According to analysts, because of the changing geopolitical issues, China would divert its infrastructure and investment program away from its close peer Russia and focus more on Central Asian countries.

The Washington Post reported on June 2 that Moscow has been pushing for Beijing to fulfill its “no limits” partnership promises in recent weeks. But China’s leadership only wants to stay in the safe zone away from sanctions and provide assistance in a limited scope.

According to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), Chinese contractors and investors are also retreating from Russia and the Belt and Road Initiative in the EAEU group because of the Ukraine invasion.

In 2014, Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan formed the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). A year later, Beijing and Moscow celebrated the alliance’s Belt and Road Initiation (BRI) cooperation.

China’s ambition to expand its BRI scope would have been a major gain until the Ukraine invasion. The Western and secondary sanctions have pressured companies to reconsider their plans. 

Several Chinese giants have dropped out from Russia because of the war, including tech behemoth Huawei and oil and gas giant Sinopec. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Bank of China have also curbed Russian access to capital markets. At the end of May, at least five Chinese businesses had quit operations on Russia’s Arctic LNG 2 project in northern Siberia.

Moreover, Paul Stronski, a senior fellow at Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Programme, told SCMP that a China-Europe train that was to run from the Chinese border through the territories of Kazakhstan, Russia, and Belarus has also been scrapped. Initially, China was counting on this route to increase trade with the EU. But the war has made European countries reluctant to use the railway that runs through Russia. 

Stronski believed Chinese companies know the U.S. and EU markets are more critical. So they can only offer diplomatic support to Russia and promote purchasing low-cost energy.

Likewise, observers expect China to redirect its attention more to Central Asia. 

Srdjan Uljevic, an associate professor with the American University of Central Asia in Kyrgyzstan, told SCMP that this region is rich in resources and important to Beijing regarding security and economics.

Uljevic said the increasing U.S. rivalry in the Indo-Pacific region might push China to redirect at its Western borders for stability.

According to Erica Marat of the National Defense University in Washington, the Ukraine war has also played a role in this changing interest. 

Marat told Radio Free Europe, “There’s a noticeable increase of activity both from Turkey and China in Central Asia [since the war started]. Both countries see an opportunity to expand their own presence in the region.”

Busy with the conflict in Ukraine, Moscow’s engagement in this region may also reduce and leave the ground for others to set foot in. 

Luca Anceschi, a Eurasian studies professor at the University of Glasgow, said, “Russia doesn’t have the capacity to follow through on all the initiatives it has brought to Central Asia over the years, so while [Moscow] is looking elsewhere, other states are trying to take advantage of it.”

According to Temur Umarov, an expert on China and Central Asia at the Carnegie Moscow Centre, countries in these areas may seek more ties as they are aware of sanctions risks. He said China would be their top option besides other potential partners such as Türkiye and Iran.

On June 7, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi concluded a visit to Kazakhstan, and on June 8, the third annual China-Central Asia foreign ministers’ meeting was held in Nur-Sultan.

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