Americanism,” however, is not as strong or real as Washington perceives. The SCO's founding had less to do with America than with deep concerns regarding instability in the former Soviet republics. For Beijing, dealing with a group rather than separate parties for the stability of the thousands of kilometers border with those former Soviet republics was both convenient and necessary. If anything, the SCO actually anticipated Washington's war on terror by declaring its organizational goals from the very beginning to combat the perceived threats of “terrorism, separatism, and extremism” rising from the ashes of the Soviet empire. For China and other SCO members, the U.S. war against the Taliban served, at least temporarily, to further their own individual and collective goal of countering religious extremism in central Asia.

  The SCO repeatedly claims that it is not a military bloc against a third party, nor does it want to be one. This is not mere rhetoric to calm down Washington, but reflects a strategic fact of life. In their complex interactions with the outside world, the SCO member states need the United States as much as they need each other. Their joint venture need not, is not, and should not be an open forum to counter Washington's influences, short of an extreme situation in which U.S. actions gravely jeopardize the core interests of the SCO member states (for example, if the United States changes its policy to support Taiwanese independence).

  With these constraints in mind, the July 2005 motion for a timetable of U.S. withdrawal from some Central Asian bases was not “made” but “emerged” from a “consensus” within the SCO. Russia and China denied that they took the lead, even if they helped to shape such a consensus. In retrospect, the withdrawal timetable was actually a rather restrained request in the wake of the “color revolutions” that disrupted the socio-political stability of several SCO member states.(点击此处阅读下一页)


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