China and Russia may forge a tactical alliance based on their compatible authoritarian systems and aimed at managing their frontier areas and standing up to the West, a leading analyst warns.
The continued stability of these authoritarian countries has made it easier for China to control its own Central Asian minorities, but time may be running out. Some of these regimes are still led by the same Brezhnev-era Central Committee types who have ruled since the end of the Cold War. These leaders are now aging, their regimes enjoy questionable legitimacy, their economies remain tied to China’s and Russia’s own slowing engines, and their populations are growing more Islamic. Central Asia, in other words, may be ripe for an Arab Spring–like eruption.
Central control—who has it, who doesn’t—is the geopolitical issue of our time, Kaplan adds:
Centralized authoritarian rule over large areas is inherently problematic, and all the more so in an era of intensified ethnic, religious, and individual consciousness, when electronic communications can incite identity-based grievances. No wonder the map of Eurasia is about to become more complex.
Policymakers in Washington had better start planning now for the potential chaos to come: a Kremlin coup, a partial breakup of Russia, an Islamic terrorist campaign in western China, factional fighting in Beijing, and political turbulence in Central Asia, although not probable, are all increasingly possible.