SOAS University of London

SOAS China Institute

The Belt and Road Initiative: China’s Strategy and Responses in Central Asia

Dr Bhavna Dave (SOAS) and Dr Yuka Kobayashi (SOAS)

Date: 21 January 2019Time: 5:30 PM

Finishes: 21 January 2019Time: 7:30 PM

Venue: Paul Webley Wing (Senate House) Room: SG36

Type of Event: Round Table

Note: Internal event not open to external attendees.


The Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) initiative, launched by Xi Jinping in 2013 as the Central Asian component of the Eurasian Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is presented as a trade and infrastructural developmental initiative that benefits all to deliver stability. It consolidates Beijing’s existing economic investments and security-building measures, while launching new projects to link the regions of Central Asia and South Asia more closely with China and extend the arc of security westward and develop these as a transport corridor linking China to Europe.

Our presentation examines the interaction between China’s infrastructural investments and security dynamics in the Central Asian region, exploring why the BRI/SREB, presented by China as primarily a developmental vision, is fraught with wide-ranging security implications. We examine the reception of China’s BRI/SREB in Central Asia focusing on three dimensions:

1.       the lure of Chinese investments, which makes SREB particularly attractive for Central Asian countries;

2.      the securitization thrust of the Silk Road initiative, which consolidates the power of the Central Asian regimes but also grants considerable role to China in managing security arrangements;

3.      élite manoeuvring between the lure of Chinese investments and appeasing popular anxieties about China’s growing influence.

Our analysis points to the overall positive reception in the region to the aid and investment offered by China, while noting the variance in their responses based on the implications of SREB for their sovereignty and security, as well as concerns on whether the promised benefits of connectivity and development (a “win-win” scenario) will materialise. We conclude by outlining the implications of China’s rising economic and security engagement in Central Asia and the close Sino-Russian partnership for European financial and security interests, and highlight areas of cooperation and complementarity between China and EU in the region.


Bhavna Davé (PhD in Political Science from Syracuse University, NY) is Senior Lecturer in Central Asian Politics in the Department of Politics and International Studies at SOAS, University of London. She is the author of the book Kazakhstan: Ethnicity, Language and Power (Routledge: London, 2007). She is editor of Modern Central Asia (London: Routledge, 2009), a four-volume reference collection which is part of Routledge’s series on Critical Issues in Modern Politics. She has published works on issues of language and ethnic identities, minorities, elections and patronage in Kazakhstan, and EU-Central Asia relations, labour migration in Kazakhstan and Russia, the role of the Russian Far East in Russia’s ‘pivot to Asia’ policy, social and security implications of China’s Silk Road economic development initiative in Central Asia and India-Central Asia relations. Her current research and writing focus on 3 separate projects: 1) the political economy and legal framework of labour migration, migrant and diaspora networks in Russia and Kazakhstan; 2) geopolitics and alliances in Eurasia, and the consequences of China’s Belt and Road initiative for Central Asian states and the Russian Far East; 3) the strategic role of the ‘priority development programme’ of the Russian Far East as part of Russia’s pivot to Asia policy and the implications for the East-Asian region.

Yuka Kobayashi (LL.B Kyoto, MPhil, DPhil Oxon) is Lecturer in China and International Politics in the Department of Politics and International Studies, SOAS, University of London, and Visiting Research Professor at Nankai University (China). Prior to joining SOAS, she was a Junior Research Fellow at the University of Oxford. After receiving a LL.B. (specialisation in Public International Law) from Kyoto University, she studied Mandarin and Chinese International Politics at Nankai University before going on to obtain an M.Phil. and D.Phil. at the University of Oxford. Her research interests include International Relations of China, International Law, Trade and Investment (Belt and Road Initiative/WTO/FDI), Human Rights and Climate Change/Energy. She has advised various governments, think-tanks and international organisations on these subjects. Yuka is currently running collaborative projects on China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan) and the Russian Far East, China’s BRI in Europe (Serbia, Spain, UK), and China’s BRI in Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam).

Organiser: SOAS China Institute

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