Nursultan Nazarbayev was recently in China, and had some interesting things to say while there about relations between Kazakhstan and China.
At the same time, he said, “It would be wrong to conclude that Kazakh-Chinese relations are developing exceptionally in the positive direction. We have some issues on which solution must be reached today. We must come to a compromise.” In particular, Nazarbayev listed Kazakhstan’s trade imbalance with China as hampering further bilateral economic activities. The Kazakh president also added that “lately numerous critical publications appeared in the [Kazakh] press relating to ‘disproportions’ in the Chinese participation in developing oil and gas resources of Kazakhstan.”
Marat Yermukanov, the author of the Jamestown article, explains the the “disproportion” to which Nazarbayev refers is the illegal smuggling in of Chinese workers to work for Chinese oil and gas companies operating in the Aktobe region. Nazarbayev wants a 70% reduction of Chinese workers and a replacement with local employees. Yermukanov explains that this is the first time Nazarbayev has brought up the public’s economic and demographic worries regarding China in a public setting.
A year ago, I wrote a post disagreeing with the notion that China is set to dominate Central Asia, citing the history of relations between Turks and China. Obviously the situation is quite different nowadays, but it is interesting to note that some of the same tensions exist. Nomads of the steppes relied on China as a source of luxury goods, but had to avoid losing sovereignty by becoming too reliant on China. Kazakhstan has a far more complex relationship with China — one that is of enormous importance, but one that also creates anxiety. There is nowhere for this relationship to go but forward, but it seems clear that Kazakh reservations about China will keep some distance in the relationship.