China Supplants Russia in Influence Over Former Societ Republics

China is using its economic clout to turn the former Soviet republics of central Asia into a quasi empire while Russia’s influence is waning, according to an Economist analysis.

China has already supplanted Russia as the dominant trading partner of four of the five central Asian nations except Uzbekistan, the poorest and most backward, which shares no border with China. President Xi Jinping’s tour of the region this week was filled with tens of billions of dollars’ worth of energy deals and investments which, once underway, will cement Beijing’s role as the region’s new hegemon.

This new role is the mirror image of the US pivot to Asia. While Washington is seeking to ensure it won’t lose influence in East Asia due to China’s rapid rise, Beijing wants to expand its influence westward into a region whose collective land mass is about equal to all of Europe ex Russia and whose oil and gas reserves are thought to surpass those of the Middle East. In addition to resources, the region offers China access to a fast and efficient highway and rail line to Europe

One of the deals signed by Xi will give China access to the Turkmenistan’s Galkynysh gasfield, the world’s second largest. It will also triple China’s imports from a country that is already its largest supplier of natural gas.

A $30 billion deal with Kazakhstan will give China a major stake in the Kashagan oil field which some believe will prove to be the world’s largest.

Even in Uzbekistan Beijing is moving to replace Russia for economic dominance with a $15 billion deal for oil, gas and uranium.

The rate at which China’s influence has grown in the region is still accelerating. Since these former Soviet republics became independent in 1989, trade with China jumped 100-fold to $46 billion in 2012. That will likely double by 2014 and double again by 2017. By gaining unfettered access to central Asian resources China is also weakening Russia’s influence not only over the region but over the world’s energy markets. Until China’s recent incursions Russia had been the sole outlet for the region’s vast energy production, giving it more influence than its own national resources would have afforded.