Friday, December 09, 2005

Don't play this Great Game

To listen to Western commentators, Washington, Moscow and Beijing are in the early rounds of a new Great Game, akin to the 19th-century struggle between Czarist Russia and the British Empire for primacy in Central Asia. Unable to resist the analogy, analysts sound more like sports announcers, calling every play as a gain or loss for the players on the field.

This month's re-election of Kazakhstan's strongman president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, in a vote that was neither free nor fair, will surely be cited as the latest example of Soviet-style authoritarianism resisting the onslaught of Western-style democracy.

The July summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization - made up of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan - was billed as a "NATO of the East," a new team to counter American global dominance. The SCO's call for a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces from bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan was seen as the opening play. Uzbekistan's subsequent decision to evict American forces and to forge a new defense pact with Russia last month was called a strategic loss for Washington and a win for Moscow.

Likewise, China's recent purchase of the second-largest oil company in Kazakhstan and a new oil pipeline and railroad between the two countries have been portrayed as proof of Beijing's unmatched economic prowess in the region.

While colorful, such commentary fails to capture the real situation on the ground.

Read the rest here. It's contrary to my own opinions, but it might be worth considering all the same.

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