China still reluctant to use its power and influence in Eurasia, despite crises in Ukraine and Afghanistan
- Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Afghanistan’s instability are blockages to Beijing’s vision for Eurasia, but it has done little to fix either
- In the decade since the belt and road was first discussed, China has become a major player in the region, yet it appears unwilling to step in to help resolve conflicts
Together, these countries and their troubles present a major strategic blockage for China’s wider vision. However, there has been little evidence of Beijing seeking to fix either.
In fact, China seems set on simply letting both clashes play themselves out while offering platitudes in public which serve to suggest Beijing might seek to do something. In both contexts, China is a logical option to play a role in trying to resolve matters, and those on the ground are keenly aware of this.
CNPC had previously signed an agreement with the Afghan republic government in 2012 to extract oil from the same area, but that failed to live up to expectations. Other projects remain in the discussion phase, with growing appeals from the Taliban for Chinese firms to start to deliver.
But while it remains to be seen if the project lives up to its promise, the investment has shown that China is still in a position to play an important role. This is true in other parts of Eurasia, too.
Vague comments about not wanting nuclear conflict or wider instability are hardly attempts to steer Russian President Vladimir Putin in a particular direction, but are merely statements of fact. Nevertheless, Ukraine continues to hope that Beijing might step in to mediate.
This is the critical point. China is clearly viewed as a significant player, yet it remains unwilling to step into the fray. From a Chinese perspective, this is just an extension of Beijing’s principle of non-interference but, in reality, it means that one of Eurasia’s mightiest rising powers is failing to play a leadership role in its own backyard.
A decade on from the announcement of the Belt and Road Initiative, China has risen to become a major player in Eurasia. But it has yet to do much with this power and influence, choosing instead to focus on the United States and Taiwan, and simply assuming a watching brief over the growing instability. The vision of the belt and road, at least for others, was for the initiative’s sweep across Eurasia to increase China’s influence. That has yet to translate into reality.
Raffaello Pantucci is a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London and a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in Singapore