Xinjiang problem, China’s SCO solution and the ‘Great Leap Westward”

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Process tracing

Process tracing is considered a “fundamental tool of qualitative analysis” as well as an “indispensable element” of case study research.33 Qualitative research tends to study social life in terms of a process, which is defined as “a sequence of individual and collective events, actions and activities unfolding over time in context.”34 As Andrew Bennett argues, “process tracing involves the examination of ‘diagnostic’ pieces of evidence within a case that contribute to supporting or overturning alternative explanatory hypothesis.”35 In fact, in process tracing diagnostic pieces of evidence will be accumulated and then systematically analyzed in light of research questions and hypotheses throughout the research.
In order to provide answers to our research questions, it is essential to look for ‘diagnostic pieces of evidence’ through detailed examination of historical sequences of events, actions and activities unfolding over time within the cases of the EU and China’s foreign policies. Process tracing pays close attention to “sequence of independent, dependent, and intervening variables,” close examination of which will lead to testing hypothesized causal mechanisms.
As regards the application of this procedure, this study first monitors the trajectory of how the EU’s and China’s Central Asian foreign policies have evolved over time and then examines whether or not a correlation exists between the pieces of evidence discovered in each case and those meta-geopolitical variables outlined in this research. In this process, a detailed description of the evolution of the EU and China foreign policies can establish causal links and alternative explanatory hypotheses, which “can form the basis for a comparison with similar situations.”38 Since the meta-geopolitical variables entail both normative and non-normative features of the foreign policy approaches, the efficacy, legitimacy and the likelihood for success of their foreign policies can be evaluated and analyzed by the degree to which CA states view those policies as acceptable, applicable and legitimate. In this process, a good analysis of change and sequence is needed to gain inferential leverage and make descriptive and causal inferences.
Despite the usefulness of process tracing in ‘drawing descriptive and causal inferences’ and providing inferential leverage, one of the critiques of process tracing concerns “degrees of freedom’’ problem when conducting a research on a small number of cases with a large number of variables.

Documents analysis

As an integral analytical component of this research, document analysis was conducted to critically review, evaluate and interpret several documents obtained from both print and online sources. This study draws on a plethora of sources, including books, academic journals, policy briefings, official documents produced by the CA governments, the SCO, the Council of the European Union, European Commission as well as documents that are accessible on the websites of regional and international organizations, namely the SCO and the EU. In data analysis, information will be assessed and interpreted “in order to elicit meaning, gain understanding, and develop empirical knowledge.”
For the purpose of this investigation, a great deal of time has been spent on deciphering the meanings in different contexts, discovering patterns, and comparing data with data in order to establish meaningful relations that would ultimately lead to producing empirical knowledge. However, there are potential drawbacks to data analysis such as “biased selectivity”, and “low retrievability.”42 Therefore, a crucial point that has been taken into consideration is to collect data that are authentic, accurate and credible with high degrees of accessibility.

Semi-structured interviewing, content analysis

This study is also accompanied by a series of interviews conducted with prominent authors and specialists in the realm of geopolitics as well as experts on EU-Central Asian strategic and security studies. The purpose of these in-depth interviews is to acquire qualitative material for the research and to explore and discover the meaning the interviewees make of the phenomenon under investigation. The technique used in this research involves semi-structured qualitative interviews. In this type of interviewing, a list of questions or fairly specific themes will be prepared beforehand to be discussed with a number of selected interviewees. Interviews in this research were conducted in multiple stages through telephone conversation and in the form of questionnaires in April and March from Linköping, Sweden. In general, semi-structured interviews are particularly advantageous because they focus on “how the interviewee frames and understands issues and events––that is, what the interviewee views as important in explaining and understanding events, patterns, and forms of behavior.”43 It is important to note that the present study also attempts to conduct a content analysis of the transcripts of recorded verbal or online conversations than to merely transcribe the arguments in an unanalyzed written form.44 The complete list of the interviewed experts and questions are presented in Appendix 2.

