At the invitation of Kazakhstan President N. Nazarbayev, Chinese President Hu Jintao will pay a visit to the Republic of Kazakhstan early June, a notable event in the continued development of Sino-Kazakhstan relations.
Friendly neighbors on the ancient Silk Road
Situated in Central Asia, Kazakhstan is bordered by China to the east, Russia to the north, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan to the south. Its territory is 2,724,900 square km with a population of 18.42 million. The capital is Astana (since December 1997).
As China’s close neighbor to the west, the Kazakhstan region, in ancient times, played an important role in the communication between China and the West, having considerable impact on the cultural exchanges between China and Central Asia, China and Europe, even China and Arab regions.
After the diplomat, civil official and dynastic emissary Zhang Qian committed his mission to Xi Yu, or the Western Regions (a term used in the Han Dynasty for areas west of Yumenguan, including present Xinjiang and parts of Central Asia), one Chinese emperor in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) sent his daughter to marry a local king, which promoted agriculture across the Central Plains in the Western Regions as well as to Central Asia. In AD 751, the Arab army defeated the Chinese army of the Tang Dynasty at the battle of the River Talas, opening the door for Muslim culture to enter China. In the Qing Dynasty, the Kazakhstan rulers sent their sons to Beijing to study, which enabled the etiquette of the Qing Dynasty to be popular in Kazakhstan. During the anti-Japanese war, the so-called “red road” connecting Yanan, Lanzhou, Dihua (now Urumqi), Alma-Ata (formal capital of Kazakhstan) and Moscow served as an important bridge between the Chinese Communist Party and the anti-Nazi battlefield.
During the 1990s, profound changes happening to the geo-political system on the Eurasian continent allowed Kazakhstan to announce its independence (December 1991). Respecting the choice of the Kazakhstan people, China officially recognized Kazakhstan in December 1991, and set up diplomatic relations in January 1992, opening a new page in Sino-Kazakhstan relations.
Sharing a 1,533 km border, Kazakhstan is China’s second biggest neighbor. In April 1994, during Chinese Premier Li Peng’s first visit, the two countries signed a Boundary Agreement. In September 1997, Premier Li Peng and Kazakhstan President Nazarbayev signed a Supplementary Boundary Agreement on his second visit there.
With these papers, the establishment of border policies between China and Kazakhstan became clear. This enabled the 1533 km border to reflect a peaceful, friendly and cooperative permanent relationship between the two countries.
Just as Kazakhstan President Nazarbayev pointed out, the signing of the Boundary Agreement was an important result of the development of bilateral ties. “It is the first time in history that China and Kazakhstan signed such a document. The border of China and Kazakhstan is confirmed in international law, which is really a big success,” he said.
Based on the solving of the border issue, China and Kazakhstan, together with the Kyrgyz Republic, the Russian Federation, the Republic of Tajikistan and the Republic of Uzbekistan, formed the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) mechanism.
Born as a border agreement among four former Soviet republics and China, the SCO has accelerated its diplomatic agenda. In 1996 at the Shanghai Summit and in1997 at the Moscow summit, the SCO worked out on two treaties: the Agreement on Confidence Building in the Military Field in Border Areas (signed in Shanghai), and the Agreement on Mutual Reduction of Military Forces in the Border Areas (signed in Moscow).
The treaties have since proved to be a guarantee of the advancement of bilateral ties for the new century and also serve as a new model for state-to-state relations, guided by the belief of, "security from mutual trust and cooperation for mutual benefits".
The cooperative partners of common development
According to Kazakhstan’s current development situation, the leaders of Kazakhstan have made a strategy to “enrich the country through resources” that is to give priority to the development of its energy industry. Statistics show that Kazakhstan has 2.2 billion tons of oil reserves in land, and 12 billion tons of oil reserves in the Caspian Sea. Over the past ten years, Kazakhstan has built its oil industry into a pillar industry, which attracts huge foreign investment each year. The percentage the oil industry represents of its total economy is as high as 80 percent. In 2002, oil production was 47 million tons, among which 10 million tons were consumed domestically, the rest exported abroad. According to information from departments concerned in the Commonwealth of Independent States, by 2015, oil production will reach 180 million tons.
Considering Kazakhstan’s land-locked geographic position, one important condition of its strategy to “enrich the country through resources” is to have safe and reliable oil pipelines extending in all directions. Yet, old pipelines to Europe and the Black Sea are limited, and therefore seeking a new energy path has become an important task for Kazakhstan, as well as its tasks of diplomacy, foreign trade and economics. It is against such a background that Kazakhstan turned its eyes to China, his eastern neighbor.
From 1996, China became another oil importer. Currently, 30 percent of China’s oil consumption is imported. And the number will climb to 120 million tons in 2010, and 210 million tons by 2020. So the huge oil needs of China appeal to the oil industry in Kazakhstan. What’s more, to build energy paths towards the economy circle of the Asia Pacific Region, through the west and the east of China, seems to create a bright future for Kazakhstan.
Such an optimistic future cannot easily be altered by common difficulties facing the two sides currently. In fact, experts from both the Chinese and Kazakhstan governments are undertaking research work on the possibilities of building oil pipelines from the west of Kazakhstan to Karamay, Xinjiang. At the same time, the two parties are busy developing transportation cooperation. The annual freight transport volume of “the second Eurasian Continental Bridge” from Otsuka to Shigeru has increased from 2 million to 5 million tons. Its target is to expand to around 12 million tons annually in the future. Total trade volume reached US$1.5 billion in 2000, US$1.23 billion in 2001, and US$ 1.7 billion in 2002.
Good neighborly relations
The past ten years have shown that it is of long-term vital significance that the common stability and development of relations between China and Kazakhstan remains.
Recently, incidents like 9/11 and the Iraqi War have had great impact on the security of Eurasia. Terrorism, extremism and separatism lingering in Central Asia present an unprecedented threat to the region. Drug trafficking, illegal immigration and weapon smuggling have all become active. Both China and Kazakhstan have come to realize it is wise to promote the stability and development of the region through effective and realistic cooperation.
In December 2002, China and Kazakhstan signed a series of important documents (The China-Kazakhstan Good-Neighborly Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation, The China-Kazakhstan Cooperation Treaty on the Crackdown on Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism, the China-Kazakhstan Treaty on Preventing Dangerous Military Activities), which have enabled friendly relations and mutual benefit cooperation to deepen. The multi-phase exchange and cooperation in the areas of government, society, news media, and education and expert fields has helped this mutual understanding and trust to continue. In February, China donated police facilities valued at 1 million yuan to the Internal Affairs Ministry of Kazakhstan. In April, the first Chinese teaching center donated by Louzhou University was put to use at the State University of Kazakhstan. With e-development, mutual understanding is deepening.
Kazakhstan is a multi-ethnic nation of 131 ethnic groups with the majority of the population from the Kazak ethnic group. There are also more than 1.2 million Kazak people living in China’s Xingjiang, Gansu and Qinghai. Common historical roots and culture enable the Kazak people to be messengers of friendship between the two countries.
(The author is vice chief of the European and Asian Study section at the China Institute of International Studies)
(China.org.cn translated by Zheng Guihong, June 2, 2003)