The latest visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping points to new opportunities for Kazakhstan’s multi-vector foreign policy, namely expanding cooperation opportunities with both China and the European Union. This visit indicates that there is a consensus between China and Europe to develop relations, despite the deteriorating trends in relations between the United States and China.


Nevertheless, the current situation requires Kazakhstan’s foreign policy to take into account the intersection of interests of the PRC and the EU and try to focus on this to implement joint projects instead of increasing competition between the two actors for influence in Central Asia.


We are, of course, talking primarily about combining cooperation between the two Belt and Road initiatives from the PRC and the Global Gateway, as well as reducing the likelihood of competition between two actors in gaining access to the critical resources of the Central Asian countries.


In order to determine the impact of key trends, at the beginning of the work, the key trends in relations between the PRC and the EU will be described after the visit of Xi Jinping, after which the key interests of China and the EU in Kazakhstan will be determined, as well as what are the prospects for the symbiosis of cooperation between China and the European Union in Kazakhstan and in Central Asia.


Current trends in the dynamics of Sino-European relations: implications for Kazakhstan and the US presence


Against the backdrop of worsening global economic conditions, Kazakhstan is in a rather difficult situation. In general, Russia and the United States, as well as the emerging relationships between major actors, cannot be excluded from this analysis. The current dynamics in relations between the PRC and the EU have a direct impact on Kazakhstan, since the country is the connecting link for land transport between the two major actors. The further development of relations between China and the EU will determine whether the importance of Kazakhstan in the international arena will increase or decrease, since the status of a transit state enhances the strategic importance of the country. The parties are also guided by a reduction in dependence on each other, which exposes Kazakhstan as a potential arena for struggle between major actors for resources and strategic positioning [1].


First of all, both parties (China and the EU) will be interested in maintaining stability and security in the state, through whose territory there are transport routes connecting two major economic centers. Secondly, with the development of transport corridors, the state’s economy also develops due to the need to service these transport routes, this applies both to attracting investments in the development of infrastructure projects, and to the launch of supply chains with production through the territory of Kazakhstan. In general, Xi Jinping’s visit showed that both the EU and China are interested in further developing economic cooperation, although there are certain problems. China supports the strategic autonomy of the European Union, which implies reduced dependence on both China and the United States [2].


Meanwhile, China and the United States are locked in a geostrategic rivalry centered on technology. While most EU member states share Washington’s diagnosis of the problems, they do not fully agree with Biden’s approach to export controls on China and are not prepared to implement it [3].


The standoff is highlighted by US President Joe Biden’s recent decision to raise tariffs on a wide range of Chinese imports, including semiconductors, batteries, solar panels and critical minerals, in a pre-election bid to bolster domestic production in critical industries. Considering the fact that China is actually the leader in the supply of various minerals necessary for the production of “High – tech”, the US gaze is increasingly falling on the countries of Central Asia [4].


Back in 2022, the United States announced an initiative to provide economic support to Central Asia, including support for transport projects. At the moment, it has not been possible to find information about projects to support transport projects in the region, which, in the context of the confrontation between China and the United States, indicates preparation for a possible escalation in Sino-American relations. In this situation, it is very important to monitor three areas where the US can put pressure on during a possible escalation: Central Asia, the Persian Gulf (closer to Pakistani ports) and the Strait of Malacca.


It is these three geographical objects that will play a key role for the United States in blocking China’s ability to trade with the outside world in the escalation of relations between China and the United States.


In September 2022, the Biden Administration and the US Congress announced the creation of a $100 million Economic Resilience Initiative for Central Asia (ERICEN) designed to spur transformational economic growth in Central Asia. The US Agency for International Development, the Commercial Law Development Project of the US Department of Commerce and the US State Department were appointed responsible for the implementation of the initiative [5].


The announced projects included a wide range of areas, including support for transport projects. It is now known that the United States has already launched energy, water and environmental projects in Central Asia. The recent meeting of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan Murat Nurtleu with the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on March 26, 2024 gives a sign that the US, in principle, does not intend to financially support transport projects in Central Asia at this time. Secretary of State Blinken did not mention the development of cooperation in the transport sector during a meeting with Nurtleu in the United States, although for Kazakhstan the development of this area is strategic [6]. Instead, foreign ministers praised cooperation between the countries in the areas of energy security, critical minerals, climate, peacekeeping and others.


