Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 February 2018, 16:20 GMT

China and Russia: The gendarmes of Eurasia

Publisher EurasiaNet
Author Stephen Blank
Publication Date 20 March 2008
Cite as EurasiaNet, China and Russia: The gendarmes of Eurasia, 20 March 2008, available at: [accessed 22 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Stephen Blank: 3/20/08

A EurasiaNet Commentary

China's crackdown on protesters in Tibet is potentially setting a precedent for members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

At least 13 deaths have been reported in connection with the anti-government protests, which have spread from the Tibetan Autonomous Republic to other areas of China with significant concentrations of ethnic Tibetans. China has barred foreign journalists from traveling to Lhasa, and Chinese officials have lashed out at Western news accounts of events in Tibet. In Beijing's view, the trouble has no connection to official efforts to culturally assimilate the country's minority groups, but is instead solely the result of trouble-making by the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.

Chinese leaders have interpreted developments in Tibet in a way that can classify the Tibetan protesters as secessionists. Such a definition in theory enables China to invoke a provision in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) charter, under which it can summon aid from other members in order to deal with the security threat. China, of course, is unlikely to issue such a call for assistance. Even so, other SCO members have quickly come to Beijing's defense.

Russia has been the most prominent supporter of China's actions in Tibet. On March 17, Moscow applauded China's determined effort to suppress "unlawful actions" in the autonomous region. The next day, in an article published in Rossiiskaya Gazeta, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claimed that the unrest in Tibet was linked to Kosovo's declaration of independence. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. "There are grounds to believe that all this happens not by chance," Lavrov said.

"The situation in Kosovo is the most vivid example of ethnic separatism," Lavrov continued. "Developments in other parts of the world also make it possible to suppose that we are witnessing only the beginning of an utterly explosive process."

Russia's strong show of support for China suggests that the two states might intervene in the event that anti-government protests broke out in one of the SCO member states in Central Asia. The possibility of such unrest in the region is not so far-fetched. The state of Uzbekistan's economy has some observers believing that Tashkent remains a potential site of unrest, despite the appearance of Islam Karimov's regime being in complete control. Kyrgyzstan, or course, has been a hotbed of instability since the 2005 ouster of former president Askar Akayev. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. And Tajikistan, where the economic infrastructure came crashing down during the harshest winter in a generation, also can be counted as a potential candidate for anti-government protests. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

There is good reason to believe that if unrest breaks out in Central Asia – whether it is connected to a rigged election, an unexpected succession or the implosion of the economy – the Chinese crackdown in Tibet can provide a repression blueprint.

China and Russia have already used the SCO to prepare for several possible contingencies. The SCO's Peace Mission military exercises in 2007, for example, dealt with a possible militant uprising, as well as with a refugee scenario. Thus, specific response plans for several different Central Asian scenarios would seem to exist.

Russia, naturally, is best positioned to lead a potential intervention in Central Asia. Under the auspices of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, Russia maintains bases in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. It also has the ability to quickly deploy troops to Uzbekistan under terms of a 2006 bilateral agreement.

It is possible to view the SCO, given its dedication to propping up the authoritarian order in Central Asia, as a present-day analogue to the Holy Alliance – the 19th century entente in which Russia, Austria and Prussia dedicated themselves to the maintaining Europe's then autocratic order. As the Tibetan example suggests, China and Russia, whether in Tibet or potentially in Central Asia, have eagerly embraced the role of gendarme of Eurasia.

Editor's Note: Stephen Blank is a professor at the US Army War College. The views expressed this article do not in any way represent the views of the US Army, Defense Department or the US Government.

Posted March 20, 2008 © Eurasianet

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