For the first time ever, all five presidents of the Central Asian republics (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) met in-person with a U.S. president as part of “C5+1” summit on the sidelines of last week’s U.N. General Assembly.
As the Group of Seven met at the end of last week in Hiroshima, Japan, China organized a summit with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, marking a new chapter in Beijing’s engagement with the region. Central Asian states are looking for a new partner to help ensure their own security against domestic rebellions, as Russia’s war in Ukraine has limited Moscow’s ability to fulfill a longstanding role as a guarantor of domestic stability in the region. While most of the summit’s public discussion focused on economic and trade issues, China noted that it would help Central Asia enhance it’s law enforcement and security capabilities, which aligns with Beijing’s intensifying campaign for “global security.”
After three decades of independence following the fall of the Soviet Union, Central Asian countries continue to face challenges to their stability and governance. Last year saw large-scale domestic unrest in three of the region’s five countries — Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan — and a devastating cross-border conflict between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan was the largest ever trans-boundary escalation in the region. Many of these events follow similar patterns: growing tensions and grievances among citizens lead to protests, which are met with a harsh and disproportionate response including the use of lethal force by security forces, feeding into further mistrust between authorities and the population.