Key Players and Regional Dynamics in Eurasia: The Return of the Great Game

The rise of Eurasia: Geopolitical advantages and historic pitfalls
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State Owned and Private Chinese Telecom companies are implementing a broad range of projects in the Tech Sector, including a smart city test in Baku and a data centre in Kazakhstan, providing loans to help countries to develop new capacity using Chinese Huawei equipments. One of the most ambitious plan for the next years is the construction of a trans-Eurasian data super interconnector TASIM that should develop through at least three Central Asian countries: Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Azerbaijan.

In Belarus, the upgrading of highways has been financed by Chinese Exim Bank loans.

Similarly, in Uzbekistan China proposes to build a new rail link from Xinjiang. Meanwhile, in Kyrgyzstan the BRI has provoked concerns for being a controversial plan. A win-win situation at first sight that would instead create benefits for Chinese export only, opening an additional route and leading to a socio-economic divide beetween the North and the South of the country.

Belt and Road Initiative is the vastest geopolitical and investment project in human history, although it has never been explicitly presented as such. The first freight train traversing the newly inaugurated Sino-Afghan Special Transportation Railway that links the Yangtze River port of Nantong with the Afghan river port of Hairatan ran into political problems on its maiden voyage. The train brought Chinese electrical supplies, clothing and other goods to Afghanistan but returned to China empty.

Uzbek officials refused to allow Afghan goods to traverse their country charging that the train could be used to smuggle narcotics and precious stones, which fuel criminal and terrorist networks in the region. The crop is mostly grown in insurgent-held areas and is a major source of revenue for the Taliban and other militant groups. The Uzbek action, however, reflects deeper concerns. It also highlighted the fact that regional tensions and lack of trust threaten to increase rather than decrease travel time and cost of shipping goods across Eurasia.

Security concerns have for all practical matters called into question China belief that economic engagement will substitute stability for volatility. Afghan exports are primarily geared toward Pakistan, Iran and India. Similarly, Chinese trade with the Central Asian nation is negligible. To complicate things, Pakistan in February closed its border with Afghanistan, accusing Kabul of hosting militants who caused havoc in Pakistani cities with a wave of suicide bombings.

Diverging Chinese and Russian interests remain for now muted.

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The rise of populism, economic nationalism, and a reduced Western focus on human rights is likely to keep their interests aligned at least for the immediate future. Those interests, however, are potentially threatened by emerging Chinese-Russian rivalry in Central Asia, greater Chinese engagement in security beyond its borders and mounting anti-Chinese sentiment across Eurasia. China by now, has, however, too much at stake in One Belt, One Road for it to back away.

Protection of Chinese investment and personnel rather than retrenchment is the name of the game.

Key Players and Regional Dynamics in Eurasia: The Return of the 'Great Game'

Chinese engagement on the Afghan side of the border as well as closer military cooperation with Tajikistan appeared to be driven by concern in Beijing that Uyghur militants had moved from Pakistan into Badakshan, a region in northern Afghanistan that borders on China and the Central Asian state. Jonny, a blogging traveller, reported encountering Afghan, Chinese and Tajik soldiers at a military checkpoint in Little Pamir in October The Chinese units reportedly crossed twice a month from Tajikistan into Afghanistan.

The patrols fit an emerging pattern of China using law enforcement and its mushrooming private security industry for counter-terrorism and anti-crime operations beyond its borders. Chinese and Pakistani special forces held a joint military exercise in November in a bid to strengthen cooperation in countering political violence. Chinese private security companies were also expanding operations in and around Gwadar. China also supplied Pterodactyl drones to Uzbekistan.

The joker in the Great Game is Donald J. Trump has yet to spell out an overall policy towards Eurasia even though he has articulated attitudes towards individual players. Not enough to supply all major markets, Tehran will face a crucial geopolitical choice for the destination of its piped exports. China already dominates Turkmen gas sales. Europe and China have already begun to put the blocks in place for a shared role in Eurasia. Tens of rail links traverse the Eurasian landmass from China to the Atlantic.

Both China and Europe are developing new cities and trade hubs in remote locations that often were nodes on the ancient Silk road. The frenzy is attracting not only Chinese, Russian and European but also Japanese and Indian investment in the knowledge that emerging hubs and networks will be available to all. The open question is whether any one power will dominate them and, if so, who. Hooking the pipeline to One Belt, One Road would allow China to receive Iranian gas not only by sea on its eastern seaboard but also in its land-locked, troubled north-western province Xinjiang. Iran constitutes both a key land and maritime node.

China and Saudi Arabia are independently constructing their first foreign military bases in Djibouti. The project would involve construction of seaports airports, high-end housing, and resorts and the creation of special economic zones policy. Saudi Arabia could be granted a freehold provided that 70 percent of the project is executed on reclaimed land.

