Scholars, historians and analysts discussed current issues of Chinese influence on Central Asian countries, Uzbekistan in particular.
CABAR.asia analytical platform and the non-governmental scientific institution ‘Bilim Karvoni’ (‘Caravan of Knowledge’) with the assistance of the IWPR Representative Office in Central Asia held the expert meeting “Chinese Studies in Uzbekistan: Between Sinophobia and Sinophilia”.
Similar roundtable discussions have already been conducted in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan.
- Experts Call to Form a Strong School of Sinology in Kyrgyzstan
- Experts in Dushanbe Discussed the Prospects of Tajik School of Sinology Development
- IWPR: Experts Discussed the Problems of Sinology in Kazakhstan
The discussion in Tashkent involved former Senior Researcher at the Institute for Strategic and Regional Studies under the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Doctor of Historical Sciences, Professor Abdulakhat Khojaev; Doctor of Historical Sciences, Professor at the Tashkent Institute of Oriental Studies Natalia Karimova; Senior Lecturer at the Tashkent Institute of Oriental Studies, Anri Sharapov; Candidate of Philological Sciences, Associate Professor of the Department of Chinese Language and Literature of the Tashkent Institute of Oriental Studies Akram Karimov.
Farhod Tolipov, head of the non-governmental scientific institution ‘Bilim Karvoni’, facilitated the expert meeting.
“Get to the Root of the Matter”
The Doctor of Historical Sciences, Abdulakhat Khojaev, notes that China has claimed the Central Asian lands since ancient times citing the fact that the Qing Empire conquered them.
— Back in Soviet times, a department for studying relations between China and Central Asia was established at the Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan. After 1962, relations between the USSR and China deteriorated due to border disputes. Back in 1954, the border issue was included in a 30-year bilateral treaty.
The term has not yet expired when China began to claim the lands of Asia, which, according to the People’s Republic of China, were once conquered by the Qing Empire, and then passed to Tsarist Russia. The disputed lands include Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, parts of Uzbekistan and East Kazakhstan. However, Russia took the opposite stance.
In these circumstances, the challenge was to demonstrate that East Turkestan or the modern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR) was not native Chinese land, as China claims, but is the result of the conquest and colonization of the Qing Empire, and also to show the process of suppressing the anti-Qing movement.
We were assigned to conduct a scientific research on the XVIII and XIX centuries. Two documents of the Qing period not included in the scientific discourse became the sources. The process of conquering Eastern Turkestan took 70 years, and the Qing Empire eventually destroyed two states existing back then.
During the period of independence, Central Asian countries began to establish independent relations with China. Questions about the revival of the Great Silk Road arose.
Natalia Karimova, Professor at the Tashkent Institute of Oriental Studies, continued his thoughts. She noted that the Great Silk Road connected Central Asia and China. According to her, the ostentatious policy of good-neighborly relations proclaimed by Chinese rulers, in reality, was aimed at keeping the Silk Road under control:
“The ideology was based on demonstration of the superiority of Chinese civilization, and was aimed to change the barbarians’ consciousness, making them thus more submissive. Traditionalism is inherent in China. The core of the so-called “soft power” is traditional culture. Nowadays, China is trying with all its might to neutralize the emerging term “Chinese threat”. In this regard, Confucius Institutes, Sinology classes are created in Central Asia and such a dynamic is threatening. By 2020, China plans to increase their number to thousand, which is a huge number. There are two Confucius Institutes in Uzbekistan”.
Karimova also noted that such institutions are often considered agents of Chinese ideology, and not only cultural:
“It is not a secret for anyone that the China has its economic interests all over the world. Sometimes even land issues are resolved through investments, when many countries give disputed territories to China in exchange for investments. At the same time, it is profitable for the country to invest in other states and at the same time transfer its own labor reserves to its own companies there”.
“One Belt – One Road”
Anri Sharapov, Senior Lecturer at the Tashkent Institute of Oriental Studies said that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the horizons for cooperation with Central Asia extended for China. Established in 1996, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, in the first place, was aimed at solving border issues.
