Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russian Influence in Central Asia a Greater Threat than Chinese, Kazakh Nationalist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 12 – Despite the hysteria about it whipped up in Russian language outlets in Kazakhstan, one commentator says, the growth of Chinese influence in Kazakhstan is far less a threat to the survival of the Kazakh people than the past and present impact of Russian influence on that Central Asian nation.

            In a commentary this week, Askar Kymyran suggests that alarmist coverage in the Russian media are promoting a false sense of “sinophobia” in the mass consciousness of Kazakhs and causing them to ignore or at least downplay the more serious threats to their nation and state emanating from the Russian Federation (

            “I too fear China,” Kymyran continues, observing that “a nation with an imperial consciousness is always directed at expansion and growth.” But he continues, “when speaking about longstanding problems with one power, [Kazakhs] forget about the misdeeds of another empire” in the recent past and even now. 

            He suggests that precisely this deflection of concern may even be the point of much media coverage of China and of the widespread jokes that flow from it, such as “he who does not speak Russian today will tomorrow speak Chinese.” 

            Obviously, China is investing in Kazakhstan. Beijing has the free resources to do so, and Astana has some of the resources that China needs for development. But too many Kazakhs and especially members of the Kazakhstan opposition see that development as so threatening that they forget to consider the challenges that Russia’s approach to their nation present.

            To put things in perspective, Kymyran argues, it is worth comparing how China and Russia treat the Kazakhs living on their territory. In China, there are numerous schools for the 1.4 million ethnic Kazakhs. There are even 540 Kazakh-language schools in Uzbekistan for the 800,000 Kazakhs there. But in Russia, for an equal number of Kazakhs, there are only two.

            There are more than 50 Kazakh-language newspapers and journals in Kazakh in China, while there is only a handful in the Russian Federation. There are three Kazakh-language television channels broadcasting seven days a week, while in Russia, there is not even one. Indeed, in Kazakhstan, “there isn’t a single TV channel” which broadcasts only in Kazakh.

            Moreover, the Kazakh commentator continues, “a child in China can obtain a complete education in his native language, primary, secondary, and higher and get a job with that.” In Russia, by contrast, ethnic Kazakh children “are required to take the state examination for admission to universities exclusively in Russian.”

            Ethnic Kazakhs who work in senior government posts in the Russian Federation rarely “know their native language,” whereas their co-ethnics in China in almost every case speak it and do not suffer as a result. “Kazakh businessmen from China as a rule know Chinese, Kazakh, and often English.” Their counterparts from Russian “have only Russian.”

            Given that, he asks rhetorically, which country’s linguistic and cultural expansion should Kazakhs of Kazakhstan fear more?

            “Of course, Chinese Kazakhs often complain that they are under pressure. But in comparison with Russian Kazakhs, they quite simply are in a better position,” Kamyran says.  Both states, like almost all multi-national ones, are interested in the integration and assimilation of ethnic minorities. But the key question is how they go about doing so.

            “In comparison with the Russians, the Chinese are carrying out their policy in a more tactful manner,” he continues. “At the very least,” he adds, “one extremely rarely encounters a signified Kazakh, but Russified Kazakhs already today number in the millions.”

            Moreover, “China is not forming a Chinese lobby in Kazakhstan out of Kazakhs,” while “Russia in fact is dividing” Kazakhstan into two linguistic groups. Despite that, few people there focus on this source of “great power chauvinism” even though one could bring charges of exacerbating ethnic tensions against “every third Russian publication” in the country.

            His purpose in writing this article, Kamyran says, is “not to whitewash China or blacken Russia. A good neighbor will always remain a good neighbor. But shouts and hysteria about the expansion [of Chinese influence] are inappropriate when we are already subject to an expansion of the Russian influence.”

            That being so, he concludes, Kazakhs need to recognize that “the challenges are more real from the north than from the south” and to hope that whatever the past might suggest, both China and Russia will be “simply good neighbors” for Kazakhstan rather than a geopolitical or cultural threat.


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