Abdul Rasool Syed |
With the collapse of the Soviet Union back in 1991, the great game that began between the Russian and the Britain Empire and culminated in the fight for dominance over Afghanistan came to an end. This development created a power vacuum in the central Asian region, enrich with hydrocarbon and other precious mineral resources. The big powers of the world politics Russia, China and the US with their respective vested interests rushed to fill the vacuum left by the Soviet Union.
This resulted in the resumption of the new great game; a collision of three great powers that are trying to roll back one another’s sphere of influence. Unlike that great game, today’s Great game is global, more complex, and much more dangerous. “It is now clear that with the renewed great game,” remarked G. Asgar Mitha, “there are more players and more rivalry than it was during the game being played out between Britain and Russia in the nineteen and twentieth centuries.
In that game, there was one winner and one loser. The stakes for which the game is now being played are global supremacy, energy, geography, geopolitical security, religion, and financial control.” The geopolitical, geostrategic and geo-economic importance of central Asia is now an open secret. This region has been described as the heart of the world. A modern geographer Halford John Mackinder in 1994 wrote, “The one who rules Eastern Europe, commands the heartland and the one who rules the heartland commands the world”. The central Asian energy resources are far larger than the energy resources of the Middle East.
The central Asian energy resources are enough to satisfy the needs of big energy consumers such as Russia, China, and US and can be the best substitute for the mid-east energy resources, whose supply is vulnerable to fluctuation due to the risk of terrorism and ongoing civil wars. It is due to this reason; the big players are engaged to outsmart one another in order to gain as much share from the available pool of energy resources as possible. This competitive engagement among the three big powers to establish hegemonic control over the region is euphemistically called” the new great game”.
What China has to Gain?
China is one of the most influential players in the new great game. Bejing’s political strategy for Central Asia is guided by two important factors; Firstly, to get lion’s share in the hydrocarbon resources of central Asia with the help of profitable and long-lasting economic ties with region and secondly, physical integrity of the people’s republic of China, security of its national borders and promotion of regional stability.
Apart from this, what is more important is the launch of BRI (Belt and Road initiative) by China which has added a new chapter in the great power competition over the Eurasian chess board. The initiative’s land routes can potentially wean Chinese trade off the traditional maritime routes, rendering it invulnerable to a naval blocked—a priority in the face of ongoing tension between China and the US.
At the same time, the project also clashes with the established Russian initiatives in the region, all of which feeds into common fear of Beijing attempting to usurp Moscow in its traditional sphere of influence. Against this backdrop, the prospects for Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union look dim against China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The arrangement is fairly stable for now, yet fears of instability from South and Central Asia have forced Beijing to slowly increase its security profile there as well.
Russian Interests in the Region
Another key player of the game is Russia. It is also working aggressively to further its interests in the region. Moscow’s interests in the region are diverse. The first is the fear of proliferation of the region’s secessionist movements, filled with Islamic extremism, a perception also shared by Bejing. Religion extremism along with weapons smuggling and drug trafficking is considered as an existential threat by Russia. Its second interest in the region for sure is the quest for hydrocarbon resources. Russia leaves no stone unturned to maintain its central role in the extraction, refining, and exportation of these energy resources to European Market.
Moreover, Russia after realizing that it alone cannot scupper the hegemonic plan of America has now tilted towards those states which share its concern over the US penetration into central Asia. This perception of Russia has brought it closer to China which also wants to contain growing American influence in the region. The mutual cooperation of Russia and China to counter American moves is conspicuous in the shape of SCO (Shanghai corporation organization) of which they are the founding members.
America’s Intended Profit
America, another big player and the formidable rival of both China and Russia is also deeply interested in this new great game. Its’ interest rose in the region with the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 and subsequent shift in the international power structure. Its first priority in the region was to obliterate the communist ideology from Central Asia and to introduce capitalism or market-based economy through liberal political and economic reforms.
The United States’ interest in Central Asia got a dramatic boost after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. The Pentagon quickly negotiated basing deals in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan to supply its war effort; as well as protecting its commercial interests in the energy-rich Caspian basin and securing its supply lines to Afghanistan. The US was keen to prevent what Fiona Hill called the “Afghanicisation” of Central Asia, spillovers from Afghanistan and the growth of homegrown terror groups.
Additionally, it is also now an open fact that Washington too has unambiguous interests in the energy resources of central Asia for it has found yet an alternative to Middle East hydrocarbon resources. It has, therefore, entered into many agreements with CARS (Central Asian Republics) to fulfill its desire to have as much share from available energy reservoirs as possible. To this end, America is eager to establish its hegemony over the region so that it could earn an uninterrupted supply of the energy to meet its requirements.
Beijing and Moscow’s Covert Alliance
To counter the American imperialistic designs, China and Russia have entered into a marriage of convenience. They have formed a synergy to shatter the American dreams in the region. While China does not seem as driven by aggressive anti-western sentiment as Russia does, Beijing and Moscow share the strategic goal: to reduce western influence particularly the Americanization of the world. China delivers the capital to bolster new alliances whereas Russia delivers political poison to weaken the old ones. It is a perfect match.
In addition, while Russia offers military ruthlessness, China offers a mercantile variant. Unlike the west, China doesn’t let human rights and the rule of law get in the way of investments. In late 2017, Bejing increased its investment in Ukraine, announcing it as an important building block in its new Silk Road to Europe. The government in corruption-ridden Kiev has already gladly declared 2019 to be “the year of China” in Ukraine. China and Russia stand ready as alternative models and protective powers to CARS, offering new arrangements for bilateral and multilateral alignments.
To cap it all, it is premature to conclude that who will win this new great game. All three key players are equally powerful and well-equipped with the required paraphernalia to outshine one another. However, it is advisable that the participants of this new great game should never resort to armed conflict for humanity cannot endure more wars and more loss of precious human capital.
Advocate Abdul Rasool Syed is legal practitioner-cum-columnist based in Quetta Balochistan. He contributes articles to various national and international newspapers. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.