The Chinese foreign policy priorities in Kyrgyzstan

Alchynbek Meimanov


The Chinese foreign policy priorities in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan is a state of the Central Asian region. Its situation has important geopolitical and geo-economic significance as a bridge connecting West and East, as well as North and South. At the present time Kyrgyzstan is in a period between a communistic past and a democratic future politically, economically, and ethno-historically. Kyrgyzstan, as with the other states of Central Asia, is a place where four civilizations converge: European, mediated through Russia, Arabic-Muslim, Persian, and Chinese. On the one hand this has created favorable conditions for the development of bilateral and multilateral cooperation in different areas; on the other hand it underlines the necessity for a flexible and balanced foreign policy. Kyrgyzstan is rapidly developing diplomatic and other relations with the majority of countries of the world. The KR receives practical direction and comprehensive maintenance from cooperation with global and regional organizations. Foreign policy activities of the Kyrgyz Republic are enriching.

Bilateral diplomacy is an important tool for implementing foreign policy. For that, the crucial necessity is a varied approach in selection of the directions with the best prospects, that meet the cultural, ethno-historical, geopolitical and geo-economic characteristics of the country, that allow pursuit the national interests of the Kyrgyz Republic with maximum effectiveness. To provide for the territorial integrity of the Kyrgyz Republic, as well as its security and economic development, attention to the Central Asian region is of high priority.

Kyrgyzstan is a part of the "Eurasian civilization" that was formed around Russia that has geopolitical, economic, cultural, spiritual and linguistic dimensions. The Interlocking interests of Kyrgyzstan and Russia predestine a high level of political partnership. Strengthening military-political cooperation with the Russian Federation is an important element of Kyrgyzstan's security. Vital economic interests connect the country with Russia as well. All of this underlines the need to build a strategic partnership with Russia.

Relations with The People's Republic of China are a very important aspect of the foreign policy of Kyrgyzstan. The priority given to China is determined by its growing influence in world and regional affairs, its significant economic and demographic potential, as well as its geographical proximity to Kyrgyzstan. Development of good-neighbor relations with China is an essential component of Kyrgyzstan's security, an important condition for development of communication to the South and East, as well as development of a mutually beneficial trading partnership.

Political cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and China during this period was characterized by positive interaction and stable dynamics of visits at various levels. This has gradually led to an atmosphere of mutual understanding and trust. The trade turnover has been steadily growing; a new transportation infrastructure was created, while the old one has been improved; and cooperation between the two countries in other fields has also reached a significant level. Bishkek and Beijing have actively cooperated in international and regional organizations, among which the most important was the Shanghai Five, which was later re-organized into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

Most topical issues between the two countries, which hampered bilateral interaction and, to a large extent, the continued progressive development of relations, were settled during the period before 2005 - when the sensitive border problem was solved, and the main political document, the "Treaty of Friendship, Good Neighborliness and Cooperation," was signed.

Despite the existing serious concerns from both sides, the dramatic events of 24 March 2005 in Kyrgyzstan, which led to the sudden change of top country leadership and the victory of opposition forces, did not become a cause for significant cooling or radical re-examination of bilateral relations. They only they caused a certain pause in the relations.

The potential accumulated in during the previous bilateral interactions has allowed both sides to overcome the difficulties of the current situation. However, it should be recognized that the ambiguity and precariousness of the political situation in Kyrgyzstan after the "Tulip Revolution" and, as a consequence, the vagueness and unstable character of foreign policy orientations of the new Kyrgyz leadership initially caused some tension between Kyrgyz-Chinese relations and the cautious attitude on the part of Beijing. The leaders of the P.R.C., according to Chinese experts, did not expect such major perturbations in the neighboring country. The concern, on Beijing's part, pertained to the new authorities in Kyrgyzstan immediately after the "Tulip Revolution." These can most likely be explained by a number of circumstances, among which we can specify the following:

  • instability of the political situation in Kyrgyzstan and the lack of unity on the key issues of the country's development strategy not only between the branches of power, but even inside the new governmental team;
  • coming to power of some opposition leaders who earlier supported anti-Chinese ideas;
  • volatility in the foreign policy priorities of the new leadership the lack of a clear succession, common approaches, and the lack of unity concerning the relations with China, especially on sensitive for the official Beijing issues;
  • criticism of the achievements and signed treaties and agreements in the previous period of the Kyrgyz-Chinese relations (1992-2005) by individual Kyrgyz politicians;
  • potential risks of destabilization in the Xingjian Uyghur Autonomous Region under the influence of the situation in Kyrgyzstan;
  • Strengthening of external, especially American, influence on Kyrgyzstan.

