Relations between Kazakhstan and China have been in the focus of international attention for several years. And the interest of the world community in this topic is only increasing. There are many different explanations for this – from the success of bilateral cooperation on the construction of the modern Silk Road to the growing role of the PRC in international affairs, in which all its neighbors also attract considerable interest.

And Kazakhstan, which, due to a complex of geo-economic factors, is a key link in the implementation of the ambitious “One Belt, One Belt” initiative, stands out especially among more than a hundred participants.

However, along with objective research and a reasoned analysis of cooperation between the Republic of Kazakhstan and the People’s Republic of China, well-developed ideological stuffing has been noted for more than a year. The Center for the Study of China is closely monitoring the information space to identify the sources of such political attacks on Kazakhstan and to study the real intention of the authors of the information war against Kazakh-Chinese relations. In general, analytical calculations on this topic are, for obvious reasons, closed.

But the recent “curiosity”, as some participants of the new wave of attacks on Kazakhstan in the Chinese direction managed to call it, once again confirms the foreign origin of negative political messages. The attacks are carried out through the foreign yellow press, whose publications with deliberately resonant headlines and distorted facts are aimed at marginal social groups in our country. Local pseudo-national patriots (in the absence of their own idea that consolidates them) react sharply and without hesitation to any mention of China and try to mobilize the people against cooperation with it (at the same time, they do not offer an adequate alternative).

At the heart of such an emotional reaction is a stereotypical archaic sinophobia, which has long-outdated historical attitudes, but which are energetically fueled by individual major powers (a similar situation can be seen in some other Central Asian countries). It is clear that such targeted feeding is based on specific geopolitical interests in competition with the PRC. And Kazakhstan in this case acts only as a profitable target – the blow falls on our interests, but with an eye on China. But with an ill-considered and emotional reaction of our society, the damage to Kazakhstan’s interests can be unpredictable.

So this year there has been another aggravation of this topic, which confirms the observations of our analysts and the patterns identified in this area, but also reveals some of its own features.

First. Attention is drawn to the enviable systematic nature of information sabotage related to the Kazakh-Chinese topic.

So, in recent years, as a rule, immediately after the successful negotiations between Kazakhstan and China at the highest level, the media of individual partner states find an opportunity, as they naively believe, to add a considerable “fly in the ointment” to the bilateral relations of the two largest countries of Eurasia. Usually, after productive meetings of the Republic of Kazakhstan and the People’s Republic of China at the highest level, the foreign press begins to raise the issue of the alleged problems of ethnic Kazakhs in the XUAR.

This issue is quickly (without reasonable verification and adequate analysis) picked up by local journalists, pseudo-national-patriotic bloggers and spreads on social networks, breeding sinophobia and hatred for the eastern neighbor. Such a crisis situation was observed, for example, in mid-June 2018.

Fortunately, the leadership of Kazakhstan always takes a constructive position and relies on real facts when making decisions. Then, the situation that threatened unpredictable problems was quickly taken under the control of the Kazakh authorities and neutralized. However, the issue of sinophobia is quietly smoldering in social networks and is being heated from the outside, which is also shown by the events of this year.

The recent aggravation seems to be caused by a number of events, which I think it is important to consider as a single logical chain.

So, on March 20 of this year, the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan N. A. Nazarbayev met with the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to the Republic of Kazakhstan Zhang Xiao. During the meeting, the interlocutors noted the importance of further strengthening good-neighborly relations and developing mutually beneficial cooperation between Kazakhstan and China. Then the Chinese diplomat conveyed to our Elbasy the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping to take part in the 2nd Forum of International Cooperation “One Belt, One Road”, which will be held in April this year in Beijing. And just recently, the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan K-Zh. Tokayev also held a meeting with the Chinese Ambassador to Kazakhstan Zhang Xiao, following which the Head of State (being an excellent expert on China) noted the progressive nature of the development of Kazakh-Chinese relations and expressed confidence in their further strengthening for the benefit of the peoples of the two countries.

Apparently, someone who is very, very not interested in further strengthening relations between Kazakhstan and China thought that there were too many positive messages from the Kazakh leadership towards the PRC. Therefore, an appropriate reason for another planned information aggression in this direction was found very quickly.

