Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 94

Meeting in Beijing on May 7, Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji and Kazakhstan’s Prime Minister Nurlan Balgimbaev signed five cooperation agreements focusing on Chinese aid to Kazakhstan and bilateral cooperation in space, tourism, sports and culture. This visit was Balgimbaev’s first to China since assuming office last October. It follows President Nursultan Nazarbaev’s April 22 meeting with China’s Deputy Foreign Minister, at which the Kazakhstani president called for a stepping up of bilateral contacts. (Russian agencies, April 22 and May 7)

Many ordinary Kazakhs feel uncomfortable about their country’s rapprochement with China: In the eighteenth century, Kazakhs sought Russia’s protection against Chinese encroachment on their traditional nomadic pasturelands. Today, mutually profitable economic relations are the order of the day. In return for Chinese industrial and consumer goods, Kazakhstan offers raw materials for China’s modernization drive. Land-locked Kazakhstan hopes, too, that China may provide an alternative pipeline route for Kazakhstani oil and gas, enabling it to bypass Russia. (See Monitor, May 8) Last year, China’s state-owned National Petroleum Company secured the rights to develop the Western Aqtobe and Uzen oil and gas fields, and a 60-percent stake in the Kazakhstani oil company Aqtobemunaigaz.

Political issues are much more sensitive. China’s northwestern Xinjiang Province, which borders Kazakhstan, houses nearly a million ethnic Kazakhs and nearly seven million Uighurs. Tension has existed for centuries between the Muslim Uighurs and the Han Chinese, China’s dominant group. Beijing is concerned about the possibility both of separatism and of an Islamic revival in Xinjiang (See Monitor, November 6, 1997 and May 5, 1998) A Uighur “government-in-exile” attempts to operate from Almaty.

The Kazakhstani government has been anxious not to anger Beijing by being seen either to encourage separatism or tolerate anti-Chinese activity on its territory. Balgimbaev therefore used his visit to reconfirm both Kazakhstan’s lack of support for Uighur separatism and his country’s continued adherence to a “one China” policy embodied in the bilateral agreements signed in September 1993, September 1995 and July 1997. A confidence-building meeting is scheduled in July between China, Russia and the three Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The third meeting between the five states, it will discuss further economic and security cooperation.–SC

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