The German Foreign Ministry reported that Minister of State, Gernot Erler (SPD), demonstratively met on Tuesday, during the EU-Central Asia meeting, with an expert of the Human Rights Watch organization, to raise the issue of human rights with the Central Asian countries. Over the past few years, Berlin has been able to get the EU - Central Asia Strategy and the EU's cooperation with the countries of that region accepted, in spite of the serious opposition being put up by several EU governments. The human rights violations in Uzbekistan cannot be simply ignored, was the protest to the German government. A British ambassador in Tashkent quit his post a few years ago, out of protest against Uzbek torture practice. Berlin has not only helped Uzbekistan to overcome its diplomatic isolation from the West, but also helped Kazakhstan to be in line for the OSCE chairmanship, in spite of serious accusations against its government. The primary objective of Berlin's political rapprochement is to obtain access to Central Asia's oil and natural gas reserves.
The West is not only fighting in Africa but in Central Asia as well against the growing influence of the People's Republic of China, whose economy needs a share of the reserves of natural resources. In the aftermath of the breakup of the Soviet Union, the USA, Great Britain, France and particularly Germany had sought to stake out their claims to spheres of influence in confrontation with Russia. They have now been joined by the People's Republic of China, a new "global player" in the region which is considered to be politically and economically instable because of rivalries between the external powers. The reinforced Chinese engagement is advantageous for the Central Asian governments. They had been able to maintain a certain degree of independence by playing off US-American, Russian and European interests against one another. China's engagement allows them an even stronger independence from Russian influence, without politically subordinating themselves to the predominating powers of the EU or the USA.
The fact that Beijing abides by the principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of the respective countries, Chinese investments can be assured of the support of the governments in the region. Since the governments in Georgia (2003) and the Ukraine (2004) were overthrown, the USA and the leading powers of the EU have been pursuing a policy of "regime change" ("color revolutions"), to place pro-western personnel into power and permanently enhance their economic possibilities in the former Soviet sphere of influence. But in Central Asian countries, this strategy has not been successful. For these governments deeply in debt to the West, the latent threat of western intervention into their domestic affairs, in cases of political disfavor, make the Chinese investors appear to be the preferable partners.
Back in 2005, a study of the Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) drew the conclusion that the possibility of a western financed and organized putsch should not be exaggerated. The author had done research into the domestic situation in Kirgizstan, where a putsch ("Tulip Revolution") had not achieved the desired international shift in the balance of power. The paper warns that the "closed nature of the power elite in office" should not be underestimated nor the "degree of organization as well as the political maturity of oppositional forces" overestimated. After the experience of the civil war in the 90s, the population is not interested in a real "change of power," particularly since the government has bought the goodwill of the majority impoverished population with social welfare measures.
Lack of Transparency
Berlin is regularly complaining of the "lack of transparency" of the political structures of the five Central Asian countries that are based more on paternalist obstruction and protégé policies rather than "norms of rule of law." Large scale new discoveries of oil and natural gas deposits, for example in Turkmenistan, can only be exploited with great technical difficulties and high initial investments, which primarily must come from Europe, according to a recent analysis from the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP). The Central Asian governments' political will to survive is an obstacle to the implementation of the necessary "drastic reforms" demanded by the EU. Given the contradictions between the leading EU nations, even on central projects, such as the Nabucco Pipeline, destined to render the Russian Gazprom Network dispensable, the EU would be completely "disqualified as a credible partner." As long as Brussels does not pursue a coherent policy toward the Central Asian countries, the "prerequisites for a viable partnership" between the EU and the Central Asian countries will be non-existent.
The Principle of Non Interference
With its consequent policy of non-interference, the People's Republic of China has succeeded in gaining key positions as a long term economic partner. The government of Turkmenistan, for example, intends to conclude a long term cooperation treaty with China that includes the construction of a pipeline capable of transporting 30 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year to Western China, due to be ready for operation this year. This would make China the second largest importer of Turkmenistan's natural gas, right behind Russia. The Chinese project is not only contrary to Russian but also to German-European interests, because Berlin and the EU are striving to obtain access to Turkmenistan's natural gas. The pipeline to China that is now under construction offers Beijing a reliable guarantee for durable supplies that will no longer be at the disposal of Germany and the EU.
Air Force Base
This pipeline not only jeopardizes their access to oil, gas and other natural resources, it is also changing the geo-political constellation. Just recently, Uzbekistan shut down US military bases in favor of a mutual assistance treaty with Russia. The Bundeswehr air force base in Termez is the last remaining western military base in Uzbekistan. Situated near the border to Afghanistan, it is of strategic importance for western activities in Central Asia. For years the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) has been warning that the Uzbek government is turning away from western allies in favor of a closer cooperation with Russia and China.
Project Silk Road
The German media has warned against China's new "Project Silk Road". During the 2006 "Silk Road Investment Forum" meeting in China, the four Central Asian nations, Kazakhstan, Kirgizstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan met together to develop closer economic and political cooperation. For Kazakhstan, China has become its principal business partner, with raw materials comprising 80% of Kazakhstan's exports to the People's Republic. The proportion of raw materials in the Turkmen-Chinese balance of trade is even higher. Even Kirgizstan, with much less natural resources, is economically closely linked to the People's Republic, with 60% of its exports comprised of natural resources. According to the press in Berlin, all this "stifles too high business hopes" of the West having a chance in Central Asia. "Up to now, all processes have been developing in favor of the People's Republic of China." It is high time to supplement the past few years' cooperation efforts with a few points of leverage, including human rights in Central Asia, which until now of little interest to Berlin, are among them.