Chinese President Hu Jintao made his second visit to Kazakhstan July 3-6, ahead of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit and after a visit to Moscow. The high point of the mini-summit was the signing of a Chinese-Kazakh Strategic Partnership agreement.
President Hu reiterated his “anti-terrorism” call in Astana and found strong support from Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who even before Chinese leader’s visit had told the Euronews TV channel on June 30 that as long as the United States, Russia, and China do not lose political and economic interest in Kazakhstan, the country’s security is guaranteed. Murat Laumulin, a senior researcher at Kazakhstan’s Institute for Strategic Studies, has argued that growing Chinese nationalism and China’s rising influence on the world oil market suggests that China is to play a leading role in the region (Panorama, June 24).
Vital economic issues, such as the joint development of mineral and energy resources and construction of the Trans-Kazakhstan railway, were high on Hu’s agenda. Statistically, 70 joint Chinese-Kazakh enterprises operate in Kazakhstan, but China’s priority areas are oil and gas resources, uranium mines, and nuclear energy. In an interview with the Kazinform news agency before his trip to Kazakhstan, President Hu cited energy cooperation as the key element in the partnership between the two countries (Kazakhstanskaya pravda, July 2). A lavish exhibition of Chinese consumer goods that some 120 manufacturers from 14 provinces staged in Almaty on July 4 demonstrated economic ties and was lauded as a success.
Nazarbayev and President Hu reaffirmed that construction of the Atasu-Alashankou oil pipeline from western Kazakhstan to China would be completed in December 2005. The ambitious pipeline project needs Siberian oil if it is to operate at full capacity. Kazakh Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Vladimir Shkolnik and Deputy Minister Lyazat Kiynov have assured Beijing that Russian oil would be pumped through Atasu-Alahsankou. But when the president of Transneft, Simon Vainshtok, said that the Russian company could not supply that amount of oil, it dampened the excitement. Vainshtok added that Atasu-Alashankou would be too costly an undertaking for Russia, which would prefer to ship East Siberian oil to Russian Pacific seaports and on to Southeast Asian markets (Panorama, July1).
At the same time, the agreement signed between Russia’s Rosneft oil company and the China National Petroleum Company on July 1 indicates that some common ground still exists in Russian-Chinese oil cooperation. However, the shift of Russian interests from the Caspian sector to Siberian oil and gas reserves should enhance Kazakhstan’s chances to play a dominant role in the Caspian. The envisaged joint construction of a Trans-Kazakhstan railway from the western coast of the Caspian to China makes this ambitious goal more realistic. Estimates say the $4 billion railway, including a 70-kilometer leg through Iran, will take 15 years to build. Another important joint project is the gas pipeline from Kazakhstan to China.
Hu and Nazarbayev signed eight agreements, including cooperation in transport communication, trade, scientific and humanitarian ties, and information sharing on international rivers. The two sides also stressed the need to implement the 2004 agreement on the Khorog cross-border trade area, which covers 300 hectares of Chinese land and 200 hectares allotted by Kazakhstan.
According to the Chinese customs office, bilateral trade reached $4.5 billion last year. This volume will increase to $5 billion, according to the press conference in Astana. At the same time, travelers to the neighboring Chinese town of Urumchi are surprised to see only Chinese goods in local markets. The banned imports from Kazakhstan and Russia include not only cigarettes and alcoholic beverages, but virtually everything manufactured outside China (Novoye pokolenie, February 4). Meanwhile, Kazakh markets in every city have turned into dumping sites for cheap Chinese goods. Chinese-made mini-buses are gradually replacing Russian GAZel buses on the streets of Kazakhstan, for example
For China, the most significant part of the joint declaration on strategic partnership undoubtedly was Nazarbayev’s statement that Kazakhstan opposes any international recognition of Taiwan and firmly supports a “one-China” policy. Many analysts believe that the agreement was the result of Chinese diplomatic pressure on Kazakhstan to reduce the threat from Uighur separatists in Xinjiang. On his visits to China Nazarbayev called on the 1.3 million ethnic Kazakhs to contribute to stability and peace. Political scientist Azimbay Gaym also notes the waning support of the East Turkestan liberation movement among Chinese Kazakhs. To win Beijing’s confidence, Kazakh authorities detained and handed over Uighur refugees to China ahead of the meeting (Turkistan, June 30).
Far more alarming than the expanding Chinese commodities trade is the demographic threat posed by accelerated development of China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. The migration process in border areas is irreversible and uncontrollable. According to figures from the Kazakh Statistics Agency, while the Russian population in Kazakhstan’s northern regions has decreased by 1.2% as of January 1, 2005, the number of Uighurs in the densely populated south has risen by 1.6%. This number will predictably grow as long as China sticks to its discriminatory policies towards ethnic Uighurs.
Former Ambassador of Kazakhstan to China Murat Auezov has suggested that Beijing sees Nazarbayev’s Central Asian integration concept as a lesser evil than a “color revolution” in the region. But even integrated Central Asian states are not likely to effectively resist Chinese economic and cultural expansion without forging an alliance with India (Turkistan, June 30). During the SCO summit in Astana, Hu Jintao said that the Central Asian states should determine their policies without outside interference. China will try to use the Shanghai six, now strengthened by new observer states India, Pakistan, and Iran, to the best advantage in his advance into Central Asia.