Policy Paper No. 9 – Cultural and other relations – Mapping strategies of Russia, USA and China towards Central Asia

Policy Paper No. 9 describes the cultural relationship between the five Central Asian states and the three world powers, here defined as Russia, China and the United States. The paper focuses on several issues like a shared identity, cultural influences or financial support to cultural activities.

Russia’s cultural influence in the region was and still is the strongest, greatly affected by the common Tsarist and Soviet heritage. The overall level of proficiency of Russian in Central Asia is relatively high and institutions like “The Russki Mir Fund” (Russian World Found) are implementing networks of “Russian centers” which seek to increase the access to and practice of Russian cultural heritage and Russian education. Furthermore, there is a Russian media strategy with the potential to influence the Central Asian societies, due to their mentioned knowledge of the Russian language. There are also considerable amounts of ethnic Russian in the five countries, varying from 20 percent of the population in Kazakhstan to 0.5 percent in Tajikistan.

China is trying to decrease the Russian influence in the region by widen their own “soft power”. The main instruments to reach this goal are educational programs, Confucius Institutes, mass media and Chinese public funds. While the Russian language is already highly common in Central Asia, China started a special base for the dissemination of the Chinese language in neighbouring countries in 2010. Added to this, the Confucius institutions are expanding the possibilities of Chinese education in the region. Although there is a growing impact of the Chinese cultural influence, there is still a fear in Central Asia of losing land via sales to China and scepticism towards Chines migrants.

After the end of the “Cold War”, the United States helped the Central Asian countries with their transition to market economics and with the idea of democratic political systems. Nevertheless, most of the efforts of the U.S. government towards Central Asia are interest driven, for example referring to energy resources or security issues. Despite there is a sense for the attractiveness of the Western model of development in the region, a missing common cultural heritage between the USA and Central Asia has led to a small cultural influence.

In summary, Russia’s cultural influence remains strong in Central Asia, even if the government in Bejings is trying to increase the Chinese influence. Except the noticeable acceptance for the American way of life, the cultural impact of the United States is, compared to Russia and China, quite low.

Full paper is available here.