Chinese Inroads

During much of Murat Auezov's tenure as Kazakhstan's ambassador to China in the early 1990s, he was puzzled by the term Xi Yu, which means "northwest province" in Chinese. No Chinese atlas showed such a region. He finally learned to his alarm that Xi Yu was a historical designation for an area encompassing much of Central Asia, writes Charles Clover in the centrist Financial Times of London. Auezov tells Clover, "The Chinese obviously see Central Asia, and Kazakhstan in particular, as a platform for expansion."

Certainly, the Chinese are heavily involved in Kazakhstan. Clover reports that under contracts totaling $9.5 billion, the Chinese National Petroleum Co. is developing two oil fields in Kazakhstan and plans to build a pipeline linking them to China. Beijing has been pressing border claims, and Kazakhstan recently agreed to cede 157 square miles of a 364-square-mile patch claimed by China. The Chinese are also building a canal that would divert up to 40 percent of a border .river to China; the two nations are negotiating the issue.

Auezov is critical of his government: "We have given in to every Chinese demand. Now all the initiative is with Beijing." Kazakhstan's Foreign Minister Kazymzhomart Tokayev doubts that China has expansionist designs on Kazakhstan. But Tokayev concedes that his nation must be "very flexible" and maintain friendly relations with both Russia and China, and sums up: "We live in a very complicated neighborhood."