Second. This year, the Russian information field has become a source of excitement, but is it unexpected?

The recent successful visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan B. Atamkulov to Beijing was the reason for another aggravation of the Chinese theme. As a result, a number of Russian mass media (admittedly not state-owned, but still) deliberately distorted the translation of the communique following the talks between the Foreign Ministers of the Republic of Kazakhstan and the People’s Republic of China in Beijing.
Out of several dozen issues on the negotiating agenda (intentionally?) A win-win topic was chosen regarding the measures of the Government of the People’s Republic of China to deradicalize the situation and security measures in the XUAR.

Taking separate phrases out of the context of the official document, Russian journalists skillfully linked all this with the situation of ethnic Kazakhs in the border autonomous region of the PRC. The topic, of course, is hot – it has been very actively heated by the Western media and think tanks for more than a year (for example, just a few days ago a similar topic will be discussed in Washington at the Institute of Central Asia and the Caucasus with the “good assistance” of the well-known Fr. Starr).

The meaning of recent publications in the Russian press was that the Kazakh side allegedly fully supports the actions of the Chinese Government in the XUAR, including the organization of camps for the Muslim population. At the same time, the consistent diplomatic efforts of the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan to peacefully resolve this issue in relations with friendly China are for some reason not taken into account (of course, this is an order!).

In favor of the rapid effect of fabricated publications, the limited knowledge of the Chinese language among the readership and the move to be ahead of the curve played a role. Thus, the Russian information field was filled with unverified “fried” facts and was quickly picked up by Kazakh pseudo-patriots without examination. The agony of the Facebook patriots and the aggression of the guardians for the interests of the Kazakh people in social networks were incredible.

In general, earlier the Russian media only reprinted Western materials with a slight touch of their own opinion. But this year, the excitement around the Kazakh-Chinese relations was caused by Russian publications, without the obvious protruding” ears ” of the West.

On the other hand, for the sake of objectivity, Russia itself has got into a very uncomfortable situation, given that both Kazakhstan and China are its good neighbors and reliable partners (which is especially important in the context of geopolitical and sanctions pressure on the Russian Federation). It is not in the interests of the Russian Federation to spoil relations with such neighbors.

Thus, there may probably be a question of deliberate attempts to create a split in Moscow’s relations with Nur-Sultan and Beijing by certain internal Russian forces (for example, pro-Western ones?). Or there is an obvious attempt by other internal Russian forces to play some kind of abstruse combination with intrigue with their neighbors. This clearly failed, but in reality it turned out to be a real diplomatic setup for the Kremlin.
In any case, this unpleasant diplomatic case for everyone should be studied in detail in Moscow – this is, first of all, in the Russian interests.

The third. The persistence of attempts to “promote the Kazakh issue” in the SUAR and its transfer to the internal field of Kazakhstan is noted.

The task of some foreign strategists here is very well understood – if any cooling would suddenly occur in Kazakh-Chinese relations, then we will not have to talk about any success of the modern Silk Road. As the second global economy, China in this case may suffer major economic and image losses. It is probably well understood for those who know the specifics of the international situation of the People’s Republic of China.

As for Kazakhstan…

In fact, those imaginary patriotic forces that allegedly advocate for the protection of ethnic Kazakhs in China (for some reason, suddenly speaking on behalf of the entire Kazakh people, although who authorized them to do this?) – in reality, they do more harm to their country, and not to China. China is a major economic partner in cooperation, with which we see the future of
real diversification of the Kazakh economy.

Returning to the next information attack on Kazakhstan this year, it is important to note the following. Thoughtless reprints by Kazakh publications of unverified materials from the yellow press of Russia are harmful primarily and only to Kazakhstan. After all, even without knowing the real agenda of the last meeting of the foreign ministers, local sinophobes managed to criticize the Kazakh minister.

In general, quite successful negotiations were held in Beijing and the Kazakh side found full mutual understanding on the part of the Chinese leadership. Thus, absolutely all ethnic Kazakhs have been removed from the so-called camps of ideological re-education (and not torture camps, as they are trying to show in the West). And this is a fact.

This suggests that in fact, the Chinese side, in a neighborly and friendly way, respected the concern of the people of Kazakhstan about the situation of ethnic Kazakhs (although by and large, they are all Chinese citizens and the situation in the XUAR is purely an internal matter of China). But China has approached this issue with understanding and, thanks to the goodwill of the Chinese leadership, today this topic has been completely removed from the bilateral agenda.

