In 1997 the New York Times published an opinion piece titled The New Great Game in Asia in which was written:
While few have noticed, Central Asia has again emerged as a murky battleground among big powers engaged in an old and rough geopolitical game. Western experts believe that the largely untapped oil and natural gas riches of the Caspian Sea countries could make that region the Persian Gulf of the next century. The object of the revived game is to befriend leaders of the former Soviet republics controlling the oil, while neutralizing Russian suspicions and devising secure alternative pipeline routes to world markets.
In 2004, journalist Lutz Kleveman wrote a book that linked the expression to the exploration of mineral wealth in the region. While for many other people the direct American military involvement in the area was part of the “War on Terror” rather than an indirect Western governmental interest in the mineral wealth, another journalist Eric Walberg suggests in his book that access to the region’s minerals and oil pipeline routes is still an important factor.
Other authors disagree with these views. One strategic analyst has written that the Central Asian states are not pawns in any game and the so-called “New Great Game” is a misnomer that has not eventuated. Rather than two empires focused on the region as in the past, there are now many global and regional powers active with the rise of China and India as major economic powers. The emergence of Russia from a local-level player to an international-level one has seen Russia regarded as not an offensive power by the Central Asian states, which have diversified their political, economic, and security relationships. Another writer stated that the “Great Game” or the “New Great Game” implies that the Central Asian states are passive pawns in the hands of more powerful states. However, their membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, established in 2001, shows that they have gained a degree of real independence, with China offering a degree of predictability unknown in the “Great Game”.
The name is a reference to the original Great Game, the term used by historians to describe the 19th century political and diplomatic competition between the British and Russian empires for territory and influence among Central Asian states. The “Great Game” as a term has been described as a cliché-metaphor, and there are authors who have now written on the topics of “The Great Game” in Antarctica, the world’s far north, and in outer space.