Concrete wall with painted United States, China and Russia flags (via shutterstock)
America Cannot Compete with Russia and China for the Entirety of the Global South

As Joe Biden concluded his attendance at the Group of 7, or G7, meeting in Hiroshima, at which his administration orchestrated the group’s opposition to China, Xi Jinping unveiled a plan of his own in a counter-diplomatic move. After a China-Central Asia Summit in northwest China last week, Xi announced plans to boost Central Asia’s development by increasing trade, building infrastructure, and helping bolster its defense production capabilities and law enforcement. This points towards a considerably increased Chinese role in Central Asia.

China’s new initiative in the region is likely to instinctively cause hostility in Washington, but that would be a mistake. The United States does not need and cannot afford to seek primacy everywhere; and for geographical reasons alone, Central Asia will always be a region where American influence will be inferior to that of China and Russia. By engaging in great power competition there, Washington would only divert the United States’ attention and resources from more important regions. In the worst case, it would contribute to regional instability and even conflict.

China’s move comes at a time of waning the United States’ influence in Central Asia after its withdrawal from Afghanistan, as well as waning Russian influence as Russia wages its war in Ukraine. Central Asia has historically been part of Moscow’s traditional sphere of influence, but in the last decade, the region has seen an exponential increase in economic cooperation with Beijing. Last year, trade between China and Central Asia reached a record of $70 billion, with Kazakhstan at the forefront with $31 billion.

Because Russia and China share something similar to a great power “entente” in Central Asia, where Russia is the primary security partner and China is the primary economic power, neither struggles with the other for influence. Both, however, fear that of the United States, and would (successfully) unite strongly to resist it. In addition, both fear the spread of Islamist extremism and ethnic nationalism, which could increase problems with their own Muslim minorities—something that would, it should be pointed out, also threaten American interests. The lack of major terrorist attacks against the United States in recent years does not mean that this threat has gone away.

Read the full piece in The National Interest.

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