Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Kazakhstan Must Avoid Antagonizing China Lest It Be Dominated by Russia, Shibutov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 25 – There has been a rising tide of anti-Chinese sentiments in Kazakhstan in recent years, the result of Beijing’s sometime heavy-handed projection of its economic and political interests; but Kazakhstan must avoid antagonizing China because if it doesn’t, it will itself be dominated by Russia, Kazakh political scientist Marat Shibutov says.

            In Kazakhstan as in the rest of Central Asia, there are only two serious outside players, China and Russia, he continues; and that means that the Central Asian countries must avoid antagonizing one of them or alternatively driving them together so that they will adopt a common policy toward the region (qmonitor.kz/politics/1904).

            It is in Kazakhstan’s interest that any Russian-Chinese alliance be about as few things as possible or develop only as far in the future as possible. Otherwise, Russia will be in a position to dominate the situation if China decides as it appears to have in recent months to cut back on trade and investment. Russia is the only other power on whom Kazakhstan can rely.

            Some Kazakhs imagine that by opposing China they can cause Beijing to change course or win support in the West by appearing to align themselves with Washington against China, Shibutov says. But they are wrong. On the one hand, Kazakhstan can do no more than give China a headache and one Beijing can address by cutting back support.

            And on the other, it is the height of naivete to think that the US will be able to offer an alternative to China’s one road, one path initiative in Central Asia. Washington will have many more opportunities to do so in East Asia and South Asia and certainly won’t focus on Central Asia in general or Kazakhstan in particular.

            In short, Shibutov says, Kazakhs have very few alternative ways to harm themselves as much as getting into a fight with China. If they do, China will lose little; but Kazakhstan will lose many of the benefits and independence it gained by pursuing a more cooperative policy with Beijing.

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