Kazakhstan crisis challenges Beijing’s reluctance to interfere abroad

The last Russian troops returned from Kazakhstan on Wednesday after suppressing violent protests in the Central Asian country. But for Kazakhstan’s other big neighbour, the troubles have only just begun.

For China, the crisis in Kazakhstan presented the latest challenge to its cautious approach to foreign interventions. A tenet of Beijing’s foreign policy is non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs – a stance that has repeatedly come into conflict with the need to protect its growing global interests.

In Kazakhstan, China is an outsized economic presence as the country’s largest trading partner and a major investor in infrastructure projects. But when a political crisis erupted on January 2, with protests that quickly turned violent, Beijing appeared to sidelined itself.

It was only a week later, after the bloody suppression of the unrest, that Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, publicly announced that Beijing was ready to strengthen “law enforcement cooperation and of security” with Kazakhstan and to help oppose any outside interference.

Mukhtar Tleuberdi, Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan, indicated Tuesday that Beijing may have offered security support early on, but was rebuffed by Kazakh authorities who argued there was no legal basis for accepting troops from countries other than the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russian-led bloc to which Kazakhstan belongs.

As China insists that any overseas security engagement must take place at the request of the relevant government, this would have stalled Beijing.

Police patrol the Sino-Tajik border this month © A Ran/Costfoto/Future Publishing via Getty Images

Zhang Xin, a Russia and Central Asia scholar at East China Normal University, added, “I don’t read [Wang’s message] as a very clear offer that China will send a security presence to Kazakhstan.

“There is a strong consensus that Russia’s approach has been effective, and has shown the relevance of the CSTO in mobilizing traditional military forces to manage stability. But opinion is very divided here as to whether it is good for China.

The CSTO had not been considered a significant alliance until its intervention in Kazakhstan.

Several academics who study Chinese security engagement in Central Asia for the government declined to comment. But some Chinese analysts have argued that Beijing could play a more active role in Kazakhstan.

“We must [ . . . ] increase our ability to respond to such blows and challenges not only internally, but also to pay close attention to them in our neighborhood,” Shen Yi, a professor of international politics at Fudan University in Shanghai, said in a video. Blog.

“Not only realizing China’s domestic security and stability, but also helping other countries deal with such threats and challenges should become a completely new phase and an entirely new important strategic task.”

For more than a decade, China’s foreign policy experts have debated how to adapt its mantra of noninterference to the realities of a globalized world and Beijing’s growing role in it. .

Although China fears that agreeing to intervene elsewhere risks undermining its own sovereignty and the power of the Communist Party by inviting others to intervene, the government has experimented with overseas security engagement.

In 2005, Beijing backed a push by the UN to allow outside intervention in cases of genocide or war crimes. China’s increasingly global trade and investment ties have also encouraged it to mediate crises and it has become the most active participant in UN peacekeeping missions. In 2015, its navy extracted 225 Chinese nationals and 600 foreigners from Yemen.

More recently, China has set up paramilitary outposts in Tajikistan to stem the flow of militants, weapons and drugs across its borders with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan into Xinjiang, where Beijing is cracking down. the indigenous Muslim Uyghur population.

Beijing last month pledged to help train police in the Solomon Islands, following riots in the impoverished Pacific island nation.

But Beijing’s half-hearted forays into foreign security have also come at a cost.

“China’s peacekeeping experience informs its evolving approach to broader foreign security engagement,” said Courtney Fung, associate professor at Macquarie University.

“China maintains a positive public record for its peacekeeping activities. However, recent experiences of China’s combat troop deployment in Mali and South Sudan, where Chinese troops have been attacked and killed, reinforce China’s view that contested consent and militarized internal quagmires are unsafe conditions for operations.

In Kazakhstan, China has embraced Russia’s narrative that calls the protests a color revolution fomented by Western powers and blames the violence on foreign terrorists. But some of China’s most seasoned Central Asian experts dispute that narrative.

“I think this incident in Kazakhstan was mainly caused by internal contradictions, we shouldn’t take external factors too seriously,” Yang Shu, director of the Central Asia Research Institute, told Reuters. Russian news agency Sputnik.

Zhang, from East China Normal University, said: “Some see the crisis in Kazakhstan as an opportunity for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to show its relevance, and for China to show its ability and interest in helping to promote and guarantee regional stability”. The SCO is a regional body founded by China and focused on counter-terrorism cooperation.

“But the Chinese state is not quite ready to don this kind of traditional military hat, as Russia does,” Zhang added.

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