- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 13, 2005

Recently, those seeking to assure America of China’s peaceful rise received a major setback with the announced eviction of U.S. forces from Uzbekistan. Unfortunately, most Americans likely have no idea of the role China played in this episode or the potentially frightening implications of it for the future.

Uzbekistan’s concern over the May 2005 riots or, more to the point, the U.S. reaction to those riots, was a key turning point, although not for the reasons given by the State Department, which has tried to cast our eviction as a result of our principled stand on human rights.

In recent years, we have witnessed democratic revolutions among many nations allied with the United States in the war on terror. Among them have been the November 2003 “Rose Revolution” in Georgia, the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine in December 2004, and most recently, the “Tulip Revolution” in Kyrgyzstan in February-March 2005. In the case of Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, former communists who had taken power following the collapse of the Soviet Union were replaced. In Uzbekistan, however, President Islam Karimov remains in charge.

These revolutions were perceived around the world as facilitated by the United States. The perception was fostered, though never directly, by the U.S. for both domestic political and foreign policy purposes. In truth, each of these revolutions was the work of internal democratic opposition groups. Unfortunately, Russia and China are using the perception of U.S. involvement — and the fear it generates in our less-than-democratic allies — to limit and counter our influence around the world. Regrettably, this includes recent, successful efforts by pro-China factions within the Russian government to move Russia closer to China in opposing the United States.

Prior to the riots, agitation and propaganda by China and Russia had laid a foundation of fear within Mr. Karimov’s government that Uzbekistan could be next. After all, the only other nation in Central Asia that had been part of the Soviet Union and a host to American forces was Kyrgyzstan, the latest to fall to a democratic revolution.

When the riots erupted, the U.S. appeared to back away from unrestricted support for Mr. Karimov. In contrast, the Chinese foreign ministry responded by stating: “We firmly support the efforts by the authorities of Uzbekistan to strike down the three forces of terrorism, separatism and extremism.”

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of China’s statement is the phrase “terrorism, separatism and extremism.” That phrase is one of the key rhetorical foundations of military cooperation within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

The SCO is perhaps the most dangerous organization most Americans have never heard of. It is headquartered in Beijing and consists of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. India, Iran, Pakistan and Mongolia currently enjoy observer status in preparation for full membership.

On July 5 at the annual meeting of the leaders of the member states, there was a joint statement issued that included the demand for a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from SCO member nations.

That same day the United States responded by saying “our presence [in the SCO member states] … is determined by the terms of our bilateral agreements” — in effect, ignoring the significance of the SCO and the joint statement signed by Mr. Karimov himself. Within 24 hours, the Uzbekistan foreign ministry reiterated that it was seriously reconsidering the presence of United States forces on Uzbek soil.

There is, of course, another part to this story. Two weeks after the riots in Uzbekistan at the end of May, Mr. Karimov visited Beijing. He left China with a series of agreements for contracts worth over $1.5 billion. Two weeks after the July statement from the Uzbekistan Foreign Ministry, the Chinese energy company Sinopec announced an additional $106 million investment in Uzbekistan. Ten days later, Uzbekistan announced the eviction of U.S. forces, which have been supporting counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan. They will leave behind a completely modern base, upgraded at the cost to American taxpayers of millions of dollars, which can be used by either Russia or China.

Viewed separately, many of these events could be dismissed as coincidence. But taken together, they form a clear pattern of economic and diplomatic maneuvering by the Chinese that perfectly illustrates the present and very capable threat China presents to U.S. interests. Beyond Uzbekistan, China claims all our existing security relationships in Asia are violations of its sovereignty.

China is not going to disappear as a threat to American interests. In fact, the threat is only going to grow, and the sooner we awaken to it, the easier and cheaper the solutions will be.

Christopher Brown works for the Transitions to Democracy Project at the Hudson Institute in Washington D.C.

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