Central Asia could become a spoiler for all of Beijing’s big Belt and Road ambitions.
On October 1, thousands of Chinese diaspora scattered across Central Asia and beyond celebrated their National Day with flag-raising ceremonies and parades. In China, these celebrations included a large military parade, showcasing new weapons and the country’s latest technology. But beyond China’s borders, amid these choreographed projections of national unity, the festival atmosphere has been disrupted by re-emerging, widespread anti-Chinese sentiment among the Central Asians.
Amid Chinas’ reorganization of the social fabric of the region, its growing presence and influence have been previously described as defensive, Beijing’s growing clout and economic developments for the last two decades have given it considerable leverage over the regional order and national narratives.
Chinese interests and activities in Central Asia have been part of a carefully crafted plan. Initially, Beijing sought to demilitarize the borders, which was followed by a crackdown on the Uyghur community, the creation of a collective security framework through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the building of infrastructure and communications systems in the region, and finally an influx of soft power. However, Beijing’s presence in Central Asia is at times controversial, and rife with confusion and complications. Simply put, the Chinese have become, in part, a scapegoat for local grievances — economic and employment woes — and a focal point for sensitive cross-border issues such as the oppressive treatment of Mulsim minorities in China and accusations of debt-trap diplomacy.