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Kazakhstan’s Multi-Vectorism and Sino-Russian Relations

Using the case of Sino-Russian competition over Central Asian energy and transportation networks, this study asks why Russia has refrained from confrontation with China, in spite of the competing interests of Moscow and Beijing in the region. Our contention is that Kazakhstan’s multi-vector foreign policy has mitigated Russia’s concerns regarding security, status, and power in Central Asia, in this way removing or attenuating issues that could exacerbate Sino-Russian tensions. The study examines the concrete strategies employed by the Kazakh government to withstand pressures to submit to the influence of dominant states and alleviate tensions in Sino-Russian relations while simultaneously promoting its own interests.

Kazakhstan s Multi-Vectorism and Sino-Russian Relations
Fires burn from the tops of tall stacks at the Tengiz oil field, one of the largest in the world, located in Tengiz, Kazakhstan. REZA / Getty Images

 Introduction1

 
Little-known to the outside world in the wake of the Soviet Union’s dissolution, Central Asia occupies a more prominent place in international affairs today. Its strategic importance in the geopolitical and energy calculi of Russia, China, and the United States, in addition to India, Turkey, Iran, and countries of Europe and Asia has grown in the recent decade. Among the five Central Asian republics, three have extensive oil and natural gas deposits. Kazakhstan’s Tengiz oil and gas field is the sixth largest oil field in the world. With over 170 oil fields, the country possesses nearly three percent of global oil reserves,2 and its proven gas reserves rank 15th in the world.3 In 2011, auditors from Gaffney, Cline & Associates estimated Turkmenistan’s gas reserves as second only to Russia’s proven natural gas reserves. The volume of Uzbekistan’s natural gas deposits is modest compared to the natural endowments of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. It nonetheless has an abundance of fossil fuels available for domestic consumption and export.

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