The head of China’s State Committee for Nationalities Affairs, Pan Yue, visited Kazakhstan from September 17-19 for talks with a variety of Kazakh government officials. Based on publicly available information, the topic of the Chinese government’s treatment of ethnic Kazakhs in the PRC did not come up during the discussions. Ethnic Kazakhs, along with other Muslim minority groups in China’s Xinjiang Province, including Kyrgyz and Uyghurs, are experiencing an ongoing government crackdown, with tens of thousands detained in “reeducation camps.” The focus of Pan’s meetings with Kazakh officials was on expanding inter-governmental contacts. Pan, who is also a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee, and Aida Balayeva, Kazakhstan’s Minister of Culture, signed a memorandum of understanding on cooperation between the two state agencies. Specifics of the memo were not immediately disclosed. While China’s crackdown in Xinjiang has sparked some protests in Kazakhstan, the government has soft-pedaled the issue in favor of expanding economic cooperation with China.
Kazakhstan’s Minister of Trade, Arman Shakkaliev, toured China in mid-September, trying to carve out new markets for Kazakh producers of consumer goods and agricultural products. The visit produced relatively modest results. During stops in Hong Kong and central Hubei Province, Shakkaliev also played up Kazakhstan’s potential as an investment destination. “We are ready to quickly work out on the ground all emerging issues on investment projects and related processes,” a ministry statement quoted Shakkaliev as saying at a meeting with Chinese executives in Wuhan. In response to the minister’s pitch, Chinese participants in the meeting said only that they intended to “identify promising projects.” One concrete result achieved during the tour was a $28-million agreement on the export of Kazakh flour, egg noodles, vegetable oil and other food items to China.
Kazakhstan and China are teaming up to tackle earthquakes. Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Emergency Situations has signed a deal with Chinese state agencies to establish five seismic monitoring stations in Kazakhstan to provide potential early warning and improve response capabilities. No information was immediately available on the locations of the facilities, which will be fully funded by China. The arrangement is not the first extraterritorial scientific entity in Central Asia that Beijing is bankrolling. In early summer, China announced it would operate a “climate monitoring” station in Tajikistan, near the Afghan border.
Pavel Sorokin, Russia’s first deputy minister of energy, cited unspecified problems as hampering efforts to supply gas to China via Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. In an interview published by Rossiyskaya Gazeta on September 12, Sorokin said, “It is still premature to talk about transit.” He added that “active” negotiations with Central Asian partners were continuing.
The Bank of China appears to be exploring the possibility of entering the Uzbek financial sector. A Bank of China delegation visited Tashkent earlier in September for discussions with top officials of Uzbekistan’s Central Bank. During that meeting, Bank of China representatives sought information on “the capabilities of the Uzbek banking system and legal documents on gaining access to it,” according to a statement issued by the Central Bank.
Uzbekistan wants to be a foodie destination for Chinese tourists. The Uzbek Embassy in Beijing recently hosted an event to which representatives of about 100 Chinese travel agencies were invited. The guests got to sample a variety of Uzbek national dishes, as well as enjoy a performance of a song-and-dance troupe. The embassy event also called attention to the fact that the 25th anniversary meeting of the United Nations World Tourism Organization will be held in Samarkand in October. The Madrid-based UNWTO promotes responsible and sustainable tourism.
A Chinese soft-power initiative is underwriting visits by Chinese ophthalmologists to Kyrgyzstan to perform 600 cataract operations, the Vecherniy Bishkek media outlet reported. Leading the visiting medical team is Bao Yongzhen, one of China’s top specialists and deputy director of the Department of Ophthalmology at Peking University People’s Hospital. The visit is part of a Chinese government program announced in 2022 covering member countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).