Prague, 27 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev and his Chinese counterpart, Jiang Zemin, signed a friendship and cooperation agreement in Beijing on 23 December.
The agreement pledges China and Kazakhstan to cooperate in the fight against terrorism, separatism, and extremism, to further develop trade and scientific-technical relations, and to boost joint efforts in the fields of transportation, financial affairs, and space research. The document also emphasized the two countries' efforts to cooperate in the military-technical field.
Speaking to China's Xinhua news agency ahead of Nazarbaev's trip, Kazakhstan's ambassador to China, Zhanibek Karibzhanov, had predicted that Nazarbaev's visit would be "epoch-making" for relations between Kazakhstan and China.
But Artem Malgin, deputy director of the Center for Post-Soviet Studies at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations, tells RFE/RL that the visit is most of all an occasion for Nazarbaev to hold his first meeting with the new secretary-general of the Chinese Communist Party, Hu Jintao, who is expected to succeed Jiang as president next year.
"It's essential from the point of view that [the] Kazakh president will meet Hu Jintao, the new general secretary," Malgin said. "Everybody can predict that Hu Jintao will take the post of chairman of China. So it's kind of an introductory meeting of the two presidents."
Rana Mitter, who teaches modern Chinese politics and history at Oxford University, agrees that Nazarbaev's visit is unlikely to be a major turning point. Instead, he says, it is part of the "increasing bond of trust" that the Chinese government wants to build up with its Central Asian neighbors, both in terms of trade and security.
Mitter says Central Asia has become increasingly important to China over the past decade in terms of security: "The thing that China is very worried about in terms of its western border areas is what they think of as a Muslim insurgency potentially undermining Chinese rule in Xinjiang Province in western China. So obviously having a very strong security base amongst their neighbors on the western side of the Chinese border is important to them."
Expansion of contacts between the Kazakh and Chinese militaries is, indeed, an important topic of discussion during the visit. Also, Kazakhstan's defense minister signed with his Chinese counterpart an agreement that calls on both parties to strengthen border controls along their common frontier and exchange information on the illegal regional weapons trade.
Aleksei Malashenko -- an expert at the Moscow Carnegie Center -- highlights the importance of security cooperation between the two countries:
"[Concerning security], Kazakhstan cannot be compared to Uzbekistan or Tajikistan, where we have big Islamic activity. But in the southern territories [of Kazakhstan], some Islamic forces are becoming more and more powerful. I had the chance to talk to some Kazakh experts, and really they are beginning to feel more and more the threat coming from the southern territories."
Last May, China and Kazakhstan signed a demarcation agreement, marking the final settlement of border issues along their shared 1,740-kilometer border.
In 2000, China and Kazakhstan began mutual inspections of military forces on their border areas. The inspections are being conducted in line with a confidence-building agreement signed in 1996 and an agreement on the reduction of military forces in border areas signed in 1997.
Concerning economics and trade, a business forum will be held in Beijing during the visit, while an information and consulting center will be launched with the participation of firms from two countries.
Ambassador Karibzhanov told ITAR-TASS that the two countries are negotiating a free-trade zone in the border area that is aimed at increasing bilateral trade.
Malgin stresses the importance of cross-border trade for the unstable western Chinese province of Xinjiang: "[Cross-border] cooperation is essential because any kind of economic instability in Xinjiang could provoke social and political instability. So this cross-border cooperation could bring some additional economic stability for both parties, and political and additional social stability to China."
Kazakhstan is China's second-largest trading partner in the Commonwealth of Independent States. Bilateral trade in the first 10 months of 2002 reached $1.5 billion and is increasing 40 percent on a year-on-year basis.
Malgin says China has not given up plans to built a Kazakh-Chinese pipeline: "China used to be one of the most active participants in the Kazakh part of the Caspian in the mid-1990s. And a lot of joint ventures between Kazakhstan and China were created in the energy sector. And there were even plans for pipelines from Kazakhstan to China. Now China returns back to its mid-1990s plans to build new pipelines from Kazakhstan to China. And I think this visit could bring some new life to these projects."
Interfax quotes a spokesman for the branch of China National Petroleum -- which has been developing the Zhanazhol and Kenkiak fields in western Kazakhstan since 1997 -- as noting that China has never abandoned the idea of a Kazakh-Chinese pipeline.
Beijing is ready to build a 2,900-kilometer pipeline from the Caspian Sea to China if the predicted hydrocarbon reserves in the Kazakh sector of the sea are confirmed, the spokesman said. He added that a feasibility study of the project -- estimated to cost up to $3.5 billion -- has already been prepared.