"Unlike the former Soviet Union, China does historic transformations quietly, without a fuss," said Askar Aitmatov, foreign affairs adviser to Askar Akayev, the president of Kyrgyzstan. The inroads in Central Asia "marked a very important shift in China's foreign policy," he said. "China is now an active participant in security and cooperative agreements outside its own borders. That is a serious change."
In Central Asia, China and its newfound friends speak of reviving the Silk Road that linked China to Europe centuries ago. China has backed the idea of building a railroad through Kyrgyzstan that would connect China with a European spur. It has committed to pouring billions of dollars into Kazakh oil fields and floated the idea of an oil and gas pipeline from Kazakhstan to the Pacific Ocean.
China has melded its commercial interests with strategic planning. When it was established in 1996, the Shanghai Five -- China, Russia and three Central Asian states -- was basically committed to demarcating the border between the former Soviet Union and China. Now, with China's help, a successor group of six nations, called the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, is geared toward fighting terrorism and Islamic extremism. A counterterrorism center is being planned for Kyrgyzstan's capital, Bishkek.
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