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China and Central Asia's volatile mix : energy, trade, and ethnic relations

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Publication Date: January 1997

Publisher(s): East-West Center

Author(s): James P. Dorian; Brett H. Wigdortz; Dru C. Gladney

Series: AsiaPacific issues ; no. 31

Topic: Culture and religion (Multiculturalism and cultural relations)
Politics (Politics)

Type: Report

Coverage: China China


Reports of ethnic separatist violence in China are focusing renewed attention on Xinjiang province, an area famous as the site of the ancient "Silk Route." The recent clashes result in part from efforts by China and the five fledgling republics of Central Asia to promote economic and political ties. Central Asia seeks a counterweight to continuing Russian influence. China, whose northwestern Xinjiang province borders Central Asia and contains large numbers of Muslims, wants the assurance of Central Asian leaders that they will not support separatist movements. Both want markets for their exports, including vast, largely undeveloped oil, gas, and coal reserves. China also seeks new sources of energy. But increased investment and cross-border trade are producing more than just economic development: links between Muslims in Xinjiang and those in Central Asia are being reestablished and, within Xinjiang, the uneven benefits of development are aggravating rivalries between local Muslims and the large Han population (China's official majority nationality). The increasing political unrest is threatening the region's promising energy and economic development.