Chinese Ambassador to Tashkent Yu Hongjun claims that Uzbekistan and China intend to up bilateral trade to US$1 billion. Experts warn that China is out to expand into all of Central Asia and elbow Russia out of the markets it has always considered its own, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported.
Uzbekistan is exporting to China oil and petrochemicals the latter desperately needs - along with cotton, silk, fertilizers, fruits, and vegetables. Its import from China comes down to electric appliances, optical gear, pharmaceuticals, textile, metals, plastics, and foods.
"The current relations between China and Uzbekistan are an indication of China’s Central Asian policy. They should be regarded together with expansion of China’s influence with countries like Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan," to quote Professor Aleksei Maslov of the Russian University of Friendship of Peoples.
"Uzbekistan is but a stepping stone for Beijing intent on promotion of its interests in Asia... Using its membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, China establishes both multilateral and bilateral contacts with the countries of the region."
Strengthening its economic and political clout with republics of the former Soviet Central Asia, China inevitably collides with the interests of Russia, its partner in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. As for Uzbekistan, the largest Central Asian country in terms of population (26 million) and the second largest economy in the region, Russian positions in it remain fairly solid even now.
The Russian-Uzbek trade turnover amounted to US$3 billion in 2006. It is expected to reach US$4 billion this year. Experts, however, are skeptical of Russia’s prospects. They say that this rate of boosting its economic presence in the region will soon enable China to leave Russia behind in the matter of trade with Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan’s neighbors in the region are a typical example. The Chinese-Tajik trade turnover tripled in 2005 and reached US$150 million. The Russian-Tajik trade turnover in the meantime remains nominally larger but it showed just a 12% rise in 2005.
The situation with Kyrgyzstan is similar. The Russian-Kyrgyz trade turnover rose 2.5 times between 2002 and 2006 and the Chinese-Kyrgyz quadrupled and amounted to US$247 million in 2006. Kyrgyz export to China in its turn accounted for 13.4% of the whole trade turnover in 2006.
As a matter of fact, parameters of the Russian-Kazakh and Chinese-Kazakh trade are particularly revealing. The Russian-Kazakh trade turnover amounted to US$7.5 billion in 2004 and US$12 billion in 2006 while the Chinese-Kazakh one amounted to US$4.5 billion in 2004 and US$10 billion in 2006. The latter more than doubled and nearly matched the Russian-Kazakh trade turnover. Some experts even say that Chinese investments in Kazakhstan beat Russian ones.
As for Chinese economic expansion into Uzbekistan, Maslov believes that "whether it is a means of ousting Russia from Uzbekistan or from all of Central Asia in general is what it really comes down." The expert does not perceive any particular threat to Russian economic positions in the region for the time being but believes that it may change one fine day because "Beijing’s policy in Central Asia is more rational and far-reaching than the policy of Russia." "Should the Chinese offer a whole package of cooperation options to Uzbekistan, this latter may end up following in Kazakhstan’s steps. Economy of Kazakhstan is thoroughly pro-China now," Maslov warned.