In This Review

The Chinese Question in Central Asia: Domestic Order, Social Change, and the Chinese Factor
The Chinese Question in Central Asia: Domestic Order, Social Change, and the Chinese Factor
By Marlène Laruelle and Sébastien Peyrouse
Columbia University Press, 2013, 271 pp

Chinese inroads into Central Asia look less impressive when viewed from the local point of view than they do from the conventional vantage point of the global strategic chessboard. Of the five states in the region that emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union, four have joined China and Russia in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, acceded to China’s demand to rein in their Uighur diasporas so that they cannot coordinate with Uighurs in western China to push for greater autonomy, and expanded their economic ties with China. But Laruelle and Peyrouse’s travels in the region revealed that these states view the SCO as marginal to their main security worries, such as local insurgencies and instability in Afghanistan. They distrust China’s reliability on border security and view their economic relationships with China as unequal. Many of their intellectuals think that China is mishandling the Uighur problem and that instability in China could spill over and affect their countries. The regional states are also divided among themselves over many issues, including the management of water resources and competition for Chinese trade and transit routes. Theirs is a pragmatic accommodation with China, buttressed more than anything else by the economic benefits that the arrangement offers corrupt elites.