Kazakhstan and China: strengthening friendship and partnership in a new era

NUR-SULTAN – Beibut Atamkulov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, gave an exclusive interview to Kazakhstanskaya Pravda newspaper explaining the results of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s Sept. 11-12 state visit to China. Here’s the translation.

L-R: Chinese President Xi Jinping and Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. Photo credit: akorda.kz.

Please tell us about the state visit with the President to China.


This visit was historical, and built upon the tradition of bilateral meetings initiated by the First President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev. On the basis of the previously reached agreements, this visit was meat to open a new stage of Kazakh-Chinese relations.

As is well known, this year China is coming up to its 70-year milestone. In turn, Kazakhstan is preparing to mark the 30th anniversary of its modern development. Both countries are approaching these anniversaries stronger and more confident, prepared for new horizons of friendship, strategic partnership and joint growth.

The visit of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to China included numerous meetings with representatives from Chinese political, business and academic circles. The most significant moment of the programme of the visit was his meeting with President Xi Jinping that took place in a very warm and friendly atmosphere.

The key topics discussed by the heads of state included the most pressing issues for the two countries.

It is worth singling out topics such as the connection of Nurly Zhol programme and the Belt and Road Initiative, the implementation of joint projects, cooperation in the financial sector, expanding bilateral trade, and developing transit and transport potential.

The presidents also compared notes on the main issues of the current international agenda.

I must highlight that this meeting between the leaders of Kazakhstan and China was the second this year. Last June, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and Xi Jinping held bilateral talks in Bishkek on the sidelines of the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.


You mentioned the meeting of the head of state with Chinese academic circles. What is the significance of such an event for bilateral relations?


The President’s stay in Beijing was part of a two-day state visit to China. It was marked not only by high-level meetings. Notably, he gave a speech on bilateral relations to Chinese academic circles at the leading think tank of China, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The message of the President’s statement was that Kazakhstan is developing dynamically, and new opportunities are consistently presenting themselves. It was important for the President to present a vision of the prospects for the development of our country and Kazakh-Chinese relations.

Representatives of various Chinese think tanks attended that event at the academy. They prepare for the Chinese leadership analytical estimates and forecasts for Kazakhstan, its development and potential areas of bilateral cooperation. In addition, Chinese scientists and experts, ambassadors from the CIS countries to China, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Secretary General, representatives of the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, the Publicity Department and the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, amongst others were, invited to a meeting at the academy.

Our President’s statement on modern Kazakhstan and its initiatives was, thus, presented to a highly professional audience.

After all, it is very important that the understanding of our country and its activities abroad is objective and accurate. Is it possible to find a better source for such an understanding than to directly listen to and engage with the leader of the partner state?

The direct dialogue with political-forming circles has become an important component of the visit in terms of both image building and establishing means of cooperation between Kazakhstan and China.


As part of the coverage of the state visit, it has been emphasized that this trip takes place in the run-up to China’s 70th anniversary. Why is this important and what is the significance of this anniversary date?


Yes, the visit took place against a backdrop of great historical processes. The modernisation of the country or the construction of Chinese socialism, in which China has been engaged for 40 years, is framed by truly major world-class achievements.

Without exaggeration, China has become one of the largest and leading economies in the world. Its share in world GDP now exceeds 18 percent.

Just imagine, in 1990, China’s weight in the global economy was only 2 percent; today our eastern neighbour has the world’s second economy.

China is a very popular question for the study of a developing country. And this is understandable; in the 21st century it represents a striking and vast phenomenon of the rapid breakthrough of a developing country, as they say, from the “third world to the first”.

In China, innovations and the latest technologies are rapidly being introduced, and investments in science are increasing. Today, the country ranks first in the world for the number of applications for scientific patents, overtaking the traditional leaders in technology and innovation.

Thus, modern China has entered a completely new path of development. It is one of the three largest international investors, along with other developed countries of the world.

Today, the model of Chinese development is changing.

From the “world’s factory”, as it has long been perceived, and the largest exporter, it is turning into a major consumer of goods and services. Simultaneously, there is emphasis on stimulating domestic demand and the manufacture of more high-tech products.

Among other things, China, with a population of 1.4 billion people, is currently the largest consumer market in the world, indicating powerful potential.

