BEIJING, Jan. 22, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — The year 2023 has been a busy one for China in terms of its interactions with the rest of the world. Its foreign relations always have a profound impact on its economy, strategy and people’s livelihoods. Global Times, in collaboration with China’s universities and think tanks, is now releasing a series of country reports. The aim of these reports is to enhance understanding of relevant countries, provide a framework for dealing with China’s relations with these countries, and grasp the trajectory of these relations.
In the first report of the series, we focus on Kazakhstan, an important partner in jointly building the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). By studying China–Kazakhstan political mutual trust, economic and trade cooperation, as well as infrastructural connectivity, we aim to paint a picture of future China-Kazakhstan relations.
In September 2013, the Silk Road Economic Belt concept was first introduced by President Xi Jinping during his visit to Kazakhstan, which received warm support and extensive participation from Kazakhstan. Over the past 10 years, Kazakhstan has become an important partner in jointly building the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Against the backdrop of changes unseen in a century and the Russia–Ukraine conflict, Kazakhstan is in a crucial period of national reform. In such circumstances, the China-Central Asia Summit held in Xi’an in May 2023 highlights its significance. Implementing the outcomes of the summit will help promote the high-quality development of BRI in Kazakhstan.
President Xi successfully visited Kazakhstan four times: in September 2013, May 2015, June 2017 and September 2022. In September 2019, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev visited China for the first time as President, and China and Kazakhstan announced the establishment of a “permanent comprehensive strategic partnership.”
In February 2022, Tokayev visited China and attended the opening ceremony of the Olympic Winter Games in Beijing. In May 2023, Tokayev attended the China-Central Asia Summit in Xi’an, China. In October, Tokayev attended the third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation held in Beijing. It is the first time that the President of Kazakhstan has visited China twice within a year, which is unprecedented in the history of China–Kazakhstan relations. The strategic guidance of the heads of state and close high-level exchanges are the guarantee and advantage for the sustained high-level development of China–Kazakhstan relations.
Despite the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic for three years, China–Kazakhstan economic and trade cooperation has developed well, with bilateral trade reaching $21.43 billion in 2020. In 2021, the total bilateral trade between China and Kazakhstan was $25.25 billion. In 2022, the total trade volume of goods between China and Kazakhstan was $31.17 billion, a year-on-year increase of 23.6 percent. China has been Kazakhstan’s second-largest trading partner, largest export destination and second-largest source of imports for years.
China–Kazakhstan oil and gas cooperation is a model of success. Chinese-funded enterprises helped Kazakh partners exploit oil and gas resources within the country. The bilateral cooperation covers the entire industrial chain, including exploration, exploitation, refining, transportation and sales. 55 projects have been included in the China–Kazakhstan capacity cooperation list, with a total contract value exceeding $27.4 billion. New energy projects such as the Zhanatas wind farm, Turgusun hydropower plant and Kapshagay photovoltaic power plant, constructed by Chinese-funded enterprises, have effectively assisted the local area in transitioning to low-carbon development.
Over the past decade, China and Kazakhstan have realized integrated land, sea and air connectivity. Currently, China and Kazakhstan have operated year-round seven pairs of border ports, five cross-border oil and gas pipelines, two cross-border railways, and an international border cooperation center. According to statistics, transit transportation services have created approximately 50,000 jobs for Kazakhstan.
China and Kazakhstan have participated in the establishment of multiple financial platforms. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the Silk Road Fund, the China-Eurasian Economic Cooperation Fund and other financial platforms provide reliable funding channels for the BRI. Second, China supports the development of the financial system in Kazakhstan. On September 23, 2019, China Construction Bank Corporation Astana Branch was opened, becoming the first Chinese-funded commercial bank to set up an operating institution in the Astana International Financial Centre. Third, China and Kazakhstan expanded the scale of local currency settlement and facilitated cooperation and development between the two countries. In September 2022, China’s central bank signed a memorandum of cooperation with the central bank of Kazakhstan to establish renminbi (RMB) clearing arrangements in Kazakhstan.
