Both Beijing and Moscow are seeking to develop and expand relations with Central Asian nations to tap into the region's natural resources, while countries such as Kazakhstan will likely benefit from the implicit struggle between China and Russia.
Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan recently signed the Eurasian Economic Union Treaty on May 29 in Astana, Kazakhstan. The agreement aims to integrate the Eurasin market, worth US$27 trillion, and will come into effect on January 1, 2015. Kyrgyzstan and Armenia have expressed interest in joining the union before the end of 2014.
During the signing ceremony, Kazakhstan's president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, said that trade between the three countries has risen by 50% in the past three years to around US$230 billion. Russia's president Vladimir Putin meanwhile said that with the economic integration Kazakhstan and Belarus will become Russia's third largest trade partner behind the EU and China.
The foundation of ties between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan has been questioned by foreign media outlets, which claim that the new Eurasian Economic Union is a strategy to rebuild the Soviet Union. The New York Times reported on May 29 that trade between Kazakhstan and Russia has in fact dropped: "In Kazakhstan, for example, 47% of its trade activity was with Russia in 1995. By 2011, 40% of its exports went to Europe, while only 9% went to Russia."
Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton also criticized Putin in March for attempting to "re-Sovietize" Russia's periphery. Putin, on the other hand, emphasized during the signing ceremony and the World Economic Forum held in St Petersburg on May 22 that the Eurasian Economic Union is merely about economic integration and does not intervene with the political independence of its member countries.
Meanwhile, a senior Kazakh government official told the Yazhou Zhoukan that the union does not obstruct Sino-Kazakhstan cooperation. On the contrary, it will help Chinese investors to develop new markets in Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Russia, and Chinese entrepreneurs will be able to import products easily to the three countries under one single standard.
Figures from China's Ministry of Commerce indicated that trade with Kazakhstan reached US$286 billion in 2013, an increase of 11.3%, while Kazakh figures showed that China imported US$82 billion from Kazakhstan, an increase of 9.3%, half of the trade coming from northwestern China's Xinjiang region.
China and Kazakhstan are also partners in oil ventures in the Central Asian country, with the China Exim Bank and Development Bank of Kazakhstan co-investing US$10 billion to modernize the oil refinery in Chimkent. Furthermore, state-run oil giant China National Petroleum Corporation has signed with Kaz Munay Gas to co-develop gas and oil in Almaty. In addition, the Chinese and Kazakh governments have signed an agreement to co-construct a channel linking the two countries.
Xi Jinping also raised the concept of Silk Road Economic Zone to enhance the economical ties between China and Eurasia during a speech in Kazakhstan last September. The Silk Road Economic Zone is set to play a crucial role in Kazakhstan's future development, the magazine said, with border trade between China and Kazakhstan expected to reach US$400 billion in 2016.
Amid the new developments, one thing is certain, Central Asian countries will benefit the most from China and Russia struggle to gain influence in the region, Yazhou Zhoukan said. Kazakhstan serves as the best example, enjoying the economic advantages brought by the new Eurasian Economic Union on the one hand, while continuing to cooperate with China.