Policy Paper No. 6 – Economic relations and trade – Mapping strategies of Russia, USA and China towards Central Asia

Policy Paper No. 6 describes the economic and trade relations of Russia, USA and China with Central Asia. Besides the impact of bilateral agreements, the paper maps the influence of the world powers through regional institutions like, e.g., the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) or the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).

All five countries in Central Asia are important trading partners for Russia although the trade relations are challenged by several circumstances like economic recession in Russia itself, Western sanctions caused by the Ukrainian crisis or problems within the EEU. Nevertheless, Russia remains among the top five trading partners for the Central Asian states just as the largest labour market for Central Asian migrants.

The economic role of the United States of America in Central Asia is completely different compared to Russia. There are only a few bilateral treaties on trade and investments and the interest in economic engagement is strongly co-opted by security issues and promoting democracy for the region. In summary, the US interest is declining as is the budget for economic assistance in Central Asia.

China’s economic strategy for Central Asia is not based on bilateral trade agreements. The government in Beijing focuses on so-called economic “deals”, the SCO and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – the  latter being the biggest investment project in the region. China has determined Central Asia as a region of great strategic significance because of several concerns from economic interests up to security interests.

All in all, the three world powers have different strategies and interests on economic relations towards Central Asia. While the Chinese BRI and other aspects challenge Russia’s otherwise powerful position, the U.S. interest remains small-sized.

Read the full paper here.