European Geostrategy in Central Asia with Dr. Stephen J. Blank

Saudi interest in Faafu with a visit by then crown prince Salman and his son Mohammed, now deputy crown prince. Mohammed returned a year later to host a week of parties. He and his entourage took over two resorts. Guests flew in night after night on private jets to attend the parties, which featured famous entertainers including the rapper Pitbull and the South Korean singer Psy. The Saudis signed at about that time a memorandum of understanding that involved the sale of Faafu to the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia and China moreover shouldered complimentary projects in the Maldives. China also agreed to build a new airport runway as well as a port in Laamu, an atoll south of Faafu.

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There is an Indian diaspora in Russia and it is living quite good, but politically it has no influence. And necessary for our little planet. This region, the boundaries of which is difficult to draw precisely, encompasses more than twice the territory of the Middle East and compels the world to rethink the traditional views of its security, political and economic significance, its power structures and the consequences that current changes portend for the world energy prospects. The Saudis signed at about that time a memorandum of understanding that involved the sale of Faafu to the kingdom. The incumbent foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has assumed this portfolio for the second time.

Saudi and Chinese interest in the Maldives comes as the two countries upgrade military cooperation. With the United States refusing to share its drone technology, China and Saudi Arabia agreed that China would open its first overseas defense production facility in the kingdom. The kingdom has also not shied away from influencing public opinion by bribing journalists. In one incident, journalists were handed cash-filled envelopes during an event at the Saudi embassy in Mahe.

Many journalists see the disappearance in of Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla, a prominent journalist, who wrote about secularism and ultra- conservatism, as warning.

U.S. strategy in Eurasia and drug production in Afghanistan, by Tiberio Graziani

Saudi-funded ultra-conservatism has contributed to the Maldives, a popular high end tourist destination that prided itself on adhering to a blend of Sufism and other religions. Forms of entertainment like mixed dancing and western beach garb have become acceptable only within the walls of expensive resorts.

Reflecting the shift towards ultra-conservatism, a court in for the first time sentenced a woman to death by stoning for having committed adultery.

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Indian intelligence sources worry that the Maldives could become a base of a very different kind just off the sub-continental mainland The pitfalls are magnified by mounting criticism of terms imposed by China in agreements for the development of infrastructure and growing anti-Chinese resentment. Resentment has translated into increased violence in Balochistan, the Pakistani province that is home to the warm water, deep sea port of Gwadar that lies at the heart of One Belt, One Road. And it feeds on continued warfare in Afghanistan.

As a result, Gwadar has yet to emerge as a major trans-shipment hub in Chinese trade and energy supplies. Similarly, Chinese prospects for the development of Sri Lankan ports, including Hambantota, are clouded. China is not in the business of providing either non-military aid or budgetary support. Its loans provided by Chinese-backed development banks have turned out to be less soft that China would have people believe and produced debt traps for recipients.

Sri Lanka is struggling to escape the trap, cool-headed analysts fear Pakistan is heading towards one,77 and Tajikistan is struggling to cope with the burden of debt to China. Forced to do a land for debt swap to reduce its huge debt to China, Tajikistan ceded control of 1, square kilometres of mountainous farm land to the under the garb of settling a centuries-old border dispute.

Turkmenistan was counting on increased gas sales to help it turn the economy around.

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The expansion was cancelled because state-owned companies, China National Petroleum Corporation CNPC and Uzbekneftegaz, failed to agree on terms that would have ensured that Uzbekistan would benefit from the pipeline beyond simply being a transit country. The downside of perceived Chinese largesse has prompted Asian nations to play both ends against the middle. Sri Lanka, for example, initiated a partnership dialogue with the United States that led to military cooperation. Its Achilles Heel is the fact its initiatives are driven as much by domestic concerns as they are by geopolitical ambition.

Chinese companies are aided in their endeavour by what Chinese chief executive officers call the. China Way or the pursuit of growth at all costs, including, if need be, slashing profits, marginalizing shareholder returns and taking costly risks. It utilizes excess commodities such as steel and iron. China brings as assets to the table funding, low-cost labour, and an ability to carry long-term losses. However, to make the strategy work, China needs to sub-contract Western engineering and construction companies with the local networks and track records their Chinese counterparts lack.

Sub-contracting adds to the debt burden of Chinese state-owned enterprises and with returns on investment years, if not decades, away could come to haunt Chinas economy. Separately ten Chinese ports have formed an alliance with six Malaysian harbours.

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The Belt refers to the land-based network of roads, railways and pipelines. The protests and violence in countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka have forced China to provide military assistance, dispatch security forces, and contract private security companies to protect its investments and personnel, adding significantly to the cost of One belt, One Road projects.

Still up for grabs, ports in Bangladesh have emerged as a focal point in the Great Game. Agreements and understandings have been signed only to be cancelled. As tempting as the offer was, Bangladesh backed away. Instead, to pacify critics, it granted access to Indian cargo vessels. Bangladesh may also be wary of experiencing the volatility that Chinese-backed ports else where are witnessing. Caucasian ports are no less troubled than those in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Riots in March in the Georgian pot town of Batumi were sparked by an incident unrelated to Eurasian power plays but were indicative of a degree of volatility that could affect the designs of regional powers.