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57 4 Models of Governance Promoted by Russia and China In the early 1990s Russia nearly abandoned Central Asia, focusing instead on establishing relations with the Western states. Interest in the region grew stronger in 1993–1994 on the basis of growing nationalist sentiment in Moscow and disillusionment with the West. Russia declared a desire to preserve and strengthen its economic and military presence in the Central Asian republics (as well as in other former Soviet states). But Russia’s own economic, political, and military weaknesses prevented Moscow from realizing its ambitious aims, and it was not until the late 1990s that the Kremlin began to increase its military, strategic, cultural, and economic presence in Central Asia. By that time, the United States had substantially expanded its own presence in the region, making the Kremlin uneasy. The restoration of Russian influence throughout the former Soviet region became the motto of Boris Yeltsin’s successor, Vladimir Putin, who was reinstated by popular vote as the Russian president in 2000. The rise in world energy prices significantly increased Russia’s revenues and boosted the country’s financial standing. This allowed the Russian government to implement Putin’s plan to increase Russia’s presence and influence in Central Asia. Both the United States and the European Union have been competing with Russia for influence in Central Asia, and so has China. The latter’s strategic engagement with the Central Asian republics has expanded and deepened in recent years, and China has become a welcome alternative to both Western and Russian assistance. The rapidly expanding Chinese economy, Beijing’s growing influence in international and regional affairs, the country’s considerable demographic and economic potential, and its geographic proximity have made China an attractive regional partner for the Central Asian states. 58   Democracy in Central Asia Beijing has engaged the Central Asian republics with the primary aim of ensuring stability in the western province of Xinjiang, bordering Kazakhstan , Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. This province is home to the Uighur (the Turkic-speaking Muslim minority in China) and to fifty-five other ethnicities . It is China’s largest administrative division, and it has had an unsettled history and a tumultuous relationship with the Chinese regime. Since its inception in 1911, the Chinese state has been dominated by the ethnic Han majority, which has exhibited little tolerance for any form of dissent to its nation-building program. During the interwar period, the territory populated by Uighurs rebelled against the Republic of China and formed a short-lived independent state known as the East Turkestan Republic. By 1949, however, Xinjiang was back under Chinese communist control. In the years that followed, the Chinese regime promoted rapid economic development of the region as well as cultural and linguistic assimilation, with the aim of eventually changing the cultural and ethnic identity of the Uighurs. During the years of the Great Leap Forward (1958–1961) and the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), assimilation was implemented by force. Under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping (late 1970s to early 1980s), the Chinese government tried to compensate these minority populations for their suffering under the excesses of previous regimes. In Xinjiang, in particular , the Communist Party lifted restrictions on Islamic practices and even encouraged the construction of hundreds of mosques. State persecution of the Uighurs escalated in the 1990s, however, in response to their demands for greater religious and cultural freedom.1 This crackdown was followed by increased security measures to suppress ongoing Uighur protests over Beijing’s policies toward the region.2 The state began to employ “strike hard” campaigns that continue today and consist of law enforcement sweeps to combat the “three evils of terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism.”3 The US-led war on terrorism has allowed the Chinese government to justify and amplify its crackdown on the Uighurs. The leadership of the Chinese Communist Party has argued that its harsh treatment of the Uighur population in Xinjiang is in line with international efforts to root out the terrorist menace, thus legitimizing its pursuit of Uighur dissidents both inside and outside China.4 In its engagement with the Central Asian republics, Beijing’s primary aim has been to circumvent the activities of Uighur groups in these nations and to enlist the governing regimes’ cooperation in protecting China’s security interests at home and abroad.5 As a consequence, the Models of Governance Promoted by Russia and China  59 Chinese attitude toward democratization in Central Asia has been inseparable from Beijing’s policies toward...


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