Bulat Sultanov: "We Shouldn’t Be Afraid of Neighbors, but Respect Them"

An interview with the Director of Kazakhstani Institute for Strategic Studies, PhD in history science, professor Bulat Sultanov. Our interlocutor shares with his view on Chinese threat, the secret of stability in Kazakhstan and further prospects for development of the relations between the People’s Republic of China and Kazakhstan.

In Search for Compromise

- The subject of “Chinese threat” is being exaggerated in our society especially actively. It is used by everybody: national patriots, official opposition, escaped oligarchs and criminals. How real is this threat?

- The Executive Secretary of the Agriculture Ministry of Kazakhstan Evgenij Aman once said that if there would have been no Chinese, they should have been invented. Relations with neighbor-states are the priority №1 for any state. For example, Germany and France carried on war with each other during five centuries and eventually came to a simple and wise conclusion – cooperation and partnership is better then war!  That is why starting from the establishment of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949 the leaders of these states have paid official mutual visits. And these states were the initiators and then the locomotives of the first integration union in the world – the European Union.

Regarding Kazakhstan its priority are the relations with territorial neighbors – Russia, China and states of Central Asia, and only then with the USA, the European Union, states of Asian-Pacific region and of Islamic World.

China is of practical interest for us regarding economic, political and cultural-humanitarian points of view. Agree that the Soviet Union was a great power, but in course of its existence it still hadn’t managed to establish relations with China. Let’s remember the events of 1969 along Soviet-Chinese boarder – in Damanski Peninsula, in Zhalanashkol district of Semipalatinsk region. Those where bloody clashes with multiple human casualties from the both sides. That is why after we gained independence for us one of the priorities includes development of relations with China in a new format. And those disputable territorial-border issues, which the Soviet Union didn’t manage to solve, first Kazakhstan and then Russia has regulated with Beijing. In due time the President Nursultan Nazarbayev was criticized by the opposition for that we’ve regulated the border issue with China on the ground of mutual concessions and wise compromise. But this squall of critics reduced only after Russia solved territorial-border dispute with China again on the ground of mutual concessions and compromises.

By the way, Kazakhstan regulated territorial-border problems also with Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. None of the states of Central Asia has solved this problem – probably because they don’t have such farsighted and pragmatic leader as N. Nazarbayev. Leaders of these states have never managed to achieve compromise. And now moment has gone. Border conflicts in the region glow and can flash any moment. The most dangerous is that radical representatives of political elites of Central Asia states, which haven’t solved domestic social-economic problems, are able not to resist the temptation to turn the situation into the flow of interethnic or interstate conflict with unpredictable consequences.

When abroad Kazakhstan is observed as an island of stability in unstable region this is mostly explained by that our country has no territorial-border problems with any of neighbor states.
- But this only one of the reasons of stability maintenance in Kazakhstan...

- Naturally. The second step is reduction of military presence within border with China. This issue we solved in the frameworks of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, established in April of 1996 initially as the “Shanghai Five”. So that already on April 24th 1997 they signed an intergovernmental treaty on mutual reduction of military forces by the borders of China – from one side, and Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan – from another.

For example: according to foreign experts, at the moment in Kazakhstani-Chinese border we have four motorized infantry brigades. In its turn, as well according to foreign experts, only within the territory of Xinjiang Provincial Military District (headquarters in Urumqi city) three motoinfantry division mountain infantry division as well as artillery, aviation and other units are housed,. Except for that, Lanzhou Military District, deployed against Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan possesses two full-value combined-arms armies.

Compare and you’ll understand, the meaning of the regulation of relations with China in the beginning of 1990-s.  And for us, extremely significant was the decision adopted in course of plenary session of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in 2003, which specified that Central Asia is strategic rear for China . This means, that China is interested for everything to be quiet and calm in its rear.

