GEOGRAPHICAL RESEARCH ›› 2019, Vol. 38 ›› Issue (7): 1705-1719.doi: 10.11821/dlyj020180160

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The selection of the strategic pivot in China-Central Asia cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative

Luqi LI1,2(), Xiang KONG1,2(), Yiman LI1,2, Bowen XUYANG1,2   

  1. 1. The Center for Modern Chinese City Studies, East China Normal University, Shanghai 200062, China
    2. School of Urban and Regional Science, East China Normal University, Shanghai 200241, China
  • Received:2018-02-02 Revised:2019-05-10 Online:2019-07-20 Published:2019-07-12


Central Asia plays a crucial role in the Belt and Road Initiative, serving as a bridge between China and Europe. In geopolitical terms, it is a high valued region that provides new strategic opportunities to China when the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan and Russia is relatively declining. In order to promote China-Central Asia cooperation, a strategic pivot is urgently needed. There is a growing number of studies on the selection and spatial distribution of strategic pivots under the Belt and Road Initiative, nevertheless, most studies fall short of a scrutiny of pivots at lower scales. Instead, the pivots are mostly geopolitical units at the national scale, e.g. Kazakhstan or Pakistan. Also, a qualitative approach is widely used by scholars while the quantitative methods are largely overlooked. The results and approaches of current researches could not be perfectly applied to the analysis of Central Asia, as the so-called “pivots” are relatively broad and unclear for the cooperation in this region, which needs a pivot at regional or even urban scale. Therefore, this paper aims to discuss the selection and spatial structure evolution of the regional scale strategic pivot of China-Central Asia cooperation by evaluating a variety of spatial objects, e.g. cities, frontier ports and transport infrastructure. The results can be summarized as follows. (1) Based on the evaluation and clustering analysis, 15 Chinese cities, 10 Central Asian cities and 4 frontier ports can be extracted from major cities and ports in China and Central Asia. The most significant nodes include Urumqi, Ili, Almaty, Bishkek, Tashkent, Horgos, etc. (2) Based on the accessibility to the China-Central Asia boundary, the nodes are further refined, in which Urumqi, Ili, Almaty and Bishkek are major cities within the 12 h isochronous rings. Also, the results of overall accessibility and city networks suggest a curved valley stretching from Urumqi to East Turkmenistan, covering major cities in Southeastern Central Asia. (3) Based on the results, the “Urumqi-Almaty Economic Corridor” can be constructed as the regional pivot of China-Central Asia cooperation. The spatial structure of the pivot can be designed as “two cores, four axes, and two belts”. Accordingly, the construction of the corridor should focus mostly on the development of frontier ports, transportation infrastructures and cities in the core area.

Key words: the Belt and Road Initiative, strategic pivot, spatial structure, economic corridor, border, Central Asia, China