Mar 1, 2000
Central Asia as a region poses serious headaches for any policy makers because it seems to contain all the ingredients for a volatile mix: vast energy reserves, ethnic and interstate strife, great power rivalries, and encroaching religious extremism. Central Asia comprises five former Soviet republics-Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan-while the broader Central Asian region can be defined as stretching from Xinjiang all the way to Azerbaijan. Russia and China cannot escape the geopolitical reality of being Central Asia's two largest neighbors; as such, they must come to terms with their proximity to this strategically important region.' Whether they can manage their interactions here wisely and reach a constructive modus vivendi will have a significant impact on both their bilateral "cooperative strategic partnership" and the region itself. On the surface, this professed partnership should enable Russia and China to manage their interactions in Central Asia well. Yet, the two countries' interests in the region do not exactly coincide. The rupture of the relationship over a conflict of interest in Central Asia is a real possibility that would spell disaster for the region and beyond. But rather than passively waiting for events to unfold, there are measures the two states can undertake to build a framework for useful interaction in Central Asia.