And all these are the real results of the work of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan to protect the interests of the Kazakh people and reflect the concern for its representatives who, by the will of Fate, have been living abroad for a long time. This concrete result neutralizes any criticism on this issue and demonstrates a very important symbolic victory of the Kazakh foreign office and its maturity in the civilized defense of national interests in relations with partners.

Fourth. It is obvious that they are trying to impose a destructive geopolitical scenario on Kazakhstan.

To be objective, let’s ask ourselves the question – whose interests are actually pursued by the so-called Kazakh patriots (who are raising the Kazakh question in the SUAR) and whose geopolitical scenarios are they fulfilling? Who is interested in Kazakhstan and China curtailing cooperation and as a result, the megaproject of the XXI century on the construction of the Silk Road failed? Who will benefit if Kazakhstan loses the opportunity to diversify its economy through the development of export-oriented industries, whose products can be redirected through the actively developing transport corridors of Eurasia? Who benefits from Kazakhstan losing its sea terminal in the Chinese port of Lianyungang? Who benefits from the decline in China’s economy and the failure of its main ideological concept of the belt and road?

The answers to these questions will quickly reveal the authors of such imposed scenarios, as well as their motive – or is it just geopolitical envy, or a manifestation of the fierce global competition that China has entered, becoming the second economy in the world?

If you remove all the lyrics, then the economic cooperation of Kazakhstan with the People’s Republic of China brings its very real fruits – therefore, there is really something to envy. Kazakh-Chinese relations are developing dynamically within the framework of a strategic partnership. At the same time, our country is very pragmatically using the opportunities from cooperation with one of the world’s largest economies. And over these years, major strategic results have been achieved.

China has opened the Lianyungang seaport for Kazakhstan-opening the Pacific Ocean for the Great Steppe Country, removing the continental isolation of our country and providing opportunities to enter new export markets (Japan and South Korea are already looking at Kazakhstan, which now have opportunities for direct trade with us, since 2017 our exporters have been supplying grain to Vietnam, etc.).
Thanks to the Chinese initiative “One Belt, One Road” (announced in Astana), European countries (the main recipients of the belt and road cargo flows) began to look at Kazakhstan, to which our country has been striving for a long time and can now expand cooperation. More than 25 European cities receive goods from China through our country. And this is just the beginning. Kazakhstan is really becoming a Eurasian hub and realizing its geo-economic mission.

Thanks to the new transit corridors from China throughout Eurasia, the transport sector of Kazakhstan is going into plus for the first time and in 2017 earned $ 3 billion (of which $ 1.3 billion is the net effect of Chinese goods flow). According to forecasts, by 2020, Kazakhstan’s income will increase to $ 5 billion. And these are jobs for Kazakhstani citizens. China promotes the industrial development of Kazakhstan – 55 joint industrial projects strengthen Kazakhstan’s production capabilities and promote economic diversification (a long-awaited departure from commodity dependence).

China is opening its food market to Kazakhstan in a neighborly way: finally, Kazakhstan’s agriculture gets opportunities for growth, because a stable large sales market has appeared. These are new opportunities for the development of the Kazakh village. And much more. And this is not some fiction, and not a game with statistics – these are all real achievements achieved in cooperation with the PRC.
On the other hand, such curiosities (or, to put it bluntly, political sabotage) prove that Kazakhstan and China are really successful strategic partners and the cooperation of the two countries actually creates a new geo-economic reality in Eurasia. And, of course, such a pragmatic complementary approach of the two major Eurasian states cannot be liked by everyone. This is a completely normal process.

But it seems that such ideological battles, in fact, do not bring the result intended by their authors. On the contrary, the Kazakh and Chinese sides are hardened in such crises and are even closer in the partnership dialogue. The power that the modern Silk Road is gaining can no longer be stopped by any geopolitical scenarios. Why? Because the belt and road cooperation is based on mutual respect, business pragmatics and the desire for prosperity, and not a strategy of imaginary domination.

Author: Alexander Kartashenko

China Studies Centre,

Nur-Sultan (Astana), Kazakhstan

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