This is facilitated by an increase in the size of the middle class and a systematic reduction in poverty. The opportunities for economic cooperation with China, especially given Kazakhstan’s scales, are virtually unlimited.

Throughout its five-thousand-year history, China has always been able to surprise. This is happening now. There is a good expression amongst experts: “China is changing faster than our perception of China.” It succinctly reflects the vigorous growth of this large country.

For Kazakhstan, these tremendous changes are of particular importance; we are a friendly neighbour and strategic partner of China.

Accordingly, the new opportunities found in the development of modern China are an opportunity for the future growth of Kazakhstan. We just need to use them correctly.


The text of the joint statement following the summit talks indicates that Kazakhstan and China will continue to develop a comprehensive strategic partnership. In practice, what does this mean?


Yes, the official wording in the leaders’ joint statement states that in the new era, Kazakhstan and China will develop their relations in the context of “an eternal comprehensive strategic partnership in the spirit of mutual benefit, unshakable friendship, mutual trust and comprehensive cooperation in front of common challenges”.

Here I would like to explain in more detail what this really means.

Firstly, why is it “eternal”? We must start with the fact that Kazakhstan and China are neighbours, we are destined for interaction through our geography. As recorded in historical chronicles, the peoples of the Great Steppe and Celestial Empire have lived side by side for several thousand years. We strive to continue living as good neighbours in the future.

Secondly, consider the “comprehensive strategic partnership”. For 27 years, relations between Kazakhstan and China have had a broad and balanced character. The two countries are engaged in a constructive political dialogue, work closely in all sectors of the economy and develop humanitarian cooperation. Thus, there are almost no areas in which we do not interact. Kazakhstan and China are very important for each other, as neighbours and partners, which is why our relations are known as strategic.

Thirdly, “the spirit of mutual benefit, unshakable friendship, mutual trust” reflects Kazakhstan and China’s mutual respect for each other’s national interests, and confirm the fixed inviolability of borders and the principle of territorial integrity. This, in turn, creates a trusting atmosphere for the further development of equal partnerships.

Finally, a “comprehensive cooperation before common challenges” means that our countries will continue to work together to strengthen stability and maintain regional security, including through organisations such as the UN, Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) and the SCO.

Our countries intend to closely cooperate in international and regional affairs, to promote together peace, stability and prosperity in the region and the world.

At this new stage of bilateral cooperation, Kazakhstan and China reaffirmed the fundamental conditions under which mutually beneficial relations have been developing. This is essential for moving forward together.


What was the economic agenda of the presidential visit to China?


Over the years, economic relations and interaction between our countries have become dynamic and diverse, both in quantitative and industrial terms. We really have achieved a lot.

But, despite all the vast opportunities, it must be said that the potential for economic cooperation between Kazakhstan and China has not yet been fully realised.

Therefore, each high level visit reveals another new facet of bilateral economic relations and gives the green light to the realisation of further opportunities. This visit was no different.

A total of ten agreements and other official papers were signed during the visit aimed at developing bilateral cooperation on a wide range of issues.

Among the documents signed was the memorandum of understanding between the two governments on the implementation of the Cooperation Plan for the synchronising of the Nurly Zhol New Economic Policy and the construction of the Silk Road Economic Belt.

On this basis, both parties plan to expand cooperation in the field of trade in the direction of diversifying the structure of trade between the two countries, searching for new sources of trade growth, including cross-border e-commerce, developing innovative cooperation, as well as stimulating trade in high value-added products.

The implementation of the joint plan will further strengthen the interaction between Kazakhstan and China in international freight transport, logistics, industry, finance, energy, agriculture, information technology and space.

All these are priority areas for the development of Kazakhstan’s economy.

Further construction of the 21st Century Silk Road is of particular importance for Kazakhstan. After all, six years ago it was in our capital that the Chinese leader voiced his initiative, so all the successes and difficulties of its implementation are automatically projected onto our country.

From a practical point of view, thanks to the construction of transport corridors together with China, we have opened direct and quick access to the markets of all of Eurasia at once. For example, we immediately gained access to three oceans – the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian. Just think about it!

Landlocked Kazakhstan, which has always dreamed of having access to the sea, has now been connected to three oceans and three centres of global economic growth, with a potential of 65% of global GDP and a capacity of more than four billion people.

This phenomenon is still not fully realised by our scholars, business people and society as a whole. But it is already obvious that the union of the Kazakh and Chinese development programmes yielded a truly multiplicative effect for both Kazakhstan and China.