Taking into account these factors, Beijing did not force the events and took a wait-and-see attitude, thus granting the right of initiative to the Kyrgyz side. It is remarkable that during a year after the mentioned events there had not been mutual visits at the highest level between the two sides, and the political contacts between the top leaders of the two countries were limited to short protocol meetings within the framework of multilateral forums. There was a meeting of the Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev with the Chinese President Hu Jintao during the SCO summit in Astana in July 2005 and a meeting of the Kyrgyz Prime Minister Felix Kulov with the Prime Minister of the State Council of the P.R.C. Wen Jiabao during the SCO meeting of the heads of governments in Moscow in September 2005.

It should be noted that those meetings were more of an introductory, "estimating'' character and could not lead to the full restoration of relations. Beijing was still cautious because the position of Kyrgyz leadership in a number of key issues for China was not quite clear. Besides, some Kyrgyz politicians, including high officials, still supported the idea of re-examining the relationship with China and especially the Kyrgyz-Chinese agreements on border issues.

In that situation, both parties focused on preparations for the visit of the President Kurmanbek Bakiev in China, which took place on June 9-10, 2006, believing that it would remove existing concerns, discord and problems in the bilateral relationship. Each side had its own goals and expectations of the visit. Beijing's expectations of the visit were connected primarily with the political component of the cooperation. The top leadership of China hoped not only to understand the position of the President of Kyrgyzstan on the key issues of the bilateral relations and Kyrgyz regional and international policies, but also to get confirmation of its firmness and stability in the foreseeable future. In general, the most important thing for Beijing was the possibility of restoring a climate of political trust between the two countries. In the Kyrgyz-Chinese relations the degree of political trust between the leaders and the level of cooperation in the field of security have always determined and will continue to determine the dynamics of the relations in other areas, especially in trade and economic relations, and in the implementation of major economic projects. Beijing's willingness to restore full cooperation depended on the position of the Kyrgyz leadership on the following issues:

  • the Taiwan and Tibet issue ;
  • the joint fight against Xinjian separatism, extremism and terrorism;
  • continuity and commitment of the Kyrgyz leadership to the previously signed bilateral treaties and agreements, especially of political nature and those resolving the border issue;
  • the U.S. military presence in Kyrgyzstan;

The above issues to varying degrees were included in the agenda for the talks between the President Kurmanbek Bakiev and the top political leadership of China and were reflected in the joint Declaration after the visit signed by the heads of the two countries. Confirmation of continuity and firm commitment from the new Kyrgyz leadership to the earlier signed agreements (political in nature and those resolving the border issue), were the main concerns to the content of Kurmanbek Bakiev's visit in China.

There had been concerns that the lack of a clear position of the new Kyrgyz leader on those issues during the negotiations could make Beijing doubt about the stable position of Kyrgyzstan and its sincere interest in maintaining and developing friendly relations with China; which could have frozen the good relations between the countries. The official statement made by the new President of the Kyrgyz Republic on its firm commitment to the previous agreements and the agreements reached during his first visit to China, despite the existence of serious domestic political opponents, was seen by experts from both countries as a significant step on the part of Bishkek to restore mutual political trust and confidence in full.

In a joint Declaration the parties confirmed their adherence to the principles, declared in the political documents signed and published during the period of 14 years; expressed their satisfaction with the progress achieved since the establishment of diplomatic relations in political, economic, humanitarian and security fields; and agreed that the Kyrgyz-Chinese friendship meets the fundamental interests of the peoples of the two countries and also contributes to the development and peace in the region.

