As President Vladimir Putin strains to keep Ukraine within Russia’s grasp, he may be losing his grip on another part of his would-be empire: the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, which are increasingly turning toward China for investment and trade.
In the latest sign of its growing economic ties with the region, China is planning a $16.3 billion fund to finance railways, roads, and pipelines across Central Asia, reviving the centuries-old Silk Road trade route between China and Europe. President Xi Jinping first proposed the idea last year during a visit to Kazakhstan, the region’s wealthiest country.
Beijing has plenty of reasons to spend big in Central Asia. Improved infrastructure would help link China to European markets and give China increased access to the region’s rich natural resources. Kazakhstan is a major oil producer, while neighboring Kyrgyzstan has large mineral deposits and Turkmenistan produces natural gas.
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