Challenging China in Central Asia

Dr Jonathan Ludwig1

1Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK, United States

While the world’s attention is on the Indo-Pacific as the region to counter China’s growing influence, Central Asia can also play a role in this discussion. In the years after independence, the West held the upper hand. Although the Central Asian nations were tied to Moscow economically, Russia was unable to do anything to stem the influx of Western influences. Policies toward the region changed after 9/11, when an anti-terrorism focus took precedence over promoting democratic values. Recent years have seen a third turn, as the West’s lone focus on anti-terrorist measures distracted from countering China’s growing influence, in particular the promotion of BRI. While China is singularly focused on what they want out of the region, and Russia struggles to keep up in a pseudo-alliance with them, the West is largely divided on policies toward the region. In this paper I trace three stages of post-1991 policy-making toward Central Asia, discuss how China has recently made significant inroads there, and then posit some ideas on how more distant powers could act together to counter China’s growing power in Central Asia. I pay special attention to what role middle-powers can play in an area wary of Great Power politics.


Jonathan Ludwig is Teaching Assistant Professor of Russian at Oklahoma State, where he also teaches about and conducts research on Central Asia. He has written and presented extensively about the region and has a contract with Cambridge University Press to write A Concise History of Central Asia.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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