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Can the U.S. and India Cooperate in Central Asia?

by Evan A. Feigenbaum

Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev and India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh inspect the guard of honor during their meeting in Astana April 16, 2011. Courtesy Reuters/Mukhtar Kholdorbekov.

As the U.S. moves toward military withdrawal from Afghanistan, will its commitment to continental Asia slide too?

My latest “DC Diary” column in India’s leading financial daily, the Business Standard, argues that the question is important to both the United States and India. It matters to Washington because Americans have other interests in Central Asia, quite apart from prosecuting the war. It matters to India because Central Asian governments will have fewer strategic options if the U.S. simply fades away.

Here’s the central reality: U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will mean a reduced footprint in Central Asia. But the United States certainly doesn’t have to disappear. And the U.S. and India, too, have some shared strategic interests, not least in facilitating the reconnection of Central Asia to the world economy.

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Why America No Longer Gets Asia

by Evan A. Feigenbaum

The author chats with Chinese traders in the Kara-Suu Bazaar, near Osh, Kyrgyzstan, October 2006. (Photo from the author)

I have a new article out in The Washington Quarterly, with a slightly provocative title, “Why America No Longer Gets Asia.”

It’s a think piece. And so it probably won’t be 100 percent persuasive to 100 percent of its readers in 100 percent of its aspects. But the article pulls together the strands of a lot of themes I’ve harped on in recent years, from speeches I was giving while at the State Department to a few years’ worth of articles and blogs. I also worked on an array of projects directly related to these themes while serving in the U.S. government, especially during the period from 2003 to 2007.

Here’s the headline: Asia is reintegrating, but the United States simply isn’t adapting quickly enough. And it is essential to adapt U.S. policy to the contours of change in Asia if the United States wishes to remain vital and relevant there.

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Seven Guidelines for U.S. Central Asia Policy

by Evan A. Feigenbaum

Pedestrians walk past Bibi Khanum mosque in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. (Shamil Baigin/Courtesy Reuters)

As noted in my last post, a new report from the bipartisan Central Asia Study Group, chaired by former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and issued by the Project 2049 Institute, offers an action agenda aimed at creating a more effective and enduring partnership between the United States and the nations of Central Asia. I was the principal author of the report, which was rolled out at a press roundtable I did with Armitage. But the paper is a consensus document that reflects discussion, debate, and, ultimately, broad agreement among a distinguished group of former senior U.S. diplomatic and defense officials with responsibility for, or interest in, Central Asia.

The report does a lot of things. But one central element is its attempt to offer any U.S. administration seven broad guidelines for U.S. policy in the region. So here they are:

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An Agenda for U.S.-Central Asia Relations

by Evan A. Feigenbaum

When it snows on the steppes of eastern Kazakhstan, hunters saddle up and gallop off with eagles on their arms in search of prey. (Shamil Zhumatov/Courtesy Reuters)

I’ve blogged mainly on East Asia and South Asia here at Asia Unbound. But a new report from the bipartisan Central Asia Study Group, chaired by former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, offers a timely opportunity to blog a bit on Central Asia.

First, a little truth in advertising: I’m the principal author of the study group report, Strengthening Fragile Partnerships: An Agenda for the Future of U.S.-Central Asia Relations, which was issued yesterday by the Project 2049 Institute, and rolled out at a press roundtable I did with Armitage. But I think the paper is important on its merits because it presents the consensus view of a distinguished—and bipartisan—group of former senior U.S. diplomatic and defense officials with responsibility for, or interest in, Central Asia.

The full report can be found and downloaded here.

Why issue such a report now?

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China’s Money – A Central Asian Tale

by Evan A. Feigenbaum

Want to know how much China’s money is changing the balance of forces on its periphery?  Back in January I blogged on “China’s Big Play in Central Asia.”  And by “big play” I meant simply that China’s new assertiveness is changing Central Asia’s energy, economic, and strategic landscape in dramatic ways.

So check out this fascinating interview in The Telegraph with Grigori Marchenko, an architect of Kazakhstan’s economic success in the 1990s and now head of the country’s central bank.

Kazakh firms have become famous in recent years for launching initial public offerings on the London exchange.  But, says Marchenko, the next wave could just as easily be in Hong Kong.  And, as important, Kazakhstan’s economic elite increasingly looks to Beijing (and others in Asia) because, well, “that’s where the money is.”

“Over-relying on London was a mistake,” Marchenko says.  “London was extremely important because that was where the money was.  Increasingly, the money is shifting eastward … People take for granted that most of the Kazakh, Russian and Ukrainian companies are doing their IPOs in London,” he adds. “But, excuse me, that’s been the case just for the last nine years.  My point is that in five years, it could be some place else.”

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Central Asia’s Little Problem of Governance

by Evan A. Feigenbaum

Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Vladimir Pirogov

Today’s New York Times and Christian Science Monitor pretty much argue that Kyrgyzstan is coming apart at the seams.  “Security vacuum!” screams the Monitor, which quotes Russian experts to the effect that there is now “an open invitation to chaos or Islamist extremists.”

Actually both papers are in good company.  Russian president Dmitry Medvedev argued last week that “the risk of Kyrgyzstan splitting into two parts—north and south—really exists.”  “Kyrgyzstan,” Medvedev said, “is on the threshold of a civil war” and “terrorists and extremists of every kind will rush into this niche.”  Medvedev’s punchline?  “Instead of Kyrgyzstan we get a second Afghanistan …”  And he’s hardly alone in that view.  Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev (who just played a central role in extracting the deposed Kyrgyz president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, from that country) argues that Kazakhstan’s diplomatic efforts averted a Kyrgyz civil war.

Frankly, all this breathlessness leaves me a little cold.  We’ve been hearing dire predictions about Central Asia for two decades.   And nineteen years after independence, it’s worth recalling that some analysts believed these five countries wouldn’t make it even this far.

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China’s Big Play in Central Asia

by Evan A. Feigenbaum

Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Mukhtar Kholdorbekov/Kazinform

Last week, a west-east pipeline from Xinjiang to eastern China began bringing Central Asian gas to energy-hungry Chinese consumers. The pipeline runs more than 8,000 kilometers. It spans 14 provinces, autonomous regions, municipalities, and special administrative regions, including Shanghai and Hong Kong. Most important, the pipeline is the first to supply overseas natural gas to Chinese consumers and is thus a significant milestone in China’s energy acquisition strategy.

But the opening of a west-east gas route also says something important about Chinese foreign policy, more generally.

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