This Stratfor piece is interesting:
For much of the last decade, China has been steadily increasing its ties with Central Asia, displacing Russia as the region's biggest trade partner in 2008. As its economic interests in the region have grown, so, too, have its security interests. China has established strategic partnerships with all five Central Asian countries, and it has repeatedly demonstrated its commitment to help ensure security in the region. Beijing, for instance, has sold weapons and air defense systems to Turkmenistan. In February, China announced that it was in talks to open a counterterrorism center in Tajikistan's capital, Dushanbe, and in September Beijing unveiled plans to finance more outposts along Tajikistan's border with Afghanistan. With so much at stake in Central Asia, China seems to be redoubling its security initiatives in the region, but its presence there can only grow so much.
What I find odd is the idea that China's presence in Central Asia "can only grow so much" because Russia will block China. Really? Russia is already essentially appeasing China because Russia is in a weak position relative to China in Russia's Far East. Yet Russia has better options for resisting China in Central Asia?
I suppose you could say that China is blocked at sea by America and our allies (or just China's foes), but does that mean that China hasn't increased their force levels to increase their ability to make gains at our expense or the expense of neighbors?
So if Russia currently blocks China in Central Asia where China sees new economic and security interests, won't China just increase their force levels in their west to put China in a position to make gains at Russia's expense if it comes to war and increase pressure in peacetime?
China is already the region's largest trading partner, displacing Russia. Why won't the Chinese flag follow their trade given time and effort by Peking given that there is "so much at stake in Central Asia?"
And are the weak Central Asian former Soviet states even with Russian support really more capable of resisting Chinese pressure than America's allies along China's eastern flank?
With more trade with China, will those states even be interested in resisting the Chinese?
Whether or not China's efforts in Central Asia intentionally seek an empire, they might get it anyway.
For me, I'm happy enough to see China focus inland and away from the sea. Anything that divides Chinese resources between America and our allies in the east at sea with new land-based distractions in the west is fine by me.