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China’s Business in Central Asia: Power and Anxiety

Date & Time

Feb. 20, 2020
4:00pm – 5:00pm ET


6th Floor Flom Auditorium, Woodrow Wilson Center


Chinese business expansion is bringing about fundamental changes to Central Asia. This growing influence has sparked widespread local protests which are likely to amplify the political liabilities of the ruling elites across the region. Drawing from over 60 interviews in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and China in 2018 and 2019, former Wilson Center Fellow Gül Berna Özcan analyzed how power anxieties and economic dependencies bring new tensions to  Central Asia’s economies.

Selected Quotes

Gül Berna Özcan

"A significant limitation is the way in which Chinese businesses operate. They are very hierarchical. They are often very illusive and have a very light local footprint, and it’s hard to get access to information."

"Russia wants to be a military and strategic power but it is aware that it has no economic muscle, and China understands that and acts accordingly. The Chinese are extremely careful not to offend Russia in the region. All Chinese central Asia experts speak Russian and continue dialogue with Russia. But in my view, that is not a durable balance. Soon Russia will realize that its strategic role in the region will not remain as it has been. What will happen then is an interesting question: will it use the region’s governments to resist China?"

"There is no doubt that China brings opportunities. It can help the region with infrastructure and industrial investments. But that is not happening because the region’s elites are not negotiating well, and China is not willing to give in […] so that brings new dependencies. And we find China at the intersection of a new global hegemonic competition. But at the moment, western interests like the US and the European Union do not really have anything to offer […] China is definitely trying to create a parallel regime of governance in the world for itself aligned with other authoritarian leaders."


Gul Berna Ozcan

Gül Berna Özcan

Former Fellow;
Reader, International Business and Entrepreneurship, Royal Holloway, University of London

Dr. Gül Berna Özcan is Reader in International Business and Entrepreneurship at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her research deals with internationalization of firms, business-politics relations, and entrepreneurs’ moral standing.  She holds a PhD in Economic Geography (London School of Economics), an MSc in City and Regional Planning (Middle East Technical University, Ankara) and received numerous awards including, the Robert McNamara Fellowship of the World Bank (1998-1999), the Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship (2005-2007) and the Fellowship of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (2008-2009). Among her books Building States and Markets: Enterprise Development in Central Asia (Palgrave, 2010) explores the characteristics of the emerging entrepreneurial middle class in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Another edited volume, Diverging Paths of Development in Central Asia (Routledge, 2017), analyses post-Soviet development challenges. Homepage:

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Hosted By

Kennan Institute

The Kennan Institute is the premier US center for advanced research on Eurasia and the oldest and largest regional program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Kennan Institute is committed to improving American understanding of Russia, Ukraine, Central Asia, the South Caucasus, and the surrounding region though research and exchange.  Read more

Kissinger Institute on China and the United States

The Kissinger Institute works to ensure that China policy serves American long-term interests and is founded in understanding of historical and cultural factors in bilateral relations and in accurate assessment of the aspirations of China’s government and people.  Read more

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