China has shown surprising "agility and creativity" in building influence in Central Asia, and the United States and Russia must engage leaders in Beijing to head off future clashes in the region, a US think tank said.
In a major new report, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) examined China's post-Cold War drive to expand its weight in the energy-rich region and issued recommendations to US policymakers on how best to deal with its emergence.
"China's interest in building relations with Central Asia is not startling given its long history in the region, but the agility and creativity it has exercised in doing so has taken many by surprise," the report said.
CSIS, a non-partisan think tank, warned that although Central Asia is a "second-tier" priority for the great powers, leaders should take steps to ensure that their respective grab for influence does not spark clashes.
"Increased tension is avoidable. There is great room for cooperation in Central Asia and no need for restrictive alliances," said the report.
Central Asia's role in great power politics has sharply increased in recent years, following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The region has taken on added strategic importance, owing to its vast, largely untapped energy reserves, and since the September 11 attacks exposed the breeding grounds of terrorism in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
CSIS scholars called for a continued US commitment to Central Asia, including to political reform.
It said Washington, Beijing and Moscow should coordinate counter-terrorism and military activities.
"With all three powers operating in the region, cooperation in the security field is imperative if increased terrorism and unintended military mishaps are to be avoided."
The report, entitled "China's New Journey to the West," also called on China and the United States to work together on low-level projects, including education, combating HIV and operations to stem trafficking in guns, people and drugs.
"Washington should continue to urge political reform in the region and make the case in Beijing that China, too, will benefit from a more stable, open and responsive government along its western borders," the report said.
China shares a border of nearly 7,000 kilometers (4,350 miles) with Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, while the United States has become ever more diplomatically entrenched in the region in the context of its anti-terror campaign and its search for new sources of energy.
AFP, August 26, 2003