Central Asian nations warming to Beijing

Central Asian nations warming to Beijing

MOSCOW - Central Asian nations, whose economies are rapidly deteriorating due to cheaper energy prices and Russia's business slump, are increasingly looking to China to boost their growth.

Kazakhstan's approach was rewarded when Prime Minister Karim Massimov obtained economic co-operation of roughly $23 billion (S$31 billion) from China during his visit to Beijing late last month. The money will be spent on railroad and highway infrastructure development as well as attracting manufacturers from abroad. China has recently emerged as the largest trade partner with Kazakhstan, even bigger than Russia. Direct freight transportation service by railroad between Kazakhstan and China was launched in February.

To demonstrate loyalty to Beijing, Kazakhstan also announced its intention to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as early as last October, followed by Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan last month. All nations in Central Asia except for Turkmenistan pledged to become founding members of the AIIB.

Previously, Russia deemed Central Asia to be within its sphere of influence, and has been trying to gather nations in the region, which are former members of the Soviet Union. Russia's military intervention in Ukraine and the economic slump, however, have made them wary of Moscow.

Some Central Asian nations such as Kazakhstan and others are increasingly staying away from Russia and moving closer to China, though they retain membership in the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union, an international organisation that ensures multilateral economic co-operation among member states. Uzbekistan aims to decrease exports of natural gas to Russia and increase them to China instead, while Tajikistan has secured China's commitment to invest $6 billion in the country.

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