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Russia, China and Turkey
In the nineteenth century, Central Asia was the battle ground for Russia and Britain. Now Britain is out of the picture, the main contenders being Russia and China. Yeltsin's visit to Beijing was represented as creating a common front against the United States and Western Europe. This neglects the rivalry brought out by the recent visit to Beijing of the defense minister of Turkmenistan, with which China is building a special relationship.
An excellent Stratfor report stresses military cooperation and oil in this relationship. It says:
"During his seven-day visit to China, Turkmen Defense Minister Batyr Sardzhayev met with Prime Minister Zhu Rongji, Defense Minister Col. Gen. Chi Haotian, and PLA Chief of General Staff Fu Quanyou. This was the first such visit to China by the Turkmen defense minister since the two nations established diplomatic ties seven years ago. Chi declared his recent meeting with the Turkmen defense minister the "most important event in the history of military relations between China and Turkmenistan."
China's aggressive cultivation of Turkmenistan's oil market, and Russia's inability to sanction it, may be a hitch in Russian-China relations. Over the past year, China's National Petroleum Company has helped rebuild over 100 wells in Turkmenistan, accounting for the steady increase in the country's export production. Turkmenistan is also on China's ten-year schedule for gas importation. If reserve estimates are correct, Turkmenistan will soon be the third largest gas exporter in the world behind Russia and Iran. China is essentially liberating Turkmenistan from the rigid monopoly of Russia's state-owned Gazprom, which has forbidden the westward transport of Turkmen gas and oil."
The Stratfor report, however, completely omits the third contender: Turkey, which aspires to leadership of the Turkic-speaking nations of Central Asia, bringing it in direct conflict with China as well as Russia. Turkey is the hereditary enemy of Russia, which may therefore have a common interest with China. Turkey is closely tied to the United States, and thence plays a key role.
Essential in all this is the attitude of the Turkic-speaking peoples. Do they feel an ethnic solidarity with Turkey, which sprang from them? If they do, that may be a determining factor. I have seen no report on this, and it may be difficult to ascertain.
Ronald Hilton - 09/17/99