Proliferation of outside powers vs. the rise of the ‘Stans’

The breakup of the USSR provided the CA states with ample opportunities to raise their profile on the international scene through membership in various international and regional organizations. During the 1990s, major regional and global trends took place that helped the CA region to foster economic growth and become new independent political entities. Between 1993 and 1998, just as Boris Yeltsin launched massive market-oriented reforms aimed at privatization and westernization of the Russian economy, known as « shock therapy” plan, the five CA states set about drastic economic transition strategies.93 Most particularly, the Kyrgyz Republic significantly liberalized its trade and embraced rapid economic growth. Uzbekistan, for a brief period until the second half of 1996, gained economic progress as a result of the rise in world cotton prices, while Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan experienced economic boom because of the spike in oil prices.94 In an interesting case of synchronicity, China’s foreign policy underwent major changes under Jiang Zemmin in the 1990s. At that time Beijing sought to pursue ‘multilateralism’ and engaged in partnerships with organizations that were previously labeled as ‘Western-dominated and hostile’.95 As Marc Lanteigne puts it, Jiang Zemin and his successor Hu Jintao attached greater importance to multilateralism and developed tremendously the economy and diplomacy of China.96 Such policy was in stark contrast to Mao’s traditional realist views of international politics and his aversion to “the growing web of international regimes and laws.”97 In this context, it is fair to contend that had not been for the volte-face in China’s foreign policy in the 1990s, the convergence of the CA states, except Turkmenistan, within the SCO grouping might have never taken place.
By and large, taking advantage of its economic growth and geographic proximity to Central Asia, China made the most of geopolitical changes that unfolded after the Soviet collapse and effectively managed to represent itself as a new model of regional cooperation. However, a race for ‘monopolar power’ had begun in a triangle of the US, Russia and China, despite the augury of the new era of multi-polarity.98 In the early years after the Soviet collapse, Russia made no major efforts in building strong ties with the new republics, mainly due to the fact that it was embroiled in economic crisis.99 It was only after the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in 1996 that Moscow flexed its muscles in the region.100 As a result of these changes, for most of the 1990s, almost all of the CA states increased trade ties with the U.S., Iran, the EU and Turkey, and consequently verged away from Russia and moved towards joining international organizations.101 At around the same time, the enlargement of the EU had contributed greatly to the decline of Russia’s outreach in the post-Soviet space. However, this was not a corollary of direct engagement of the EU in the region, but an indirect consequence of the Union’s Eastern European enlargement plans, especially during the 2000s.102 In the late 1990s CA states became desirous of balancing their relations with Moscow through strengthening ties with the U.S. and other major trans-regional powers.
The 9/11 attacks marked yet another turning point in the history of Central Asia. The post-9/11 era was accompanied by growing propensity of CA states for engaging in multilateral initiatives, as evidenced by the fact that almost all of them jumped on the terrorism train and supported the U.S.-led “war on terror” campaign.104 The new wave of anti-terrorism activities also served as a catalyst for Russia. It provided Russia with an opportunity to recalibrate its policies towards CA countries and play a more active role in the region.105 Consequently, a U.S.-Russian alliance was formed and Vladimir Putin, eying to keep pressure on Chechen fighters, exploited the new security challenges in order to elevate Moscow’s position as a leading regional power.


The EU foreign policy: the road to ‘The Strategy for a New Partnership’

