Xi Jinping’s visit to Kazakhstan: Xi Jinping’s visit to Kazakhstan in the spotlight
China had closed its borders to international travel as part of its “dynamic zero” COVID-19 policy.
Diplomatic experts around the world have raised eyebrows as to the true intention of the Chinese leader’s visit to Kazakhstan.
His visit is seen as an attempt to assess the future prospects of existing Chinese enterprises and explore more areas of bilateral trade and economic cooperation in the oil-rich country which experienced turmoil in January this year.
China is one of the largest foreign investors in Kazakhstan. January protests in Kazakhstan had raised concerns about oil and gas deliveries to China.
Local Chinese companies had said they were prepared as the Kazakh government assured to take corresponding measures to ensure their safety.
China has mainly focused on trade and investment. The first wave of Chinese investment, before around 2014, was focused on the energy sector. Nearly 20% of China’s gas imports come from and transit through Kazakhstan. Rail freight volumes – mainly transiting through Kazakhstan between China and Europe – have grown impressively every year.
An often overlooked but increasingly central pillar of the BRI is Kazakhstan, which represents a second wave of investment from 2016, in manufacturing and heavy industry. Kazakhstan and China have reached agreements to move production capacity out of China and help Kazakhstan diversify its economy. Fifty-five joint projects worth US$28 billion are planned and have been partially implemented in metallurgy, engineering, chemicals and other sectors.
Skepticism of China in Kazakhstan is widespread due to China’s potential economic dominance and treatment of Muslims – including ethnic Kazakhs – in its Xinjiang region.
China’s large presence and Beijing’s campaign to ‘de-radicalize’ ethnic minorities in Xinjiang province contributed to anti-China sentiment in 2019. Kazakhs protested Chinese factory construction in three Kazakh cities and demanded a ban on an initiative which the Central Asian nation’s government hoped would bring investment and jobs, it may be recalled.
China is a major investor in Kazakhstan’s energy sector and buys oil and gas, but critics have accused Chinese companies of hiring too few local staff and paying them less than foreign workers. Several demonstrations were also organized in 2016 against a land reform project mainly motivated by anti-Chinese sentiment. People were angry at changes to the law that allow foreigners to rent agricultural land in Kazakhstan for 25 years. This law, approved in November 2015, allowed the sale or rental of land at auction. The reform was then abandoned.
Beijing’s “deradicalization” campaign in Xinjiang has been a source of tension. This is because a million people, including some ethnic Kazakhs, have ended up in prisons as well as in camps. There have been protests against China from time to time for different reasons.
In September, a new wave of anti-Chinese protests swept through Kazakh cities with the slogan “Cancel 55 Chinese projects!” “.
The Kazakh Foreign Ministry had given assurances that all industrial cooperation projects on the list were subject to state environmental impact assessment.
EcoForum President Vadim Nee had cited the Aarhus Convention and Kazakh law as indicating the need for public consultation on each project. He welcomed the government’s commitment to public participation and openness.
About half of the investments are in oil and gas, while the rest are in mining and ore processing, machinery manufacturing, power and food production.
Chinese business operations in Kazakhstan have long been the focus of public attention due to their numerous environmental violations and negative impact on people and the environment. An example of this is the pollution of the Aktobe region by the oil and gas production of CNPC-Aktobemunaigaz. The company is a subsidiary of China National Petroleum Corporation, CNPC.
Uncertainty remains about when and how Chinese companies will disclose the social and environmental impacts of the projects they fund.