However, if there is rear there should be front. For China strategic task is the solution of the problem of country association. That is why his main competitors on the opposite are interested for China rear to be not that calm. In this respect they shall constantly raise an issue on violation of ethnic, religious minorities’ rights, inter-confessional conflicts, etc. in Xinjiang-Uygur autonomous region and in Tibet, as well as in other regions of China.

In this case we are interested for China to remain stable and successful state. We shall accomplish this policy on legal ground of bilateral agreements, including the Agreement on Good Neighborhood, Friendship and Cooperation between Kazakhstan and China, signed in 2002, Common Declaration between Kazakhstan and China on Further Development of Comprehensive Cooperation in XXI Century, signed in 1999.
Expansion or Cooperation?

- How serious in this sense is the factor of separatism in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region?

- We ground on the necessity of observance of liabilities undertaken by our state and China, resulting from bilateral treaties and agreements. In particular Kazakhstan and China develop bilateral relations, grounding on the principles of mutual respect of sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual nonaggression, nonintervention into domestic affairs of each other, equality and mutual benefit, peaceful co-existence. Also Kazakhstan and China undertook the liabilities to fight national separatism in any forms, not to allow accomplishment by any organization or force separatist activity directed against another party.

Except for that, the main task of the SCO is the struggle “against the three evils” – religious extremism, terrorism and separatism And exactly this task unites Kazakhstan, China and Russia within the frameworks of the SCO.
- But still, what about economic expansion of China to Central Asia and Kazakhstan?

- As known today, China turns into one of the leading powers in the world. According to some forecasts by 2020 in the hierarchy on GDP level China shall take the first place with 23% of world GDP. The USA shall find itself on the second place with 18%. And further with great delay comes India with 8.4%, Russia with 3.2%, etc. But one shouldn’t forget, that China manufactures its goods on western-industrial basis. That is why from technological view China will not be able to catch up with the leading states of West in prospect.
- Which course of events would be beneficial for our country?

- Kazakhstan as a state, bordering China, is interested for it to be strong and flourishing state. Now China solves the most significant social-economic problems, related with that Beijing has chosen its way of development combining planned administrative-command socialist economy with the elements of market economy. This is quite complicated and unpredictable task.

China has accumulated multiple unsolved social-economic, political, national problems. I’ll specify one of them. At the moment the process of movement of countrymen to cities promotes. As per evaluations of experts, we are talking about 400 million people. They should be trained city professions, then provided with job, accommodation, medical service and social guarantees. We in Kazakhstan also face the same migration troubles and understand how hard it is to solve them with no pain and in short period. But our scales grow dim in comparison with great Chinese domestic migration. That is why many experts don’t exclude possible exacerbation of internal domestic situation in China and general national crisis.

At the moment, on the one hand China is a serious and menacing competitor of West in trade-economic sphere, but from the other, weak and Lord forbid collapsing China shall be the kind of threat the scale of which is hardly imaginable. Remember, what happened after the collapse of once powerful Soviet Union. For us, as territorial neighbors of China it is beneficial for Beijing to deal with its internal tasks.

Alarming “scares” regarding Chinese threat for Kazakhstan are spread by that part of expert community and those opposition activists, working for west grants, living abroad or those whose children and grandchildren study abroad .

Observing the policy of Beijing in western regions of China and in Central Asia, I remember the answer of Russian Chancellor Prince Gorchakov after Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871 on the question what shall Russia do. So Gorchakov replies: “Russia is concentrating”. Now we see China concentrating along the borders with Central Asia. Four modern autobahns were laid to the borders of the region, a powerful logistic center is being constructed in Khorgos, a railway line is being constructed from Khorgos to Zhetygen. These all prove that Beijing is getting prepared to the trade breakthrough into the market of Near and Middle East and the European Union with transit through Central Asia.

And here, talking without bias, the interests of China and the states of our region coincide. I think that the establishment of transport and trade infrastructure in Central Asia with the help of China is beneficial for Kazakhstan. As known the European Union undertook several attempts to connect Europe with Central Asia and go further to China. But it didn’t work out due to the lack of money and involvement.

