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The New Great Game

11:37 AM, Jun 11, 2007 • By JENNIFER CHOU
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Last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates succeeded in securing guarantees from Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiev for continued U.S. use of the Manas air base. During a June 5th press conference in Bishkek--the Kyrgyz capital--Secretary Gates reiterated the importance of Coalition operations at Manas and their role "in support of a larger war on terrorism."

orig.jpgAirman 1st Class Michael Lepla digs out a C-17 Globemaster III
at Manas air base on Jan. 28, 2006.

The next day, People's Daily, the organ paper of the Chinese Communist party, ran a piece titled "U.S. Defense Secretary Uses anti-Terrorism as an Excuse to Cling Shamelessly to Kyrgyz Air Base."

The article describes an American military bent on overstaying its welcome in Kyrgyzstan, despite calls by Kyrgyz parliamentarians last month for the eviction of U.S. forces from Manas. The piece ends with this observation:

According to published reports, the United States currently has troops deployed in about 130 countries. History tells us that once American troops enter a country or a region, they will be unwilling to leave. Take, for instance, South Korea, Germany and Japan. After more than half a century, American troops are still stationed in these countries. Just the other day the U.S. government indicated that it would follow the South Korea model and deploy troops in Iraq for the long term.

This sentiment reflects Beijing's growing resentment over not only the Manas air base, but with this country's global military posture more generally. As noted in a 2004 article on "U.S. occupation of Kyrgyz air base" that has been re-published by a number of official Chinese websites:

Undoubtedly, a sharp knife has been positioned to the back of China by the presence of American forces in Central Asia. Once clashes break out over the Taiwan Strait and America decides to intervene, U.S. troops stationed in Central Asia would probably launch an attack from behind our back. Manas is only a little over 400 kilometers from Xinjiang in China. It would take American warplanes just over 10 minutes to reach Xinjiang. Therefore, it can be said that Manas constitutes a direct military threat to Xinjiang and the western region of China.

For obvious reasons, China has kept a watchful eye on Central Asia. While Beijing lacks Moscow's historical presence, it has in recent years made considerable inroads into the region. In Kyrgyzstan, for example, China has launched infrastructure projects worth billions of dollars. These include a power station, a railway line, and a highway system. And of the three major powers vying for influence in the region, China is the only one that shares a border with Kyrgyzstan.