The unveiling by Xi Jinping in Kazakhstan in 2013 of the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB), subsequently part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), recognized Kazakhstan’s critical location as the vast transport corridor connecting China to Europe. Within the growing bilateral strategic partnership framework, president Nazarbaev aligned Kazakhstan’s developmental vision Nurly zhol (Bright Future) with BRI to promote Kazakhstan’s own industrial development and economic modernization goals. Extending their bilateral relationship within the framework of BRI, Kazakhstan and China have deepened cooperation in 4 key areas: transport infrastructure, energy security, joint industrial production with emphasis on high-tech goods, and establishment of a regional financial centre. The widening of cooperation with investments by China’s state corporations and funding agencies have also led to growing social unrest about the lack of transparency and raised questions about the long-term benefits of BRI to Kazakhstan. China’s continuing repression and surveillance of Muslims in Xinjiang – which directly affects Chinese Kazakhs who have relocated to Kazakhstan as well as their kin in Xinjiang – portends to delegitimise China’s vision of establishing infrastructural connectivity to promote people-to-people ties. The slump in energy prices due to the drop in global demand for primary commodities and effects of Covid further limit the gains anticipated by Kazakhstan by aligning its developmental vision with BRI. As Kazakhstan’s ruling elites depend on China to deliver economic development to enhance their legitimacy, they are also faced with growing popular discontent with their inability to take a strong stance against China.
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