My thanks to my correspondent (as always e-mails welcome, but please also share with all via comments) who pointed out that Tuesday’s post, Uighurs, Repression, Assimilation And The Han Islanders, gave too little weight to the question of regional instability on China’s western borders and beyond. And in particular, in Kazakhstan.
Tibet, Inner Mongolia and Manchuria are buffer zones beyond which lie India, Russia and Korea and Japan respectively; and all geopolitically impassable. However, Xinjiang has become more of a gateway to Central Asia with its energy resources and trade routes to points further west. Chinese firms, including state owned enterprises, have steadily expanded their activity in Kazakhstan (see: Loan-For-Oil Deal Struck With Kazakhstan). Beijing is also improving transport links so oil can flow east and goods west.
In doing so China is moving into what has traditionally been a Russian buffer state against China. Indeed, Kazakhstan was formerly part of the Soviet Union. Moscow has been wary of this. If Chinese economic activity turns into political influence, for which read expansionism, wariness would turn to concern, or more. Uighur unrest spreading west from Urumqi to Central Asia’s other Muslim areas would offer opportunists in Moscow an excuse to reestablish Russian domination — yet one more reason for Beijing to come down hard and fast in Urumqi.