The last Russian troops returned home from Kazakhstan on Wednesday after suppressing violent protests in the Central Asian country. But for Kazakhstan’s other big neighbor, the trouble has only just begun.
For China, the crisis in Kazakhstan presented the latest challenge to its cautious approach to foreign intervention. A principle of Beijing’s foreign policy is non-interference in other countries’ domestic affairs – a position that has repeatedly clashed with the need to protect its growing global interests.
In Kazakhstan, China is a major economic presence as the country’s largest trading partner and a major investor in infrastructure projects. But when a political crisis has broken out on January 2, with protests soon turning violent, Beijing apparently stood aside.
It was only a week later, after the bloody oppression of the unrest, that Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, has publicly announced that Beijing is ready to increase “law enforcement and security cooperation” with Kazakhstan and help resist external interference.
Mukhtar Tleuberdi, Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister, indicated Tuesday that Beijing may have offered early security assistance, but was rejected by Kazakh authorities who argued that there was no legal basis for accepting troops sent from countries other than the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russia-led bloc to which Kazakhstan does not belong.
Since China insists that any security involvement abroad should take place at the request of the government concerned, it would have excluded Beijing.
Zhang Xin, an expert on Russia and Central Asia at East China Normal University, added: “I do not 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 that it has shown the relevance of the CSTO in mobilizing traditional military forces to manage stability. But the opinion here is very divided on whether it is good for China. ”
The CSTO was not considered a significant alliance until its intervention in Kazakhstan.
Several scholars studying Chinese security involvement 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 have to [ . . . ] not only increases our ability to respond to such blows and challenges internally, but also pays close attention to them in our neighborhood, ”said Shen Yi, a professor of international politics at Fudan University in Shanghai, in a video. blog.
“Realizing not only China’s own domestic security and stability, but also helping other countries deal with these kinds of threats and challenges, should become a whole new phase and a whole new important strategic task.”
For more than a decade, China’s foreign policy experts have been debating how to adapt it non-interference mantra to the realities of a globalizing world, and Beijing’s increasingly prominent role in it.
Although China fears that admission to intervention elsewhere runs the risk of undermining its own sovereignty and the Communist Party’s power by inviting the interference of others, the government has experimented with security involvement abroad.
In 2005, Beijing supported a UN push to allow external intervention in cases of genocide or war crimes. China’s increasingly global trade and investment ties have also encouraged it to mediate crises and become the most active participant in UN peacekeeping missions. In 2015, its navy withdrew 225 Chinese citizens 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 to Xinjiang, where Beijing is suppressing the indigenous Muslim Uyghur population.
Last month, Beijing promised to help train police in the Solomon Islands, following riots in the impoverished island nation in the Pacific.
But Beijing’s preliminary foreign security raids also came at a price.
“China’s peacekeeping experience informs their evolving approach to broader foreign security engagement,” said Courtney Fung, an associate professor at Macquarie University.
“China maintains a positive public record for its peace activities. However, China’s recent deployment of combat troops in Mali and southern Sudan, where Chinese troops were attacked and killed, reinforces China’s view that disputed consent and militarized, domestic swamps are dangerous conditions for intervention. “
In Kazakhstan, China embraces Russia’s narrative to call the protests a color revolution fueled by Western powers and to blame the violence on foreign terrorists. But some of China’s most experienced experts in Central Asia dispute that account.
“I believe that this incident in Kazakhstan was mainly caused by domestic inconsistencies, we should not take external factors too seriously,” Yang Shu, head of the Central Asia Research Institute, told Russian news agency Sputnik.
Zhang, of 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 bring regional stability. promote and ensure. ” The SCO is a regional body founded by China and focuses on cooperation against terrorism.
“But the Chinese state is not quite ready to put on this kind of traditional military hat, as Russia does,” Zhang added.