President Xi Jinping telling President Putin at the end of their summit last March in Moscow that we’re now facing “great changes not seen in a century” directly applies to the new spirit reigning across the Heartland.
Cue to the China-Central Asia summit last week in Xian, the former imperial capital, where Xi solidified the expansion of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) from Western China in Xinjiang to its western neighbors and then all the way to Iran, Turkiye and Eastern Europe.
Xi in Xian particularly stressed the complementing aspects between BRI and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), once again showing that all five Central Asian “stans”, acting together, should counter-act the proverbial external interference via “terrorism, separatism and extremism”.
The message was stark: these hybrid war strategies are all integrated with the attempt by the Hegemon to continue fostering serial color revolutions. The purveyors of the “rules-based international order”, Xi implied, will go no holds barred to prevent ongoing Heartland integration.
The usual suspects in fact are already spinning that Central Asia is falling into a potential trap, fully captured by Beijing. Yet this is something Kazakhstan’s “multi-vector diplomacy”, coined way back in the Nazarbayev years, would never allow.
What Beijing is developing, instead, is an integrated approach via a C+C5 secretariat with no less than 19 separate channels of communication.
The heart of the matter is to turbo-charge Heartland connectivity via the BRI’s Middle Corridor.
And that, crucially, includes technology transfer. As it stands, there are dozens of industrial transfer programs with Kazakhstan, a dozen in Uzbekistan, and several in discussion with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. These are extolled by Beijing as part of “harmonious Silk Roads”.
Xi himself, as a post-modern pilgrim, detailed the connectivity in his keynote speech in Xian: “The China-Kyrgystan-Uzbekistan highway that runs across the Tian shan Mountains, the China-Tajikistan expressway that defies the Pamir Plateau, and the China-Kazakhstan crude oil pipeline and the China-Central Asia Gas Pipeline that traverse the vast desert – they are the present-day Silk Road.”
The Revival of the Heartland “Belt”
Xi’s China is once again mirroring lessons from History. What’s happening now brings us back to the first half of the first millennium B.C., when the Persian Achaemenid empire established itself as the largest to date, stretching from India in the east and Central Asia in the northeast to Greece in the west and Egypt in the southwest.
For the first time in history, territories that spanned Asia, Africa and Europe were brought together; and that led to a boom in trade, culture and ethnic interactions (what BRI defines today as “people to people exchanges”).
That’s how we had the Hellenistic world first getting in touch with India and Central Asia – as they set up the first Greek settlements in Bactria (in today’s Afghanistan).
By the end of the first millennium B.C. all the way to the first millennium A.D. an immense area from the Pacific to the Atlantic – encompassing the Han Chinese empire, the Kushan kingdom, the Parthians and the Roman empire, among others – formed “a continuous belt of civilizations, states and cultures”, as Prof. Edvard Rtveladze of the Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan defined it.
This, in a nutshell, is at heart of the Chinese concept of “belt” and “road”: the “belt” refers to the Heartland, the “road” refers to the Maritime Silk Road.
So slightly less than 2,000 years ago, that was the first time in human history that the borders of several states and kingdoms were immediately adjacent to each other along no less than 11,400 km, from east to west. No wonder the fabled Ancient Silk Road – actually a maze of roads -, the first transcontinental thoroughfare, emerged at the time.
That was a direct consequence of a series of political, economic and cultural whirlwinds involving the peoples of Eurasia. History, in the high acceleration 21st century, is now retracing these steps.
Geography, after all, is destiny. Central Asia was traversed by countless migrations of Near Eastern, Indo-European, Indo-Iranian and Turkic peoples; was the focus of serious intercultural interaction (Iranian, Indian, Turkic, Chinese, Hellenistic cultures); and criss-crossed virtually all major religions (Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, Christianity, Islam).
The Organization of Turkic States, led by Turkiye, is even engaged in rebuilding the Turkic identity overtones of the Heartland – a vector that will be developing in parallel to the influence of China and Russia.
That Greater Eurasia Partnership
Russia is evolving its own path. A key debate was held аt a recent Valdai Club session on the Greater Eurasian Partnership when it comes to the interaction between Russia and the Heartland and neighbors China, India and Iran.
Moscow regards the concept of a Greater Eurasian Partnership as the key framework for achieving much desired “political cohesion” in the post-Soviet space – under the imperative of indivisibility of regional security.
This means, once again, maximum attention towards serial attempts of provoking color revolutions across the Heartland.
As much as in Beijing, there are no illusions in Moscow that the collective West will take no prisoners in regimenting Central Asia to the Russophobic drive. For over a year now Washington for all practical purposes already addresses the Heartland in terms of threats of secondary sanctions and crude ultimatums.
So Central Asia matters only in terms of the evolving hybrid war – and otherwise – against the Russia-China strategic partnership. No fabulous trade and connectivity prospects under the New Silk Roads; no Greater Eurasia Partnership; no security arrangements under the CSTO; no mechanism of economic cooperation like the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU).
Either you’re a “partner” in the sanctions dementia and/or a secondary front in the war against Russia, or there will be a price to pay.
The “price”, set by the proverbial Straussian neocon psychos currently in charge of US foreign policy, is always the same: proxy war via terror, to be provided by ISIS-Khorasan*, whose black cells are ready to be awakened in selected backwoods of Afghanistan and the Ferghana valley.
Moscow is very much aware of the high stakes. For instance, for a year and a half virtually every month a Russian delegation arrives in Tajikistan to implement, in practice, the “pivot to the East”, developing projects in agriculture, health care, education, science and tourism.
Central Asia should have a leading role in BRICS+ expansion – something supported by both BRICS leaders Russia and China. The idea of a BRICS + Central Asia is being seriously floated from Tashkent to Almaty.
That would imply establishing a strategic continuum from Russia and China to Central Asia, South Asia, West Asia, Africa and Latin America – spanning the logistics of connectivity trade, energy, manufacture production, investment, technological breakthroughs and cultural interaction.
Beijing and Moscow, each in their own way, and with their own formulations, are already setting the framework for this ambitious geoeconomic project to be viable: the Heartland back in action as a protagonist in the forefront of History, just like those kingdoms, merchants and pilgrims of nearly 2,000 years ago.