“Today, a new ambitious initiative by the Chinese authorities known as ‘One Belt – One Road’ shows a great attention to Central Asia. A rapidly developing China’s economy needs new resources; the country is interested in diversifying sources of raw materials. The development of the ‘One Belt – One Road’ project is important for Uzbekistan as well, as we also need infrastructure, investment, and interaction in various sectors”, said Sharapov.
According to him, Uzbekistan should hold the middle ground in cooperation with China.
Sinologists for the Whole Region
Akram Karimov, Associate Professor of the Department of Chinese Language and Literature of the Tashkent Institute of Oriental Studies, said that the Department of Chinese Philology at the Tashkent State University was first opened in 1957. During the Soviet years, about 20 people graduated annually from it. The department trained personnel for all Central Asian countries. During independence, the department expanded and now, through the Confucius Institutions functioning in the country, the study of Sinology continues.
“In order to build relations with China properly, it is necessary to know the mindset of the Chinese people, especially those from top tiers of power, the ways of implementing their policies and attitudes towards various non-Chinese peoples”, says historian Abdulahat Khojaev. He notes that China adopted a program of creation a security zone around itself 20 years ago and Central Asia is a part of this zone:
“Our region is a very important area, especially when it began to develop independently. China considers this factor negatively. What is being done today in XUAR is being done within the same framework.
Thus, on the one hand, China creates security zones through the SCO, on the other, seeing how Muslims in XUAR look at Central Asia and their consciousness is transformed, China wants to ultimately eliminate any anti-Chinese speeches by taking tough measures. According to some sources, one can even say that this is a genocide. China also creates such zones in order to protect the Central Asian countries from the influence of major powers”.
When China becomes strong, it begins to expand the territory and absorb the surrounding nations, trying to dissolve them in itself, said Abdulahat Khojaev. He believes that the China intends to strengthen its influence throughout the world, and Central Asia is a bridge to access the major powers.
“There is a possibility of closing the sea route through the South Asia coast, where the influence of the US is strong. China wants to access the ocean through Pamir and continue to access Africa and the Middle East. Our region with a population of 70 million people is considered both as a source of raw materials, as a commodity market, and as a transit zone. The Central Asian region is also needed as an important part of the security belt, where there will be no West influence.
We must not forget about Russia. Today, China is almost barbarically increasing the usage of Russian resources: it is developing new areas, increasing the number of its migrants. It cannot go on forever. If a confrontation with Russia begins, China will be able to reach West Asia and Europe through our region. In addition, our region is needed for energy resources, if Russia closes the channel. Therefore, China tries to build a corridor in advance in order to minimize Russia’s influence for these tasks”.
Natalia Karimova agrees with the expert and notes that the China’s foreign policy is aimed at ensuring that its borders are safe. She notes that one of the SCO’s tasks is to control the population of Central Asia:
“The more economically powerful the state becomes, the more capacity it has to dictate and actually rewrite the existing rules. The situation with the disputed islands in the South China Sea, the opening of the naval base, in fact, proves that China is creating new rules today. It does not care about the democracy in any country. Africa, for example. The only rule that China puts forward is the non-recognition of Taiwan. Many African countries were already forced to accept China’s demand in exchange for investment”, she added.
Currency – to China, Goods – Back from It
Abdulakhat Khojaev notes that many Uzbeks today send their children to China to study at their own expense. There, while studying, many of them work and send goods to Uzbekistan, thereby acting as Chinese sales representatives in their homeland.
“China willingly provides such opportunities, since our citizens at their own expense provide Chinese goods for our region. China is spending billions to form ‘troops’ that can serve its interests”, said Khojaev.
During the discussion, it also became clear that many media were afraid to publish historical materials on China in order not to irritate the “mighty neighbor”. Historian Abdulakhat Khojaev reminded that the SCO regulations contain an entry according to which all members of the organization undertake not to take any steps to the detriment of the another member’s interests.
“It must be remembered: our writings can affect interstate relations”, the scholar concluded.
This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.