[GLOBAL EYE]Central Asia has value to KoreaIn late July and early August, I was traveling in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the emerging key players in Eurasia.
As China and Russia boast of a new honeymoon, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a group Russia and China formed along with other Central Asian nations, presented a resolution demanding the withdrawal of the U.S. Forces from the region, the changes in Central Asia were very clear.
I had visited the region more than a dozen times since the Soviet days, but I had never seen such obvious signs of China and Turkey’s presence in Central Asia.
China’s influence and presence were already being visualized in the major markets, streets and state corporations in towns like Almaty and Tashkent. The business class passengers on Air Astana were provided with a magazine that had special reports on the close relationships between China and Kazakhstan, and China and Central Asia.
However, if you visit one of the six Ramstore stores, the Turkish supermarket chain, in Almaty, you will feel that Turkey has more influence and will to advance in the region than any other country.
The activities of Korean capital and Korean businessmen, which Zbigniew Brzezinski had mentioned in his book, “The Grand Chessboard,” have been relatively sluggish, considering the historic connections with the region. In Uzbekistan, South Korea was the No. 1 investor country in the early 1990s. With Daewoo’s initiative, Kabool, Shindong and other companies competed to invest in Uzbekistan. The Korean companies handily established themselves there, thanks to the social and political successes of ethnic Koreans called Koryeoin.
However, once the Cold War ended, Central Asia came to life again in history, and the status of Korea gradually dropped.
In the days of the Silk Road and during the campaign of Alexander the Great to conquer the east, the region was an important axis in world history. Then, as the Soviet Union dominated the crucial locations in Eurasia, the region disappeared from history. However, after the end of the Cold War, Central Asians made a magnificent return to the world stage.
The importance of the Central Asian region has been emphasized when the so-called “asymmetrical war” broke out between Al Qaeda and the superpower United States and the competition between the United States and China over energy security intensified.
As the United States wishes to impede radical Islam, spread democracy and control the emergence of China, Washington has been working hard to establish friendships with the nations bordering China to the west. Especially after it was found that the reserve in the Caspian oil fields could match the total reserves in the Middle East, the United States has been intensely competing with Russia, China and Turkey to take control over the oil fields in the region.
For sustainable development and security, China needs to create an independent inland energy security network outside of any possible blockade by the United States, and therefore, Beijing has no choice but to actively pursue friendship and exchange with the Central Asian region.
Russia, which is a traditional regional power, is making military, economic and demographic efforts to maintain its status and not to be pushed out by rivals.
Before Koreans realized it, grand games have already begun materializing in Central Asia. The adhesion of China and Central Asia, and the honeymoon between Russia and China could fundamentally change the topography of international security in Eurasia. Moreover, competition could intensify in Korea’s major markets because of the strategic approaches of these players. Of course, experts of the region, such as Edvard Rtveladze and Eka Andjaparidze, forecast that China cannot become a leader in the relationship with Central Asian nations west of Eurasia because of the strong regional antagonism China evokes there.
Similarly, Mr. Brzezinski said that Japan could become an international nation but cannot become a leader in Northeast Asia because of the regional dynamics of the east of Eurasia and the Northeast Asian region.
At this juncture, what are Korea’s options? Ultimately, Korea must pursue unification and reinforce connections with Eurasian nations by actively and properly responding to the geopolitical changes in the region.
The future of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia are in the hands of China and Russia, but the two organizations cannot exist without the participations of Central Asian members.
Likewise, if Korea is left out of this trend, it would end up losing one of the wings for peace and prosperity. In the Cold War days, it was possible to fly with only one wing. But, now that the Cold War is over, Korea could be excluded from the creation of the grand frame in Eurasia if it makes no effort to enhance its value. Korea needs to rediscover Central Asia.
* The writer is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Seok-hwan