Analytical materials / Kyrgyzstan

Sheradil Baktygulov: “Is Kyrgyzstan ready for a new level of cooperation with China?”


“If there is no methodological school, the study of domestic and foreign policy of China will be superficial, and thus the substance to cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and China will be determined by China. Therefore, the number one priority should be the formation of the national school of Sinology,” said Sheradil Baktygulov, a researcher of problems in Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek), in an article written exclusively for CABAR.
The completion of 2014 and beginning of 2015, among other things, were characterized by the predictions of future economic growth and political influence of the People’s Republic of China on the fate of the world. The figures on the scale of the financial and economic penetration of China to Central Asia, Africa and Latin America do not surprise anybody. China has become the second largest economy in the world.
It is a common practice now to see large groups of Chinese tourists in the developed and undeveloped parts of the world. Today’s reality is perceived phenomenal in light of two facts: 35 years ago, the leadership in Beijing was only thinking about how to feed their own growing population, and overseas Chinese investment was not considered even in the realm of science fiction.
China is not the only country that has achieved impressive success. In the 2000s, along with China, new centers of power – Brazil, India, Iran and Turkey – emerged. Apparently affected by geographical proximity of China and Central Asia, an overview of speeches and articles of specialists and experts from Central Asian countries has shown that two questions are relevant to Central Asian countries: what will the economic progress of the “big neighbor” bring  them? And, how can one take advantage of the prevailing situation in China?
It is possible that such an attitude is explained by the residual influence of the inertia of Soviet thinking on the principle: “big brother takes care of his younger brother.” However, in 2015, another question should be more relevant: how can the Central Asian countries achieve such success?
China’s rise could be attributed to globalization and its involvement in world economic processes. However, the question arises as to why some countries have been able to move forward in economic development, while others with large populations and resources (e.g., Pakistan, Nigeria, and Argentina) make no headway.
In a book “The World is Flat,” which is popular in the US and Europe, the author Thomas Friedman spoke about the secret of China’s success, quoted a passage from his interview with the deputy of the People’s (Central [author’s note]) Bank of China. She said that the secret of success lies in the fact that “Before, we were afraid to dance with the wolves, then we learned to dance with the wolves, and now we have become wolves ourselves” [trans. author]. She meant the most economically developed countries of the world when speaking about “the wolves.” Economic achievements of China demonstrate the reality of the evolution of thinking.
Speaking of Central Asia as a whole and of Kyrgyzstan in particular, it seems that people there are afraid to even begin to think about dancing with the wolves, especially with China. “We have a “special way,” we say. In this regard, we should remember the theses about Central Asia in foreign sources. In general, these theses can be divided into two main groups: Central Asian countries each live in a “compartment” of their country, and every country in the region and Central Asia is the “center of the universe.”
Focus shifts depending on whom foreign sources appeals to, and the goals they pursue. Foreign sources quite accurately captured the mindset of the ruling elites and ordinary citizens in Central Asia. Therefore, it should be remembered that foreign strategies are based on local expectations. At this point, there is a dilemma: are foreign policies consistent with national expectations of Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian countries? Existing approaches set aside the search for an answer to the original question – how can significant success be achieved?
General view of China specialists is that the basis of today’s economic growth and social prosperity of China was laid in the decisions of the 3rd Plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in December 1978 and by a pragmatic policy by Deng Xiaoping. Real growth and truly large-scale progress in many areas have their roots in the globalization processes that have unfolded in the late twentieth century.
Figuratively speaking, while the whole world is playing classical chess with China, China has long played the Chinese Chess Xiangqi with the world. “Pragmatic approach” by Deng Xiaoping, not a socialist, democratic or liberal ideology (with whatever specificity) allowed Beijing to “ride” the processes of globalization and use them to promote the interests of China, and as a result, to achieve impressive results.
The essence of this approach was described in detail in various articles. It is that Beijing abandoned the policy of self-isolation. In 2001, China joined the World Trade Organization, lowered tariff barriers and stimulated the arrival of Western investment into the domestic market.
There have been many calculations that China is growing due to demand on the part of Western consumers. However, the past decade has shown that China is able to maintain economic growth even in the face of shrinking purchasing power of the Western markets. The above calculations were not valid. Among the successful measures, one can include the following:
First, the government has developed a system of measures for the maintenance and promotion of domestic exporters.
Second, the economy has been spurred by the growth of its own (public and private) investment.
Third, a system to stimulate the domestic demand had been introduced.

