China, Xinjiang, and the Transnational Security of Central Asia

Author: David Kerr; Laura C. Swinton


Asia is not a Westphalian system. Transnational politics, in which political communities are subdivided by nominally sovereign boundaries, are just as common in Asia as international politics. This non-Westphalianism is also a persistent feature of Asian security, as subnational, transnational, and international conflicts are embedded in each other. This article examines China's security relations with Central Asia in terms of these features, beginning with a discussion of the developmental and ethno-national politics of China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The Chinese state has advanced a program of economic modernization and intensive security campaigns to eradicate what it terms the “three evils” of splittism, terrorism, and extremism and to promote a common political identity for modern China. But this campaign has resulted in a segregated Xinjiang in which Uyghurs still look to a transnational community outside of China as an alternative to political assimilation. The second part of the article examines the interaction between transnational and international security in Central Asia, and China's promotion of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as its preferred mechanism for managing this relationship. The authors identify three aims of the SCO — repressing transnational radicalism; stabilizing regional regimes and their foreign policy orientations; and checking U.S. influence — but argue that these are more restraints on the political options of others than a means to expand China's own options. The fact that the problems of China's transnational regions and the future of SCO remain unresolved leads the authors to conclude that an ascendant China faces an uncertain future in the fluid environment of Central Eurasia.
Regions: East Asia
Countries: China

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