The difference in the approaches of the European Union and the United States to the development of cooperation with Central Asia is beneficial to China


But if you ask the question “Why in general should the United States support transport projects in Central Asia?”, then it becomes clear that the United States does not want to provide China with alternative opportunities to expand its economic presence in the world, including cooperation between the EU and China. The European Union wants, for example, to develop trade with China bypassing Russian territory through Central Asia. It seems that in the event of aggravation of relations with China (around Taiwan, and this is discussed quite often in American analytical circles), the US strategy will be aimed at limiting Chinese trade with other countries [7]. And in this case, not supporting infrastructure projects in Central Asia seems quite logical. Given this, the scenario of aggravation of Iranian-Israeli relations also seems to fit into the logic of competition between major powers.


Both Iran and Israel have crossed red lines by striking each other’s sovereign territory, and therefore further escalation with Western-backed Israeli hostilities in the Persian Gulf around Iranian ports looks quite possible, since both countries do not border each other. The problem is that fighting may take place close to Pakistani ports.


China has actively invested in an economic corridor through Pakistan to gain alternative access to the sea through Pakistani ports. Conducting military operations near these ports in the event of an escalation in relations between Iran and Israel could significantly complicate the operation of these ports, and therefore China’s attempts to find alternative routes.


Against all this background, the President of the People’s Republic of China visits the European Union and meets with the President of France, the main proponent of reducing the dependence of the European Union on the United States. The key to this meeting was that China and France signed a joint declaration at the end of Xi’s visit, where the parties indicated that the heads of the two states decided to strengthen the role of Franco-Chinese relations as a driving force in the international management of global issues [8]. This decision is of paramount importance for Kazakhstan, since both China and France have mutually recognized the role of both powers in world processes and are ready to further build cooperation.


What steps is the European Union taking to create transport links with China through Central Asia?


The actions of the European Union clearly indicate that even with the escalation of relations between China and the United States, Europe will still build economic relations with China, including through the territory of Central Asian countries. On January 29 and 30, 2024, at the investor forum on transport links between the European Union and Central Asia, as part of the EU “Global Gateway” strategy in Brussels, investments and loans were announced for the development of transport links through the territory of Central Asian countries. Vice-President of the European Commission Valdis Dombrovskis said at this forum: “The international partners present today commit to providing 10 billion euros of investment for the development of sustainable transport links in Central Asia, including new commitments of the European Commission and the European Investment Bank in the amount of 1.5 billion euros, as well as additional funds within the framework of the open architecture of investment guarantees of the European Commission” [9].


Commitments of €10 billion represent ongoing and planned investments. The European Investment Bank has signed memorandums of understanding totaling €1.47 billion with the governments of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, as well as the Development Bank of Kazakhstan. In addition, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development signed a memorandum of understanding with Kazakhstan with an investment portfolio of 1.5 billion euros for projects already under preparation for the development of transport links in the Central Asian region [10]. Since these are still memorandums, it remains to be assessed to what extent these agreements will be implemented.


At some expert meetings, skepticism was often expressed about the possibility of expanding European Union investments in infrastructure projects in Central Asia due to the fact that they would be used by Russia and China. In fact, double imports to Russia from Europe through the countries of Central Asia were not limited, even despite statements about the introduction of sanctions [11]. The introduction of serious sanctions by the EU against the countries of Central Asia will greatly affect Europe’s influence in the region against the backdrop of Russia’s expanding presence.


Increased EU investment in Central Asia’s infrastructure, energy and digital connectivity could complement China’s Belt and Road investments. This could lead to improved infrastructure and economic growth in the region, potentially opening up new opportunities for Chinese companies and reducing the financial burden on China, which has had to develop the region’s infrastructure alone.


What might China-European cooperation look like in Kazakhstan and Central Asia?


On 17 January 2024, the European Parliament, in its resolution, singled out Central Asia as a region of strategic interest for the EU, emphasizing the importance of security and connectivity, as well as diversification of energy and resources, conflict resolution and the protection of international order. The EU’s Central Asia Strategy, updated in 2019, focuses on sustainability in areas such as human rights, border security, environment and prosperity, with an emphasis on connectivity and regional cooperation. Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreements, in particular with Kazakhstan, have laid the foundation for increased cooperation in key areas of mutual interest, such as communications, energy efficiency, green economy and digitalization [12].


Strengthening cooperation between the EU and Central Asia can promote regional stability and multilateralism, which is in line with China’s interests in promoting a multipolar world order. A stable Central Asia could benefit China’s Belt and Road Initiative by providing secure routes for trade and energy pipelines. An example is the European Union project to resolve water conflicts in Central Asia. In Central Asia, a project was initiated by the European Union in November 2022 to change water, energy and climate conditions in Central Asia [13]. The European Union supports Central Asia’s transition to a low-carbon economy and a more diversified energy mix.


