The vast Eurasian steppe, a region that has been a crossroads of civilizations, cultures, and trade routes for millennia, has witnessed a remarkable journey of diplomacy over the past three decades. China and Kazakhstan have built a strong partnership, characterized by mutual respect, trust, and cooperation. China-Kazakhstan Diplomacy is unique in many ways, not least because it spans a vast and challenging terrain, where the winds of change can shift in an instant.
As the President of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev gears up to visit China on May 18th, all eyes are on the significance of this meeting. Kazakhstan, with its strategic location and abundant natural resources, is a crucial partner for China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The upcoming visit is expected to highlight the progress and potential of the initiative in Kazakhstan, where Chinese investments have already led to the construction of a new city, highways, and rail links. In typical Belt and Road fashion, China’s investments in Kazakhstan are not just about infrastructure but also include oil and gas exploration, mining, and agriculture. China sees Kazakhstan as a gateway to Europe and beyond, and the country’s leadership is keen to make the most of its strategic location and natural resources. The upcoming visit is a chance for China and Kazakhstan to showcase the progress and potential of the Belt and Road Initiative in the context of Kazakhstan’s strategic importance.
One Belt, One Road’
As ‘One Belt, One Road’ program has been making waves in Sino-Kazakh relations, with a recent example being the $2.4 billion agreement signed by Zhongmei Engineering Group for the construction of a natural gas processing and chemical complex in Kazakhstan. This project not only boosted Kazakhstan’s energy sector but also brought new opportunities for the country’s industrialization and job creation. A new freight train service was launched in October 2021, between China’s Shandong province and Kazakhstan’s Almaty City, cutting transportation time from 25 days by sea to just 10 days by rail. This new route will facilitate trade and economic exchanges between the two countries, further deepening their cooperation under the ‘One Belt, One Road’ program. The China-Kazakhstan Industrial Park held a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of its second phase in December 2021. The park, located in the city of Khorgos on the border between China and Kazakhstan, has become a key platform for cooperation in trade, investment, and industrialization.
As Kazakhstan looks to strengthen its economic and political ties with China, the decision to implement a visa-free regime for Chinese citizens is a clear step in that direction. The new policy is expected to have a positive impact on the tourism industry, as Chinese tourists are now able to visit Kazakhstan without the burden of lengthy visa applications. Additionally, the policy is likely to increase trade and investment between the two nations, as Chinese businesspeople can now travel to Kazakhstan more easily. Kazakhstan’s move towards a visa-free regime with China reflects the country’s broader efforts to position itself as a hub for regional connectivity and integration
In the grand scheme of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Pakistan has emerged as a vital player. Through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Beijing has invested generously in Pakistan’s infrastructure projects. This investment has not only strengthened China-Pakistan ties but has also bolstered Pakistan’s economic and political stature in the region. As China and Pakistan continue to strengthen their partnership, the benefits of this cooperation are likely to spill over to other countries in the region, including Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan, too, stands to benefit from closer ties with both China and Pakistan, creating a trilateral relationship that could advance the common interests of all parties involved.
In the years to come, the success of this trilateral partnership will depend on the ability of these countries to find common ground on a range of issues, including economic development, security, and political stability. The prospects for success are promising, as each country brings its unique strengths and capabilities to the table. China’s economic clout and technological prowess, Pakistan’s strategic location and military strength, and Kazakhstan’s abundant natural resources and geopolitical influence all contribute to the strength of the partnership.
Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO),
One way to achieve this goal is to strengthen existing multilateral platforms such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which includes all three nations. By deepening cooperation within the SCO, China, Pakistan, and Kazakhstan can work together to address common challenges such as terrorism, separatism, and extremism, while also promoting economic integration and connectivity. Additionally, trilateral initiatives such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the proposed China-Kazakhstan-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CKPEC) can serve as building blocks for deeper trilateral cooperation. By expanding these projects and exploring new areas of collaboration, the three nations can create a more prosperous and stable future for themselves and the wider region.
Like the rising sun casting its first rays across the steppe, China’s ambitions to extend its influence into the heart of Eurasia have illuminated the potential of Kazakhstan as a vital partner in its pursuit of connectivity and integration with Europe and the Middle East. The two countries stand at the threshold of a new era of cooperation, where the bridges they have built across the steppe will serve as a symbol of their shared destiny and a conduit for mutual prosperity.
One potential avenue for growth is in the realm of renewable energy. Kazakhstan’s vast potential for solar, wind, and hydroelectric power presents an opportunity for collaboration with China, which has invested heavily in green technology. This would not only address pressing environmental concerns but also fuel economic growth for both nations. Another area of promise is in the development of digital infrastructure. As the world becomes increasingly connected through technology, Kazakhstan and China have the potential to collaborate on the creation of a digital Silk Road. This would provide a new pathway for economic and cultural exchange and could pave the way for greater innovation in fields such as e-commerce and fin-tech.
The Kazakhstan-China partnership has the potential to serve as a model for cooperation and growth in the Eurasian region. By building bridges across the steppe, these two nations can create a brighter future for their citizens and the world at large.
The Writer is Executive Director of Islamabad Think Tank YFK and Freelance Journalist. He tweets @zamanbajwaa