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Central Asian elites prefer China to Russia




Author: Jon Yuan Jiang

Since 2019, more than 40 protests were held against Chinese expansion in Central Asia. Yet the elites of Central Asia hardly had any bad words to say. On the contrary, they removed these protests, denied that China’s goal was expansion and even asked their audiences to be grateful To China. No wonder some Russians commentators worry about the decline of Russian influence.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the end of the signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People, Beijing, China on September 11, 2019 (Andrea Verdelli / Pool via REUTERS)

The reason for these choices of the Central Asian elites is that they might be better off embracing China while subtly distancing themselves from Russia, as Beijing increasingly aligns itself with its Asian counterparts. power plant with more success than Moscow. Although the countries of Central Asia have been independent for three decades, it is common to find Russian claims that they still effectively own the region. Some Russian officials even have publicly claimed that the entire territory of Kazakhstan was a gift from Russia, which denounced severely among the Kazakh elites.

Arguments about expansion and loss of sovereignty are questionable in Central Asia. Today, the elites of Central Asia enjoy full sovereignty to defend their national interests. When the legislation on long-term land leases by foreign countries sparked massive protests against the government of Kazakhstan and Chinese influence, the bill was dropped and Beijing did not respond. The Kazakh elites too rejected Proposal by Russian President Vladimir Putin to build nuclear power plants there. When Turkmenistan firm Russian language course, the local Russian Embassy expressed regret, but nothing harsher.

Many ethnic Russians live in Central Asia, and the annexation of Crimea sets a precedent. Central Asian elites may never express their fear of Russian annexation freely, but it is certainly a concern. In contrast, very few ethnic Han Chinese reside in Central Asia. China’s cardinal interest in this part of the world is to eliminate terrorism and separatism, to buy resources and to trade with Europe via Central Asia. None of these interests pose a potential territorial threat to Central Asia.

The questionable benefits of aligning with Russia’s stagnant economy pale in comparison to China’s economic might. With the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China was a larger business partner than Russia for most Central Asian countries by 2019. Alexandre grishin Chinese investment has now overtaken Russia in almost every country in Central Asia. Russian investment in Kazakhstan in 2016 was barely over US $ 12 billion, while Chinese investment, according to official data, exceeded US $ 20 billion. Unofficial figures for Chinese investments ranged from US $ 55 billion to 80 billion US dollars.

As Benno Zogg argued, compared to the economic power of China, especially the volume of funds for infrastructure under the BRI, Russia and its rigid, protectionist and politicized Eurasian projects pale. Russia is a direct competitor of Central Asian natural resource exports to the Chinese market, which could push Central Asian elites to the Chinese side.

According to Adil kaukenov and Bakhtiyor ErgachevMoscow has consulted very little with Central Asian partners regarding Eurasian integration, preferring to offer feelings of kinship and shared history rather than practical benefits. This may be effective in convincing the public and some of the region’s most sensationalist media, but it is far less persuasive for the Central Asian elites who see the relationship with China as more practice.

This explains why the elites of Central Asia have striven to derussify to strengthen their own national identity by promoting local languages. Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have deliberately implemented the Latinization of their national languages, avoiding the Russian Cyrillic alphabet. In this context, intensifying cooperation with China, which also involves strengthening its influence, not only conforms to the economic interests and diversity of the Central Asian nations, but also indirectly promotes their efforts to build national.

The change in leadership in Central Asia may reflect their willingness to negotiate more with Beijing. President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev fluent in Mandarin with diplomatic experience and connections in China. Former Deputy Prime Minister Dariga Nazarbayev, the eldest daughter of Kazakhstan’s first president, praised the virtue of learning Chinese, arguing that closer ties with China are the fate of Kazakhstan. The outgoing President of Kyrgyzstan, Sadyr Japarov, would have been supported by many businessmen linked to China. father Japarov was born and educated in China and his family business has long been linked to China.

China became the second– the most popular destination for study abroad in Central Asia, behind Russia. As Julie Yu-Wen Chen and Soledad Jimnez Tovar observed, university students, future elites in Central Asia increasingly support Beijing’s growing influence, and the majority believe that the close ties with China benefit Central Asia.

Jon Yuan Jiang is a doctoral student at Queensland University of Technology.




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