This includes water and energy management projects, as well as investment initiatives. Separately, the emphasis is on the fact that Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have rich reserves of natural gas for energy production and export, but depend on water flows from upstream neighbors for agricultural production. In this regard, the EU is ready to help the countries of Central Asia rationally and fairly use and distribute limited resources. Expanding trade and economic ties between the European Union and Central Asia will require the EU to invest even more in solving other security challenges for the countries of the region.


On 23 October 2023, a joint roadmap to deepen ties between the EU and Central Asia was signed during the 19th Ministerial Meeting of 27 EU Foreign Ministers and 5 Central Asian Ministers. This document served as a strategic plan for dialogue and cooperation in specific areas. This document, along with high-level contacts between EU and Central Asian leaders, creates the basis for a summit aimed at further deepening relations and cooperation. The key areas of cooperation were identified: 1. Deepening interregional political dialogue. 2. Strengthening economic relations in trade and investment. 3. Cooperation in the field of alternative energy sources. 4. Overcoming joint security threats [ 1 4].


The EU’s emphasis on sustainable development and green economy in Central Asia coincides with China’s emphasis on green Belt and Road projects. Cooperation in areas such as renewable energy could lead to Chinese companies participating in EU-led projects, using their expertise in solar and wind energy production, or vice versa. Similarly, cooperation in the development of infrastructure and transport projects is possible. The increased activity of the PRC and the EU in Central Asia with joint projects may lay down mechanisms for bringing the parties closer together. There are examples of cooperation between the EBRD and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in Central Asia. In 2016, both banks agreed to share the costs of reconstructing a 5-kilometer section of the road within Dushanbe, which is part of the road section connecting Dushanbe to the border with Uzbekistan [15].




The dynamics of Sino-European relations largely shape Kazakhstan’s foreign policy, providing both opportunities and challenges in its multi-vector approach.


The convergence of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the EU’s Global Gateway initiative offers Kazakhstan the chance to strengthen its role as a critical transit hub, attracting significant infrastructure investment. This could strengthen Kazakhstan’s economy through improved transport accessibility, job creation and economic growth. In addition, both China and the EU are interested in maintaining stability and security in Kazakhstan, which further contributes to its economic development.


China’s support for the EU’s strategic autonomy is consistent with Kazakhstan’s policy of balancing relations with major powers. This multipolar approach allows Kazakhstan to diversify its economic partnerships and reduce dependence on any one country. However, geostrategic competition between the US and China, especially in the areas of technology and critical resources, puts Kazakhstan in a delicate position that requires careful management to avoid becoming a battleground for influence.


The US reluctance to support transport projects in Central Asia suggests a strategy to limit China’s influence, which affects Kazakhstan’s ability to attract a variety of investments in its transport sector. However, US initiatives such as the Economic Resilience Initiative for Central Asia (ERICEN) point to other areas of cooperation, such as energy security, critical minerals and environmental projects, that Kazakhstan can use to its advantage.


Kazakhstan should focus on the overlapping interests of China and the EU by promoting joint projects that emphasize cooperation rather than competition. Joining the Belt and Road Initiative and the Global Gateway can create synergies, reduce competition and provide mutual benefits. Significant EU investment in Central Asia’s transport and energy infrastructure, complemented by China’s Belt and Road Initiative, provides the basis for joint projects that could transform the region’s economic landscape.


By actively participating in dialogues and agreements between the EU and Central Asia, Kazakhstan is positioning itself as a critical player in ensuring regional stability and development. Promoting stability and cooperation can attract more investment and increase the country’s strategic importance, ensuring its role as a key link in the Eurasian Economic Corridor. Thus, the evolving Sino-European relationship is having a significant impact on Kazakhstan’s foreign policy, offering opportunities for increased cooperation and challenges associated with geostrategic rivalry.


Used sources:


  1. The Belt and Road and Global Gate initiatives: prospects and opportunities for Central Asian countries [Electronic resource] / Access mode: -perspektivy-i-vozmozhnosti-dlya-stran-tsentralnoj-azii (May 16, 2024)
  2. EU strategic autonomy 2013-2023: From concept to capacity [ Electronic resource ] / Mode Access : ( May 16, 2024)
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  9. The EU has pledged to invest 10 billion euros in the Trans-Caspian Corridor [Electronic resource] / Access mode: -68116053 (May 16, 2024)
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  11. EU sanctions on Russia ‘massively circumvented’ via third countries, study finds [ Electronic resource ] / Mode access : ( May 16, 2024)
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  15. BRI in Central Asia: Overview of Chinese Projects [ Electronic resource ] / Mode accessed : ( May 16 , 2024)



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