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U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, "Hearing on Looking West: China and Central Asia," March 18, 2015

This hearing was conducted by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission on March 18, 2015. The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission was created by the U.S. Congress in 2000 to monitor, investigate, and submit to Congress an annual report on the national security implications of the economic relationship between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.
March 18, 2015

Wednesday, March 18, 2015
418 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC

Hearing Co-Chairs: Vice Chairman Dennis Shea and Commissioner Katherine Tobin Ph.D.


Good morning and welcome to the third hearing of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission's 2015 Annual Report cycle. I want to thank everyone for joining us today.

Today's hearing will examine the drivers of China's engagement with Central Asia, its impacts on regional economic security and stability, and its implications for U.S. policy objectives in the region.

This hearing comes at an important time. With the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan, Central Asia, an underdeveloped but energy rich corner of Asia, is increasingly relying on China for trade, infrastructure development and diplomatic support.

China's vision for engagement with Central Asia was formally articulated in 2013 with the inauguration of the "Silk Road Economic Belt" initiative, which in the spirit of the ancient Silk Road seeks to link China to Europe through westward expansion of trade. Though the Silk Road Economic Belt initiative is a relatively new expression of Chinese diplomacy in the region, China has been actively building trade and security linkages with Central Asian states since the collapse of the Soviet Union. China has signed more than $50 billion in energy and infrastructure deals in Central Asia and set up a $40 billion Silk Road infrastructure fund aimed at expanding railways, roads and pipelines.

China is pursuing engagement with Central Asia for three strategic reasons: first, it seeks to promote the security and development of its restive Xinjiang Province; second, China wants to gain access to Central Asia's vast oil and gas resources; and, finally, Beijing seeks to develop new markets for its exporters and construction companies by building roads and railways across this landlocked region of the world.

China also hopes to bolster its soft power and influence in Asia at a time when its aggressive actions over territorial disputes in the South and East China seas have alienated many of its Pacific neighbors.

Will these developments strengthen the Central Asian states by broadening their international reach or weaken them by creating a dependency on China, or neither? To help us better understand these complexities, we are joined by distinguished experts and long-time observers of Central Asia, and I think today it might be fair to say that we've cornered the global market on Central Asian experts.

We have some great people joining us today. So we look forward to hearing from each of you, and before I turn the floor over to my co-chair for this hearing, Commissioner Katherine Tobin, I would like to thank Senator Johnny Isakson, and the staff of the Veterans Affairs Committee, for securing this room for us.


Thank you, Commissioner Shea, and welcome everyone.

The Xi Jinping administration frequently proclaims that China is prepared to take on a greater leadership role in Asia and beyond. In many ways, China's engagement with Central Asian countries will be a test case for Beijing's ability to demonstrate the regional and global leadership to which it aspires.

Will China be able to take on Central Asia's toughest challenges--poverty, underdeveloped infrastructure, weak and corrupt governments, and the threat of terrorism--in a way that promotes healthy economic growth, regional security, and responsible governance? Or will it merely use its relationships in Central Asia to advance its own narrow interests? The answer to these questions will have wide-ranging implications.

Economic development and regional connectivity in Central and South Asia is a top priority for the United States and is a key pillar of the Obama administration's "New Silk Road" policy. We hope that China's vast infrastructure development in the region will complement this effort by promoting these region-centric goals and not just serve as a thoroughfare for shipping oil and gas to China.

Similarly, we hope China's vigorous cooperation with Central Asia on counterterrorism will strengthen security while protecting human rights and prioritizing transparency. Given China's worrisome domestic counterterror policies and its heavy-handed treatment of unrest in Xinjiang, we sadly fear this may not be the case.

Ultimately China's ability and China's willingness to engage with Central Asia will help determine whether the region fulfills its aspirations to become a flourishing intercontinental hub or falls prey to corrosive authoritarianism or the threat of terrorism.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Afghanistan. If China joins the United States and others in our efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, which it appears poised to do, it could help usher in a period of peace and stability the country and the region deeply needs.

So today we look forward to exploring these issues and hope to find creative ways the United States can encourage and work with China to play a positive role in Central Asia.

As a reminder, the testimonies and transcript from today's hearing will be posted on our Web site,, and you'll also find there a good number of other resources, including our Annual Report, ongoing staff papers, and links to important news stories.

So let me begin with an introduction of our panel. Mr. Raffaello Pantucci is not yet here. We're hoping he is forthcoming.

Panel I: China’s Silk Road Policy
Mr. Raffaello Pantucci, Director of International Security Studies, Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, London, UK
Dr. Marlene Laruelle, Director, Central Asia Program, Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies, Elliot School of International Affairs, George Washington University, Washington, DC
Dr. S. Frederick Starr, Chairman, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and Silk Road Studies Program, Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, Washington, DC

Panel II: Trade, Infrastructure, and Natural Resources in China’s Central Asia Engagement
Dr. Alexander Cooley, Professor, Political Science, Barnard College, Columbia University, New York, NY
Dr. Sebastien Peyrouse, Research Professor of International Affairs, George Washington University, Washington, DC
Dr. Erica Downs, Senior Analyst, Eurasia Group, Washington, DC

Panel III: China’s Security Engagement in Central Asia and the  Question of Afghanistan
Dr. Michael Clarke, Senior Research Fellow, Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University, Nathan, Australia
Dr. Niklas Swanström, Director, Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm, Sweden
Mr. Andrew Small, Transatlantic Fellow, German Marshall Fund of the United States



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