Prior to the dismantling of the Soviet bloc, Central Asia was considered almost terra incognito to the Western world. After the break-up of the USSR, however, the EU commenced its engagement with the region, albeit in a fairly cautious and tactful manner. In the early years of engagement, the EU accorded less attention to the CA countries chiefly because, inter alia, it was preoccupied with its East European neighborhood and did not want to infringe on the “Russian sphere of influence”.114 However, the EU maintained a multi-pronged yet fragmentary approach toward the region.
In 1991 the EU launched the Technical Assistance to the Commonwealth of Independent States (TACIS), which was an administrative framework aimed at providing assistance for “economic and commercial reforms, state–building processes, and encouragement of foreign investments” in the CIS countries.115 TACIS was formulated to support the so-called Partnership and Cooperation Agreements (PCAs) that form the legal basis for establishing bilateral cooperation with the CA states.
In 1999 the EU concluded PCAs with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan with the assent of all EU Member states and relevant CA states. The PCA with Tajikistan came into force in 2010 while the PCA with Turkmenistan has yet to be ratified by both the European Parliament and the EU Member States.
The TACIS encapsulated a multiplicity of initiative and projects, four of which were relevant for the CA states: the Interstate Oil and Gas Pipeline Management (INOGATE) and the Transport Corridor Europe Caucasus Asia (TRACECA), which both became operational in the early 1990s, and the Border Management Program in Central Asia (BOMCA) and the Central Asia Drug Action Program (CADAP).118 In the early 1990s the EU focused mostly on enhancing its hard security and economic interests, as it allocated funds for development of various energy projects, and enhancing border management in the CA countries bordering Afghanistan, mainly Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.119 The corollary of such approach was that issues pertaining to promotion of human rights, rule of law and good governance, which form the bedrock of the EU’s normative practices, were put on the backburner in the face of more urgent and immediate security concerns for the Union and its Member States. It was only after the passage of the Treaty of Maastricht in 1993 that the EU incorporated ‘democratization’ as one of its main objectives in its relations with the CIS countries.
At the beginning of the 21st century, however, the EU’s foreign policy toward the CA states underwent radical changes. On the basis of empirical observation, it can be argued that the events of 9/11 accompanied by the rise in ‘global discourse on terrorism’ made EU policy makers more aware of the rising political profile and strategic importance of the CA countries and encouraged them to carve out a differentiated, meaningful and value-oriented strategy vis-à-vis the region. To this aim, the EU firstly adopted its new ‘Security Strategy’ in 2003, according to which a range of issues such as “terrorism,…, the existence of weak state institutions, and organized crimes” were outlined as “new threats of the post-Cold War era”.121 Additionally, issues connected with human rights violations and other normative concerns came onto the EU’s foreign policy radar. In apparent move to increase its visibility in the five ex-Soviet republics, Brussels also established the post of the EU Special Representative (EUSR) to the region in 2005.

Table of contents :

Chapter 1: Introduction
1.1. A prelude to ‘Meta-geopolitics’ of Central Asia
1.2. Significance and aim of the study, research questions
1.3. Literature review
1.4. Limitations
Chapter 2: Research Design and Methods
2.1. Comparative case study
2.2. Process tracing
2.3. Document analysis
2.4. Semi-structured interviewing, content analysis
Chapter 3: Meta-geopolitics: Theory and Practice
3.1. Why Meta-geopolitics?
3.1.1. Political Realism
3.1.2. Social Constructivism
3.2. Conclusion
Chapter 4: Redefining Central Asia
4.1. Introduction
4.2. Proliferation of outside powers vs. the rise of the ’Stans’
4.3. Conclusion
Chapter 5: The Case of EU’s Meta-geopolitical Influence
5.1. The EU foreign policy: the road to ‘The Strategy for a New Partnership’
5.2. Analysis of EU’s influence in light of meta-geopolitical paradigm
5.2.1. Socialization deficit in EU’s normative stance
5.2.2. EU’s balance-of-power strategy in Central Asia
5.3. Conclusion
Chapter 6: The Case of China’s SCO Influence in Central Aisa
6.1. Introduction
6.2. Xinjiang problem, China’s SCO solution and the ‘Great Leap Westward”
6.3. China’s Defensive Realism through the SCO
6.3.1. Bringing balance of power back in?
6.4. Socialization through the ‘Shanghai Spirit’: the rise of ‘Eastphalian order’?
6.5. Conclusion
Chapter 7: Summary of the Main Findings and Conclusion
Bibliography ..


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