China's western ambitions do not end with the purchase of huge amounts of energy, the main products that Central Asia has to offer, international political analysts, Chinese and regional officials agree. Beijing's bid to secure vital fuel supplies is part of a bold but little noticed push to increase its influence vastly in a part of the world long dominated by its historic rival in the region, Russia.
China's thrust into Central Asia comes as an almost natural extension of its ambitious efforts to populate and develop Xinjiang, a far-western region the size of Texas [much larger than Texas: see here for more - MH] with 18 million people, which seems underpopulated compared with much of China. In doing so, China hopes to neutralize a threat of separatism by the region's Uighur minority, whose Turkik language and Islamic faith draw them toward kinsmen in Kazakhstan and other former Soviet republics of the region.
With Russia in sharp relative decline, a booming China looms as the economic locomotive, and even the model, for the entire region. That means China finds itself in a position to call the tune in a way that it has scarcely felt confident about in the past. Most immediately, this means being able to hold China's neighbors to pledges not to support Islamic militancy or Uighur separatism.