Six Kazakh language and cultural centers, as well as economic and social research institutes, have been established in China, while Kazakhstan is also home to five Confucius Institutes. Kazakhstan has become the first Central Asian country to have a visa-free agreement with China.
Promoting BRI cooperation
The achievements of the China-Central Asia Summit have been highly praised by Central Asian countries, with Kazakhstan as the representative. Central Asian countries are at a critical stage of national development, amid uncertain future development of the Russia–Ukraine conflict. The political stability and economic development of Central Asian countries have been impacted, and therefore the expectations Central Asian countries have on China have further increased.
It is necessary to deepen relations with Central Asian countries through the China-Central Asia Summit. First, China should continue to provide strong support to Central Asian countries in safeguarding national sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and their chosen development path. Second, China needs to further deepen pragmatic cooperation with Central Asian countries in the economic field. Taking into account the concerns of Central Asian countries, it is also important to actively promote infrastructure construction, including the construction of the China–Kyrgyzstan–Uzbekistan railway, further expanding the opening of markets to Central Asia, and particularly importing high-quality agricultural products from Central Asian countries.
Kazakhstan is in a period of social transformation. There may be radical groups influenced by public opinion that attack and disrupt foreign-funded enterprises and projects. The Tokayev government needs political and economic support from neighboring major countries. China should emphasize to the Kazakhstani government the need to strengthen the protection of Chinese-funded enterprises and major projects. China should leverage the platform of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the experience accumulated in bilateral security cooperation. This will enhance security cooperation with Central Asian countries and safeguard the safety of Chinese personnel and enterprises in Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries.
First, we need to continue to promote deep and practical local cooperation. In 2023, delegations from Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Shandong Province, Shanxi Province, and other localities, visited Kazakhstan successively. There is great potential for local cooperation between China and Kazakhstan in the future, including in the areas of economy and trade, science and technology, education, and culture. Second, it is necessary to expand agricultural cooperation and enhance the level of agricultural cooperation. During Tokayev’s visit to China in May 2023, China and Kazakhstan signed multiple agricultural cooperation agreements. Agricultural cooperation is becoming a new highlight and an important growth point of pragmatic cooperation between the two sides. Third, we should accelerate cooperation in new formats and explore new cooperation potential in areas such as new energy, green industries and digital construction.
In May 2023, during the meeting between the leaders of China and Kazakhstan in Xi’an, it was announced that 2024 would be designated as the Kazakhstan tourism year in China. This year, the Luban Workshop started operating at the Serikbayev East Kazakhstan Technical University. Various cultural exchange activities can be designed around the “tourism year” to enhance mutual understanding and people-to-people connectivity between the two countries. The Luban Workshop and other initiatives can be used to cultivate high-quality technical talents for Kazakhstan. This will help elevate the people-to-people cooperation between the two countries to a new level.
Outlook for 2024
2024 will be a crucial year for the cooperation between China and Kazakhstan under the BRI. On September 1, 2023, President Tokayev delivered an annual state-of-the-nation address, emphasizing the priority directions and main tasks for future economic development. The main goal of Kazakhstan’s economic development is to ensure stable economic growth of six to seven percent, with a goal to double the national economy to $450 billion by 2029. Achieving this goal requires strengthening practical international economic cooperation.
Enhancing BRI cooperation between China and Kazakhstan is one of the important directions for Kazakhstan’s economic development. 2024 will be designated as Kazakhstan tourism year in China. The Summit of Heads of State of SCO will also be held in Kazakhstan in 2024. The strategic guidance of the leaders of China and Kazakhstan is a key factor in promoting the high-quality development of the BRI. China is comprehensively promoting the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation through Chinese modernization, while Kazakhstan is building a rapidly developing and prosperous “New Kazakhstan.” Both China and Kazakhstan are at a critical stage of development and revitalization, and the China–Kazakhstan relationship has entered a new “golden thirty years”. The prospects for jointly building the BRI between China and Kazakhstan are promising.
Xu Changzhi and Su Chang are research fellows at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Chen Dongjie is deputy director of the Central Asia Research Institute at Shaanxi Normal University.
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