The measures above as well as other additional measures have allowed Beijing to maintain an impressive economic growth even during the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 and the associated contraction of export markets and the reduction of the inflow of foreign investment.
The measures undertaken in the country allowed the achievement of constructing “a society of small prosperity” set by Chinese leaders in the late 1990s. In 2013, a new objective was set – moving to the “middle-class society.”
Thirty-five years ago, the 3rd Plenary Session of the CPC Central Committee of the11th convocation adopted a policy of reform and opening, which pulled China out of the critical state to the revival.
In 2013, the 3rd Plenum of the CPC Central Committee of 18th Convocation adopted a policy of deepening reforms, strengthening the “soft power,” forcing the reform of the social sphere, creating a complete eco-culture system, improving the system of Party leadership and management practices. China is ready to advance in four geographical areas, determined by the national interests of China.
The decisions of the 3rd and 4th plenary sessions of the Central Committee of the CPC of the 18th convocation should receive much attention , at least, because the decisions of the 3rd Plenum of the 11th CPC Central Committee Convocation were implemented. As a result, major actors in world politics – the US, EU, Japan, and Russia – are increasingly aligning their foreign policy priorities, taking into account China’s position on major international issues. China is increasingly moving from responding to changing external circumstances to the formation of these circumstances in its foreign policy.
Let’s return to Central Asia. This region has long been perceived as a very humble and inert region in the former USSR. Today, the countries of Central Asia are learning to live with their interests and make friends with those who might be useful to them, referring to cooperation with influential countries in the world that can help and assist the countries of Central Asia in the economy and other areas. At the moment, those influential countries include not only China and Russia, but also the US, Japan, UK, Germany, South Korea, Turkey and even India.
Speaking of Kyrgyzstan, it should be noted that the country is still looking for its own model for achieving economic growth. The experience of different countries is being studied. Perhaps, the most studied ones are the Anglo-Saxon and continental economic theory, the system of commercial law, the principles of trade and more.
It is important for us to remember that the mechanical transfer of Anglo-Saxon and or continental theories to Latin America failed to achieve the desired results there. A closer example for us is China. Foreign standards were not able to measure China, and attempts to “squeeze” Chinese realities into the usual theoretical constructs were  unsuccessful. As a result, the world has launched verbal constructions of a “special path,” and “Chinese characteristics.”
This situation can be illustrated by a medical instruction: the same scheme of treatment can cure one patient, but hurt another. The experience in Brazil, India, Iran, China and Turkey shows the need to adapt foreign theories to the needs and realities of one’s own state. The cooperation with countries – economic leaders has played a significant role in their adaptation. Foreign investment, market demand, business interests together with clearly defined lines of conduct have led to the economic growth.
In 2013, China gave the highest level of its cooperation with the countries of Central Asia, namely the level of strategic partnership. The decisions of the plenary sessions of the CPC Central Committee stated that China was ready to invest in the economies of all countries of the world and, most importantly, to protect its investment. This new emphasis in China’s foreign policy is “the transition from simple contemplation to meaningful action.”
Is Kyrgyzstan ready for a new level of cooperation? Areas of political and military cooperation are the most advanced. Kyrgyzstan and China are strategic partners. Military joint exercises of Kyrgyz and Chinese forces are held regularly, visits of the heads of both countries have the highest status, the status of state visit. Economic cooperation is problematic. For many years, Kyrgyzstan is a re-exporter of Chinese goods. In the small and medium business, Chinese citizens constitute a large part of entrepreneurs – ethnic Kyrgyz, Kazakhs and Uighurs. It turns out that Kyrgyzstan is a passive player in the economic sphere.
It would seem that the situation could be overcome by a strong-willed, but a subjective decision. However, the roots of this situation are much deeper and have no volitional decision. The solution is to adapt the emerging trends to one’s own needs. This can be achieved through a systematic analysis of the processes taking place both in China and in the world.
In Kyrgyzstan, however, as in other Central Asian countries, there is no national school of Sinology. There are separate specialists and experts, but during the years of sovereignty, a school was never formed. Local knowledge about China is based on the stories of “shuttle traders,” businessmen and tourists. Confucius Institutes can only teach the basics of the Chinese language and culture.
If there is no methodological school, the study of domestic and foreign policy of China will be superficial, and thus the substance to cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and China will be determined by China. Therefore, the number one priority should be the formation of the national school of Sinology. This can be a separate institution or a research center at the university, but a mandatory element should be the creation of a network of sinologists.
A practical task must be the development of scenarios of economic development and recommendations on economic cooperation with China, based on cooperation with Russia, the EU, the US, Iran and Turkey. Cooperation should be built in such a way as not to get into a one-sided dependence on one country.
It is better to move from thinking on the principle of “big brother – little brother” to thinking “neighbor – great neighbor.” In this context, the lines of cooperation of Kyrgyzstan with “big neighbors” of Central Asia – the EU, China, Russia and the United States – should be developed.
It is widely believed that China, Russia and the United States compete for supremacy in Central Asia. This approach is somewhat one-sided and has its roots in the Soviet vision of the world: “us – them.” A close examination of approaches of China, Russia, the US and the EU in Central Asia will show that actually there is no competition.
China has strong positions in the economies of Central Asia, while Russia is the leader in political and military spheres. US and EU are very active in the ideological sphere – the promotion of democracy, human rights, market economy and civil society.
Conclusions that the leading position of one country in one of the areas of cooperation is crucial for its influence on the leadership of a country in Central Asia or most of its citizens are illusive. Bringing such theses into the masses is a tool to manipulate public opinion. People are put in before a choice of nicer or habitual evil, not even between more or less evil.
The experience of Latin America shows that locking in a “compartment” of one’s own country or one theory leads to permanent economic and political crisis. Therefore, the foundations of economic growth in Kyrgyzstan and welfare of its citizens can be laid under the condition of using the diversity of economic and other theories and approaches from western to eastern, with their subsequent adaptation to local conditions.
We need to learn how to play different types of chess, in order to become successful. The first step should be to create a national school of Sinology.
Sheradil Baktygulov, researcher of problems in Central Asia
Opinion of the author may not necessarily represent those of CABAR