We can say that a comprehensive strategic partnership with China brings our country significant economic benefits and new opportunities for development…


Judge for yourself. China is one of Kazakhstan’s largest foreign trade partners. It accounts for 15.7 percent of our total trade turnover.

China has invested roughly $20 billion in joint projects and currently ranks fourth in terms of foreign direct investment in the Kazakh economy. And this investment cooperation will only expand.

This is very important for Kazakhstan, which is diversifying its economy. It is well known that the global economy is experiencing uncertainty; investment opportunities have narrowed significantly in international financial markets.

In this situation, investment cooperation with China is a great opportunity for Kazakhstan to attract capital, technology and to continue the economic growth of our country.

The head of state personally promotes this cooperation, meeting with the captains of Chinese industry. During his visit to China, President Tokayev took part in a roundtable with local business circles.

In his statement, he invited Chinese companies to work in Kazakhstan with the development of 5G networks, “smart cities”, big data, blockchain, tourism and agribusiness. It must be said that Chinese entrepreneurs expressed great interest in developing business in Kazakhstan.

Moreover, China itself is a ready-made market in which you need to be able to operate. The state creates all the necessary legal conditions for this. A number of documents signed during the visit to China are dedicated to this.

For example, our Ministry of Trade and Integration has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Commerce of China. I am sure this will open up more opportunities to work on the export of Kazakhstan’s products to the Chinese market.

We must understand that oil, gas and other raw materials will someday run out. Therefore, it is important for us to develop the potential of the agricultural sector and promote our agricultural products to foreign markets.

Our manufacturers need to gain a foothold in the growing Chinese market. Under the framework of this visit, relevant documents were signed with the Chinese government by the Ministry of Agriculture of Kazakhstan.

In particular, these are the protocols on inspection, quarantine and veterinary, and sanitary requirements for dairy products, woollen raw materials, and flax exported from Kazakhstan to China.

In fact, Kazakhstan has every opportunity to become a major supplier of organic food. Exports to China will allow us to develop our business in the countryside and develop a full production cycle in the agricultural sector.

In modern China, meat consumption is growing steadily. This presents opportunities for livestock farming in Kazakhstan – from increasing livestock through to meat production and processing for export.

There are many such examples; it all depends on the aspiration and activity of Kazakhstan’s producers themselves. Moreover, China itself creates such business opportunities.

I would like to take this opportunity to mention that during the talks, the Chinese government invited Kazakhstan to be an honoured guest and participant in the 2nd China International Import Exhibition, which is to be held in November in Shanghai.


Given the agreements reached, the practical significance of the state visit of the President to China is difficult to overestimate. What kind of bilateral relations between Kazakhstan and China can be seen in the future, taking into account the transition to a new era?


You are right. During the meetings, issues were discussed in almost all areas of cooperation, and a number of important agreements were reached.

We can confidently say that the state visit of the head of state to China was successful and productive.

Overall, now Kazakhstan and China are at a new stage in their state development; we will see national revival and deepening of interstate relations.

The talks that have taken place allow us to make an important conclusion – our countries maintain full mutual understanding and respect, largely adhere to similar approaches and share positions on issues on the international and regional agendas.

Kazakhstan and China also highly appreciate each other’s current achievements and support the aspirations of both countries to move to a new level of political and economic development.

In particular, the Chinese government highly appreciates the significant achievements in state development and the implementation of an independent and peaceful foreign policy that Kazakhstan has achieved over the years of independence under the wise leadership of the First President, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Kazakhstan, in turn, appreciates the major achievements in the development and construction of China, the building of Chinese socialism and the important role of China in the world economy and international affairs.

It is important that both countries see each other as reliable partners, a source of profitable opportunities and jointly work to achieve even greater results. It is this approach that will give rise to synergy.

According to the results of the talks, the leaders of Kazakhstan and China reaffirmed their commitment to maintaining a positive tradition of close contacts at the highest levels.

Indeed, a close and regular political dialogue creates a good basis for friendly bilateral relations and will allow one to realise all potential opportunities into concrete results.

It is also important that in the new period, when Kazakh-Chinese relations are approaching the symbolic mark of three decades, both countries recognise each others potential and are ready to work together to further develop and strengthen cooperation.

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