Hu promises friendship with Kazakhstan
ASTANA: China’s new President Hu Jintao was in relaxed mood on Tuesday in Kazakhstan, the third leg of his first foreign outing, where he promised closer cooperation with its ex-Soviet neighbour.
Hu also pledged no let up in China’s anti-SARS campaign as the country worst hit by the flu-like disease has posted a dramatic decline in new cases. “The fact I’ve come to Kazakhstan on my first visit is an important and significant sign. Both sides expressed the wish to intensify cooperation in the spheres of oil, transportation, communications and culture,” Hu told a news conference after talks with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
After the hard talk over North Korea which he ran into earlier at the Group of Eight summit in France, Hu appeared more at ease taking questions from state-run media and expressing his appreciation of Kazakhstan’s new capital on the rain-lashed steppe by planting a fir tree in its “avenue of heads of state.” There are currently few bones of contention between China and this former Soviet republic, and Hu’s inclusion of Kazakhstan on his first tour since taking over from Jiang Zemin in April could head off possible future tensions.
Exploitation of Kazakhstan’s vast Caspian Sea oil and gas reserves are one area of likely closer cooperation, but analaysts have warned an increased Chinese presence may not be welcomed by all in the sparsely populated country.
Nazarbayev praised the role of China’s National Petroleum Corp in developing the Kazakh section of the Caspian shelf, saying the company had so far invested 700 million dollars (600 million euros) in Kazakhstan. He urged the revival of stalled plans to build an oil pipeline to China — an idea viewed sceptically by analysts.
Such sentiments were welcomed by Hu. “China lacks mineral resources ... whereas Kazakhstan can export tens of millions of tons of oil to foreign markets — there are big prospects for increased cooperation in the energy sector,” Hu said. Kazakhstan has virtually closed its 1,800-kilometre (1,120-mile) border with China in order to prevent the entry of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), but there was nothing standoffish about Kazakhstan’s welcome to Hu, which included a military parade in his honour.
Astana is doing its bit to help the anti-SARS campaign by providing China with medicines and equipment, Nazarbayev said.
Combatting terrorism was also on the agenda as Kazakhstan collaborates with China in combating Islamic militants in China’s remote western border region, and the two are part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which brings together China, Russia and four ex-Soviet Central Asian countries. “We expressed our joint willingness to fight the destructive activity of those forces which threaten stability in the world and our region,” Hu said. Despite human rights campaigners’ criticism of China’s approach to the issue of seperatism, the United States has categorised western China’s East Turkestan Islamic Movement as a terrorist organisation.
Even among those here who are critical of Nazarbayev’s authoritarian approach to government, Tuesday’s talks were seen as positive.
“We must keep good relations ... China is a huge neighbour with limited territory. Our people are afraid that after some time there could be problems, (just as) Russia has problems with China in the east,” commented Serik Abdrakhmanov, a parliament deputy and renegade member of Nazarbayev’s Homeland party.
Kazakhstan, though a fraction of China’s size, is roughly equal in territory to western Europe while its population is just around 15 million. —AFP