Class Notes

Posthumous publication on China’s influence in Central Asia

Dr Alexandros Petersen (War Studies, 2006)

Alumnus Dr Alexandros Petersen (War Studies, 2006) was a leading scholar in Eurasian geopolitics. In 2014, at the age of 29, he was tragically killed in a Taliban attack in Kabul, Afghanistan. Earlier this year, Alexandros posthumously published a book with his friend and collaborator, Raffaello Pantucci, entitled Sinostan: China’s Inadvertent Empire. Raffaello is Senior Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute.

Sinostan: China’s Inadvertent Empire, which draws on more than 10 years of research, looks at China’s influence in Central Asia. It focuses on the western Xinjiang region, which borders five countries, and discusses the relationship with Afghanistan in particular. Through major investments, China has become an important actor in the economic development of Xinjiang and the surrounding countries.

Pantucci and Petersen explore China’s growing influence through its infrastructure and trade projects by speaking to people on the ground, from construction workers to diplomats. The book highlights that in addition to China’s regional dominance in trade and investment, it is developing an increasing authority in the wider region’s politics and security.

Professor Michael Goodman, Head of the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, reviewed the book:

Sinostan is a ground-breaking book. Two experts, with a deep-seated understanding of the culture, history and politics of central Asia, recount their stories and experiences whilst trying to comprehend all that they witnessed around them. It is a beautiful book, full of vivid, everyday stories, but one that also speaks to a region that has had a troubled past and certainly will have a troubled future. I recommend it for anyone interested in the region.’

On his friendship with Alexandros, Raffaello said:

‘When we came up with the idea of doing research on Central Asia together … we kept the conversation going, writing short pieces together and trying to figure out how we could source funding to do some proper research on the region while we moved around between jobs and cities.’

He then went on:

‘When we finally landed the grant that turned into Sinostan, … we took full advantage to travel to as many corners of the region and beyond as we could, gathering stories and material everywhere we went. I have lots of stories and pictures of our gallivanting around the region, something we had the full intention of continuing to do, both for the sheer pleasure of it but also to try to understand what was going on from the bottom up. Alex struck me as never happier than when he was travelling around the region exploring.’

The Alexandros Petersen Scholarship

The Alexandros Petersen Scholarship was set up by the Petersen-Psalida family, with support from family and friends, to honour Alexandros’ memory. Each year the scholarship funds a one-year master’s degree in Conflict, Security & Development in the Department of War Studies at King’s. The scholarship is open to student residents in Afghanistan, Central Asia and the South Caucasus who aim to return to their country after their studies to create positive change. The scholarship not only honours the memory of Alexandros but also encourages other young people to continue the work that he was sadly unable to finish. For more details about the scholarship, read here.