Now thanks to partnership with China we finalize the construction of oil pipeline “West Kazakhstan – West China”, we have piped one gas line “Central Asia – West China”, we are finalizing the second gas pipeline and construct transcontinental highway “West China – West Kazakhstan” with the exit through Russia to the states of the European Union.

When oppositionists, including those accommodated in Vienna, criticize our government for cooperation with China, I want to remind that earlier all these critics repeatedly wondered, why Kazakhstani oil goes mainly to Russian market. Please, now we have wiped off the monopoly of Russian companies for Kazakhstani oil transportation – our oil goes to China, tankers deliver it to the pipeline “Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan”, as well as to Iran.

We should normally treat that China becomes a big consumer of energy sources of Kazakhstan and other states of Central Asia. For us it is very beneficial, as the influence of Russia a monopolist in our energy resources consumption shall reduce. Except for that, the list of oil producing companies in the shelf of Caspian Sea shall change, which means that dependence from western companies shall also reduce. Naturally, within these conditions West shall promote more the subject of Chinese threat.
Without Complexes

- Is there an alternative to Chinese goods in Kazakhstan?

- Professor Konstantin Syrojezhkin a leading Kazakhstani expert on China, said once during one conference: " Just imagine that Chinese goods shall disappear from the market, what’s then? ". His opponent replied: “Then we would import goods from the states of Near and Middle East”. And immediately he heard a comment of one Chinese participant of the Forum: “Chinese goods also dominate there”. By the current level of purchasing capacity of the most part of Kazakhstani people European goods shall be available only for reach people due to their high costs.
This means that we should correctly and with no bias evaluate the situation, our financial abilities and …use Chinese goods without complexes..

By the way I’m against for Kazakhstan to enter the World Trade Organization now, as the three main WTO principles – free circulation of goods, funds and labor. And when some experts talk about Chinese trade-economic expansion, but at the same time promote sooner entrance of Kazakhstan into the World Trade Organization, this, kindly speaking, is not logic. As after the WTO joining, first of all the labor force, goods and money shall flow into our state from China – the WTO member. It’s easy to predict that our small and medium business shall simply collapse.
Sooner joining of Kazakhstan to the WTO is first of all beneficial for transnational corporations, working in our country and which are interested in easy export of our raw materials. To my mind, we can join the WTO only after the accomplishment of the program of boosted industrial and innovative development, designed under the initiative of the head of the state. And this shall happen not earlier than 2020.

Recently I’ve visited the Almaty factory of heavy machine building and I was amazed by heroic labor of workers, engineers and technicians, who have managed to preserve their enterprise. The factory equipped with the equipment of 70-s of pervious century, manufactures goods for foreign companies of heavy industry, oil processing industry.
But agree that 40 years old machines have already outdated. And we have to produce domestic goods that would be able to compete with foreign ones. That is when we’ll be ready to enter the WTO.

- How shall the relations between Kazakhstan and China develop further?

- Very significant is that China to a greater extent comparing with western states is ready to cooperate with Kazakhstan to rehabilitate the enterprises of processing industries, in particular within oil-chemical industry. Experts, declaring about Chinese threat, do not want to uncover the whole truth, which is that for example the share of China in domestic oil infrastructure is much less than the share of the Netherlands or the USA. In general in 2919 the share of Chinese investments into our economy comprised only 3.9% from the total scope of direct investments. According to the Ministry of Industry and New Technologies of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the presence of China within oil producing industry of Kazakhstan comprises 2.5% and by 2020 it shall reduce up to 8.9%.

To compare: China invests into the states of Latin America 47 billion dollars, into Africa – 40 billions, into Russia – 25, into Australia – 15 billions. These countries fight for Chinese investments, and we suspiciously often hear anti-Chinese alarming slogans. Why? Just as some escaped political activists, living along the shore of Danube and Themes, can’t make their minds to the fact that their train has gone.
Translated by EuroDialogueXXI from CA Monitor