Sunday, April 30, 2023

Moscow Seeks to Play Down Problems of Ethnic Kazakhs in China

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 26 – As in Soviet times, Moscow is seeking to downplay the problems ethnic Kazakhs face in China lest their problems lead to more outmigration of Kazakhs from China and increased tensions not only between Kazakhstan and China but also between Kazakhstan and Moscow.

            In the 1960s and 1970s, approximately 11,000 ethnic Kazakhs came from China to Kazakhstan every year, although Moscow seldom said anything about that. Since 1991, approximately one-third of the 1.1 million ethnic Kazakhs who returned to Kazakhstan from abroad came from China.

            So far this year, the share of ethnic Kazakhs who have returned to China is running at only half the rate it was, with 16.3 percent of all returnees to Kazakhstan coming from there. But that dip may be seasonal (

            However that may be, Moscow is concerned about signs that the situation of ethnic Kazakhs in China is having an increasing impact on Kazakhstan because of concerns that their co-nationals in China are being subject to intense pressure to learn Chinese and other forms of Sinification.

            The latest manifestation of this Russian concern comes from Moscow commentator Aleksey Baliyev who says that any fears Kazakhstan has are the product of Western efforts to drive a wedge between Kazakhstan, on the one hand, and China and Russia, on the other (

            Baliyev concedes that the ethnic Kazakhs in China are being subject to Sinification but argues that their language rights are nonetheless being protected and that Kazakhstan should not view what Beijing is doing as a threat to itself but rather as a means to further integrate the ethnic Kazakhs into Chinese society.

            That argument is unlikely to impress many Kazakhs, but it may impress many who analyze what is going on in Central Asia with regard to China – and, indeed, it is entirely possible that Baliyev and other Moscow writers are more concerned about their judgments than they are about those of the Kazakhs.

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