Jan 11, 2021
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How China took territory from former Soviet republics

After the collapse of the USSR, China immediately presented substantial territorial claims to the newly independent republics of Central Asia. It is worth noting that if in the Far East small river islands served as the subject of dispute between China and Russia, then in Central Asia, China claimed all the lands that were once part of the Dzungar Khanate (XVII-XVIII centuries). And this is a large part of East Kazakhstan and Northern Kyrgyzstan.

Realizing that no one would give them such territory, the Chinese authorities gradually tempered their appetites, but territorial claims still amounted to tens of thousands of square kilometers. In particular, the Chinese claimed the “controversial” Kazakhstani 34 thousand square meters. kilometers.

Agree before it’s too late

In the 1990s, Kazakhstan decided not to wait for new incidents at the border and hastened to settle all border issues with Beijing. To do this, he twice had to make concessions. In 1994, China and Kazakhstan signed a border agreement, according to which the Chinese got an area of ​​946 sq. kilometers.

In 1997, Nursultan Nazarbayev managed to reach final agreements on the demarcation of the Kazakh-Chinese border. According to official data, an area of ​​407 square meters was transferred to China. kilometers. But no one saw the agreement itself in the public domain. Because of this, the worried Kazakhstani public suggests that the Chinese were actually given several thousand square kilometers. In any case, Kazakhstan was able to resolve the territorial issue inherited from the Soviet Union without experiencing political upheavals, as happened in neighboring Kyrgyzstan. Even despite the fact that among the territories given to China was Mount Khan Tengri, which is of cult significance for local nomadic peoples.

The first president of Kyrgyzstan, Askar Akayev, also had to negotiate with the Chinese. In 1999, Bishkek and Beijing reached an agreement on the disputed Uzongu-Kuush section. As a result, China received 161 sq. km, which was 39% of their original requirements. The parties were satisfied with the compromise, but the Kyrgyz population was outraged by the fact of the conclusion of these agreements, which was one of the reasons for the first revolution in the country in 2005.

“All these territories have been the subject of border disputes since Soviet times, China did not recognize the de facto border,” an expert from Kyrgyzstan Mars Sariev told VZGLYAD newspaper. – Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan were themselves interested in a settlement in order to solve border problems and fix this in documents. The issue of the same section of Uzongu-Kuusha was not resolved in Soviet times, the USSR demonstratively drew the border itself and put fortifications there. It should be noted that most of the disputed territories still remained with the post-Soviet republics. China claimed much more land, but they found a compromise option, and the Chinese agreed to a smaller part. “
“China is a growing superpower, and we had to resolve border issues with it. I don’t think China will have this kind of territorial claim again in the future. Even taking into account the fears that, due to the huge national debt, it will be necessary to pay off the Chinese with its territory following the example of Tajikistan or Sri Lanka, I think it will not come to that. Beijing has already agreed to roll over the debt if we pay the interest, ”Sariev said.

The topic of territorial concessions in Central Asia is one of the most painful. Largely due to the increased Chinese phobia among the local population, and the closer people live to China, the more the Chinese cause concern. In Kazakhstan, projects have failed at the stage of discussion on the lease of agricultural land to Chinese companies. In Kyrgyzstan, the local population resolves disputes with Chinese mining companies through rallies and pogroms.

This reaction is partly due to Beijing’s policies towards Muslim minorities living in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. In the Western media, there are constantly publications about labor camps where local peoples are forcibly placed for re-education. The closed nature of China does not allow refuting or confirming this information.

The Central Asian countries themselves are becoming increasingly economically dependent on China, in particular, constantly gaining multibillion-dollar loans that they cannot afford to repay. The population seriously fears that their corrupt governments will pay for loans with land, or give them away for the development of mineral deposits. A similar precedent has already occurred in Tajikistan.

Compliant Tajikistan

In the 1990s, neighboring Tajikistan was engulfed in a civil war, so the Tajiks postponed territorial issues with other states for later. Perhaps that is why Dushanbe had to give up much larger plots of land, compared to Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. China has grown stronger and has no longer limited itself to compromise options.

In 2011, on the day of the formation of the PRC, Tajikistan solemnly (!) Transferred part of its territory to China. The Chinese received 1.1 thousand square meters. km of land, which is no less than 0.77 percent of the total territory of Tajikistan.

This generosity on the part of Tajiks is due to many factors, including a great dependence on Beijing. In addition, the tough regime of Emomali Rahmon still rules in Tajikistan, the entire opposition has been defeated and virtually banned. In such a situation, the president can afford to make unpopular decisions. In addition, the surrendered territories were located in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region. The local population is ethnically and religiously different from the Tajiks and lives in remote mountainous areas, so few people in Dushanbe were interested in their opinion.

The “fruitful” cooperation between the two countries did not end there. Tajikistan received Chinese loans for the construction of roads, thermal power plants and other infrastructure. The poor country had nothing to pay with. As a result, the Upper Kumarg gold deposit was given to Chinese companies for development. Earlier, the Chinese have already received other gold, silver and coal deposits in Tajikistan for development.

In neighboring countries, the opposition nods to the Tajik example and threatens the authorities with protests in advance if they repeat a similar scenario. The Chinese have never written off debts to anyone just like that, they will have to pay off anyway, or try to roll over debts in the long term.

Meanwhile, very close, in the Himalayas, the confrontation between China and the Indian army periodically develops into full-fledged battles. And even if India cannot always confront China with peaceful methods, then what could the small post-Soviet republics do? The concessions were inevitable, but will China be satisfied with them or will it remember again in the future?

“China now has a lot of tension with India, this conflict has always been in a smoldering regime. Now there is an accumulation of weapons, especially from the Chinese side, it is not clear how they are going to solve the territorial issue with the Indians. Also, Beijing has large territorial disputes in the South China Sea. In this situation, China will be interested in stability at its western borders with Central Asian countries and Russia, considering them as the rear in the face of confrontation with the United States, ”believes Mars Sariev. This means that there is a hope that no new territorial claims against the states of the former USSR from China will ever arise.

Evgeny Pogrebnyak

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