On June 11, 2021, in the capital city of Nur-Sultan, during the 33rd plenary meeting of the Council of Foreign Investors, the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Kemelevich Tokayev said that his country is a reliable and very significant partner in the framework of the project of the People’s Republic of China “One Belt, One Road Initiative-OBOR”. The head of state noted that in 2020 about 900 thousand containers were transported through the territory of Kazakhstan, of which about 90% of the cargo was bound for Europe. Tokayev noted that Kazakhstan is rapidly becoming the most important element of overland logistics between the countries of Asia and Europe. How long have relations between China and Kazakhstan been strengthening? In what other spheres, besides transport, is the cooperation between the two states flourishing? How will the strategic partnership between the two countries affect the further development of the entire Central Asian region?
The diplomatic relations between China and Kazakhstan, which began in 1992, have always been rather warm. Already in February 1992, the governments of the two countries signed an agreement on a state loan for the supply of goods and equipment from the PRC to Kazakhstan. This suggests that Kazakhstan, having gained sovereignty, began to consider China as one of the main geopolitical partners in the region. One can also recall the agreement signed in 1995 between the leaderships of the two states on the use by the Kazakhstani side of the Chinese seaport of Lianyungang for the transportation and processing of Kazakhstani transit cargo. This agreement was quite important, since China, realizing that due to the lack of access to the sea, Kazakhstan is experiencing certain difficulties in the field of logistics, has significantly contributed to the economic growth of this Central Asian country, thereby increasing the level of general prosperity in the region.
Today, the PRC is the second most important partner of Kazakhstan in both import and export. The Celestial Empire accounts for approximately 12% of all Kazakhstan’s exports. This Central Asian state supplies China mainly with natural gas, oil and petroleum products. Chinese products make up about 17% of all Kazakhstani imports. Mainly supplies of household appliances and small electronics go from the PRC to Kazakhstan. It should be noted that from January to April 2021, the trade turnover between China and Kazakhstan exceeded $ 5 billion, demonstrating an increase of 10% compared to the same period in 2020.
Speaking in June this year at a round table dedicated to the 30th anniversary of cooperation between the PRC and Kazakhstan, the director of the Institute of World Economy and Politics (IMEP) under the Nursultan Nazarbayev Foundation, Yerzhan Saltybayev, said that from 2005 to 2020, the total volume of investments from the Celestial Empire amounted to more than $19 billion. Kazakhstan, in turn, invested about $670 million in China. Saltybayev positively assessed the development of joint infrastructure projects, and also approved the strengthening of relations between the two countries in the field of education, mentioning that today more than 14 thousand Kazakh students study in China, and in Kazakhstan – about 1.4 thousand Chinese students. The director of IWEP also added that as of June 2021, more than 2.7 thousand enterprises with the participation of Chinese legal entities were registered in Kazakhstan.
A significant aspect is the fact that Kazakhstan has no objections to China’s domestic and foreign policy. During her speech at the recent 47th session of the UN Human Rights Council, the representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Zhanar Aitzhanova, spoke in support of the Chinese policy of “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong. Aitzhanova stated that Kazakhstan supports the strengthening and preservation of the world order based on the UN Charter and the principles of international law. She also said that her country does not fundamentally interfere in the internal affairs of other sovereign states.
On June 11, during an international round table dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of China, the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to Kazakhstan noted that the country he represents and Kazakhstan will develop cooperation in the field of green technologies, innovation and digitalization. The diplomat expressed his sincere gratitude to the President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and the first President of the country Nursultan Nazarbayev for many years of effective and fruitful cooperation.
Now China is providing Kazakhstan with all kinds of assistance in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. The Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to Kazakhstan Zhang Xiao said that on June 29, the first batch of the Chinese vaccine CoronaVac in the amount of 500 thousand doses arrived in the largest city of the 18.9 million country, Astana. The Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China stressed that China has supplied vaccines to this Central Asian country against the backdrop of a colossal demand for the drug both in China itself and around the world. Zhang Xiao expressed hope that, thanks to the timely delivery of vaccines, the coronavirus epidemic in Kazakhstan will end faster. The Chinese leadership believes that assistance to other countries in this matter is extremely necessary, since the sooner quarantine measures are lifted, the sooner international trade will recover, and with it the indicators of economic growth.
An important aspect of the partnership between the two states is the fact that Kazakhstan is the most economically developed country in the Central Asian region. Thanks to successful interaction with the PRC, Kazakhstan will be able not only to set a successful example for neighboring countries, but also to significantly increase their well-being. Thanks to mutually beneficial trade, the level of Kazakhstan’s economy will rise even higher, and this will lead to the state being able to have a positive impact on its neighbors by concluding mutually beneficial deals with them.
In conclusion, the author can conclude that China plays an unambiguously positive role in the fate of Kazakhstan, helping this Central Asian country in all spheres, contributing to its economic growth and the well-being of its population. And this, in turn, benefits the entire region.
Petr Konovalov, a political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.