When Zhang Ming left his post as China’s ambassador to the European Union and became secretary-general of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) on January 1, Central and South Asia looked a lot different.

The region had already been rocked by the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August, but in the span of a few decisive days, the path ahead for the career diplomat took an unexpected turn.

Unrest broke out across Kazakhstan in early January, leading to violent clashes sparked by long-simmering, popular grievances and a behind-the-scenes power struggle that culminated in a Russian-led military intervention in the Central Asian country under the guise of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Moscow-dominated security bloc.

About seven weeks later, the Kremlin invaded Ukraine, launching the largest-scale conflict in Europe since World War II and triggering a tougher-than-expected Western response that has brought a series of political and economic knock-on effects that continue to reshape both Ukraine’s and Russia’s neighbors.

For Beijing, both crises have proved to be revealing tests about the scope and limits of Chinese foreign policy, particularly across Eurasia, where the SCO has been one of China’s main vehicles for engaging with Central and South Asia.

Born from the collapse of the Soviet Union, the multilateral security and economic bloc helmed by China — which includes India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan as members — must now navigate the fallout across the region from Russia’s Ukraine invasion, including the risk of a food crisis, the ripple effects of Western sanctions against Russia’s economy, and growing anxiety over possible Russian political machinations in Central Asia.

“In general, the war in Ukraine has deeply disappointed the Chinese and also largely derailed their goals for the SCO,” Haiyun Ma, a professor at Frostburg State University in Maryland who studies Beijing’s relations with countries in Central and South Asia, told RFE/RL.

For China, the SCO has long been an umbrella for China’s more specific interests in the region and has also come to represent a balance of power between Beijing and Moscow, who cemented their deepening ties together in a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in early February.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on February 4. China must now navigate the task of embracing many SCO members’ desire for more distance from Russia, while still politically backing Moscow in the war.