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HOW THE WEST WAS WON: China’s Expansion into Central Asia
By Henri Szadziewski
Reviewed by Amb. Michael Cotter

There is little enough material available in the West on developments in the most critical region on our globe – Central Asia – and many readers would not generally look to a publication that focuses on the Caucasus for useful insights into developments in Central Asia. Like American Diplomacy, which publishes a broader range of material than the title indicates, the Caucasus Review of International Affairs covers a much broader geographic range. This article is a splendid example.

In recent decades China has increased its political and economic activities in Central Asia markedly. The effort received new emphasis following the fall of the Soviet Union, after which the former Soviet Republics in the region gained their independence.  That event not only opened up commercial opportunities for China, but also resulted in a more active movement for either greater autonomy or independence (depending on who is talking) among the Uyghur ethnic group that predominates in the Western Chinese Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center in New York and the subsequent U.S.-led military action to remove the Taliban government in Afghanistan also had the effect of raising the Chinese government’s expressions of concern about the activities of Uyghur nationalists.

Similar to its policy in Tibet, another restive region, even before 1991 China’s policy in Xinjiang was to promote industrial development to tie the region closer to the center. Not by happenstance, the movement of millions of Han Chinese for that purpose also served to dilute Uyghur influence. 

The present article discusses a major post-2000 expansion of that effort called the “Great Western Development Drive” (GWDD).  If the article accomplished no more than to bring attention to that policy development, it would be worth noting here. What Henri Szadziewski has done, however, is to tie the GWDD to the major Chinese political initiative in the region – the creation in 2001 of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), highlighting how “GWDD objectives in East Turkestan parallel and drive China’s SCO objectives in Central Asia to create a consistent economic and political policy that encompasses the entire region.”  Given Szadziewski’s position as manager of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, it is not surprising that he argues that these policies have had a harmful impact on the Uyghur population, noting among other points that Han immigrants have benefited disproportionately from the employment opportunities created by the GWDD.bluestar

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May 12, 2009

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