The parties committed themselves to strictly abide by all the agreements and documents on border issues between the two states and make active efforts to turn the state border between the two countries into a zone of perpetual peace and friendship, maintained from generation to generation. Officially, Bishkek reaffirmed its commitment to the one-China policy. It confirmed that it opposes any form of "Taiwan independence," including "legalization of Taiwan independence," and it is against the attempts to create "two Chinas," "one China, one Taiwan." Furthermore, it is against Taiwan's participation in any international organization, to which only sovereign states can be parties. The Kyrgyz side stated that it would not establish any official relations with Taiwan and would not maintain official contacts with it. For its part, Beijing confirmed its support for the efforts made by the Kyrgyz Republic to ensure its independence, national sovereignty and territorial integrity, strengthen internal stability and develop national economy; Beijing also praised the contribution of Kyrgyzstan to stability, security and cooperation in Central Asia.

As for the issue of combating terrorism, extremism and separatism, the heads of the two states confirmed that they would strengthen coordination and cooperation between the law enforcement agencies and security bodies of both countries. As well, both promised to continue within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to take effective measures to jointly combat all forms of terrorism, including the terrorist forces of "East Turkistan," in order to ensure peace and stability in the two countries and in the region. The heads of the two countries stressed that the fight against terrorist forces of "East Turkistan" is an important part of the international anti-terrorist struggle. Kyrgyzstan and China will maintain and develop the contacts and cooperation between military agencies of the two countries. The issue of the American military presence in Kyrgyzstan was also one of the most important moments in the political agenda of Kurmanbek Bakiev's visit in China. China has repeatedly stated that it understands and shares the position of Kyrgyzstan, which provided a ground Air Force base for the Anti-terrorist coalition to combat terrorist forces in Afghanistan. The previous leadership of KR had coordinated this decision with its partners in the CSTO and SCO.

However, China firmly and strongly supports the idea of determining time constraints for operation of the airbase in "Manas" and opposes the expansion of its mandate beyond the anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan. Apparently, during the talks, the Chinese leadership succeeded in persuading the President Kurmanbek Bakiev and enlisted his support. In the joint Declaration, Kyrgyzstan and China stated that they "will not allow the third parties to use its territory at the expense of national sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of the other side, and will not allow the establishment on its territory and the activities of the organizations and associations, posing a threat to the sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of the other side."

In general, the visit of the Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev in China was largely political in nature and, as acknowledged by both sides, was aimed primarily at the conclusion of the pause in bilateral relations after the events of March 24, 2005. Despite the lack of breakthrough solutions in the economic field (to expect a breakthrough would have been unrealistic), it must be recognized that the aim - the establishment of working contacts with top political leaders of China and restoration of political trust between the two countries - was, in principle, reached. This could be considered the most important outcome of the visit of Kurmanbek Bakiev. Thus, since the second half of 2006, as a result of the visit of the Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev to China, the bilateral cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and China has been gradually restored.

Kurmanbek Bakiev clearly stated once again that the Kyrgyz side had no intention of reviewing and would strictly adhere to all the previously achieved agreements and treaties. The President of the Kyrgyz Republic mainly expressed his interest in the development of trade and economic cooperation with China and implementation of joint projects in areas such as: hydropower; transportation and infrastructure; telecommunications; exploration and development of mineral, oil and gas deposits; development of light and food industries; agriculture; and tourism.

In contrast to the words of the President Kurmanbek Bakiev, the President of China Hu Jintao, formally agreeing with the proposals of his Kyrgyz colleague however, highlighted the cooperation in the sphere of security as a priority in bilateral Kyrgyz-Chinese relations. The head of China stressed that his country fully supports Kyrgyzstan in its efforts to combat the "three evils" - terrorism, separatism and extremism - as well as in its desire to contribute to regional security. As the projects, prioritized by Kyrgyzstan - the construction of the railway China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan and export of electricity from Kyrgyzstan to China - the parties again were unable to reach a common decision and once again sent the projects for further study by Governmental experts from both countries.

In 2008 the Kyrgyz-Chinese relations continued to develop gradually.

In conclusion, it should be noted that after a brief pause in bilateral relations, which was caused by the rapid and unexpected change of power in Kyrgyzstan after the events of 24 March 2005, the cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and China has been gradually restored and returned to a familiar format. According to the estimates of higher officials, today, the bilateral relations between China and Kyrgyzstan are friendly, and there are no serious political problems that could hinder their further development.


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