Regional powers vie over influence in Eurasia

Regional powers vie over influence in Eurasia
PHOTO: The Japan News/ANN

Major regional powers are vying to strengthen their geopolitical foothold on the strategically vital Eurasian continent with their distinctive policy initiatives striving to court Asian nations including South Korea.

For them, Eurasia, accounting for 71 per cent of the world's population and 60 per cent of the global gross domestic product, is critical as their influence over it would, after all, determine their global status, analysts say.

Among other policy initiatives, China's "One Belt One Road" figures prominently as it is seen by analysts as part of the ascendant power's efforts to expand its economic and political clout across the continent and beyond.

The project, which Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled during his visit to Kazakhstan in September 2013, seeks to connect China with Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Middle East, Europe and even Africa through "land and maritime silk roads."

"The One Belt One Road scheme apparently reaffirms China's intention to secure a hegemonic status in the region through the economic, infrastructure-building project," said Park Won-gon, an international politics expert at Handong Global University.

"China seems to be employing quite a clever strategy to secure its supremacy through the economic initiative, not through what could be a confrontational security initiative that would have caused friction with the US and impeded its quest for primacy."

Focusing on building "connectivity" infrastructures, the Chinese project consists of the "Silk Road Economic Belt" to link China's neighbours and others through an envisioned network of roads and railways, and the "21st Century Maritime Silk Road" to connect the littoral states of the Indo-Pacific Oceans through the construction of coastal transport routes such as sea ports.

The China-led Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank is to bankroll the infrastructure projects.

The One Belt One Road initiative is not a wholly new one. It is rather a comprehensive compilation of multiple projects that China has ambitiously pushed for its regional economic co-operation and integration.

In particular, the maritime Silk Road scheme is a continuation of China's foreign policy drive to link it with Indian Ocean states such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, which Western analysts called a "string of pearls" strategy.

To secure an unimpeded, stable supply of energy and resources - critical for continuing economic growth and thus strengthening public support for the communist leadership, China has sought to develop safer, shorter and more cost-effective maritime and overland trade routes.

As part of the efforts, China has strived to develop port facilities in various coastal nodes such as Gwadar in Pakistan, Hambantota and Colombo in Sri Lanka, Chittagong in Bangladesh, and Sittawe and Kyaukpyu in Myanmar.

China's rivals including the US suspect that these port facilities could be turned into naval outposts in case of a conflict for global hegemony.

Amid China's stepped-up push for expanded influence in Eurasia, Russia is also carrying out its own policy drive, called the "New Eastern Policy," an initiative to cement ties with Asia-Pacific states, enhance its geopolitical status, diversify its energy export routs and develop its Far East region.

In May 2012, the Moscow government unveiled the initiative, which has shifted its foreign policy focus to Asia from Europe.

The shift came as Russia has maintained taut security and diplomatic tensions with Europe amid the NATO's eastward expansion and the Ukraine crisis.

Introducing the initiative toward the Asia-Pacific, Moscow also established the Ministry of Development of Russian Far East to push for the key national project to develop the underdeveloped region.

"Under the policy initiative, Russia seeks to strengthen ties with both South and North Koreas, China and other Asian partners to attract investments in its Far East region, bolster its geopolitical strength and secure energy export routes, which in the past focused mostly on Europe," said Chang Duck-joon, a Russia expert at Kookmin University.

"In terms of the country's balanced development, Russia also takes advantage of the initiative to develop the Far East region. Its hosting of the APEC summit in 2012 in Vladivostok, the major city in the Far East, demonstrates Moscow's will to develop the region through the initiative."

In the intensifying geopolitical contest, the US is also a key player with its multifaceted "rebalancing" policy toward the Asia-Pacific.

With its counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations in the Middle East winding down, the US is shifting its foreign policy focus to the Asia-Pacific with the apparent goals of keeping the increasingly assertive China in check and maintaining its regional preponderance.

The US has been deepening its security co-operation with treaty allies such as South Korea, Japan and Thailand, and regional partners including Vietnam and Indonesia, and striving to bolster its voice in the regional multilateral institutions such as the East Asia Summit.

It has also sought to ensure its economic leadership through the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an envisioned free trade tool linking the Pacific Rim states.

Japan has also launched a brisk diplomacy to strengthen ties with Eurasian states.

The Shinzo Abe government has paid particular attention to bolster energy co-operation with Central Asian states including Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to diversify its energy sources and apparently bolster its influence against China.

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