Here Is How Russians Blocked Major Chinese Economic Media Group’s Entry Into Kazakh Media Market – OpEd


From among a set of news reports that have appeared recently and fit into the context of Kazakh-Chinese and Kazakh-Russian relations, one appears to be worthy of special attention. This is the statement by the Kazakh Minister of Trade and Integration, Arman Shakkaliev, about China having come out on top among Kazakhstan’s trading partners, surpassing Russia.

In terms of trade with Kazakhstan, China, according to Chinese figures, for the first time bypassed Russia a decade and a half ago. According to the Kazakh statistical data, this first happened only in 2023. The discrepancies in Kazakhstan-China trade turnover value can perhaps be attributed to differences between the methods of keeping statistics. But, in truth, such an explanation sounds quite unconvincing, as the data of the parties varied and is still varying widely. For instance, China was Kazakhstan’s largest trade partner in 2023, with bilateral trade turnover reaching $41 billion, a 32% increase over the previous year’s total, according to Chinese figures. The Kazakhstan side, meanwhile, reported total bilateral trade in 2023 as totaling $31.5 billion.

In Soviet times when the State borders were on the lock, most Kazakhs knew next to nothing about China, and little more about the rest of the world. Much has changed since then – nationally and internationally. 

China is now the world’s second-largest economy and the Central Asian country’s largest trading partner. That is, for Kazakhstan and Kazakhs, China has largely replaced and continues to replace Russia which became the successor State to the Soviet Union.

However, there are spheres in Kazakhstan where Russia’s presence has not diminished but, on the contrary, has increased in the post-Soviet period. This refers to the scope of use of the Russian language in the Kazakh State and society and the extent of influence that the Russian media exerts on public opinion in the Central Asian nation.

So, let’s take a close look at that factor. The predominant view in official public space is as follows: the Kazakh language is progressively cementing its position as the  State language of Kazakhstan. At least, that’s the impression you get if you listen to the current Russophonic Kazakh President, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, and the state-run news media. The former one likes to claim that ‘the application field of the Kazakh language is expanding every year’ and ‘therefore, there is no cause for concern’.

But many ordinary Kazakhs do not share such optimism, to say the least. Some of them keep believing that “the situation in Kazakhstan regarding the Kazakh language now is much worse than it was in the Soviet era”. What here to say, even if the then-top Kazakhstani official in charge of languages, Adil’bek Kaba, at one time did not share that opinion and was reluctant to look at the state of the Kazakh language through rose-colored glasses. During his time as head of the relevant governmental agency, he confirmed that there was a real risk that Kazakh would become a calque [a copy] of Russian. “Our language becomes detached from its Kazakh nature, turning more and more primitive. We are worried that the nation will lose its roots”, he said.

Adil’bek Kaba also admitted: “Truth be told, there is a Russian language [original] behind every document”. According to him, the documents are first being prepared in Russian and then translated into Kazakh [just] for the record. It doesn’t seem to have changed much since then. So, according to some Kazakh observers, the current position of the Russian language in Kazakhstan is more solid than even in Soviet times.

The same might be said about the clout of the Russian media in the Central Asian country. During the time since the USSR’s disintegration, almost all the major Russian media outlets have created their subsidiaries in Kazakhstan. Among them, there are even those, which were completely unfamiliar to most Kazakhs when their republic, Soviet Kazakhstan, had been under the total rule of the Kremlin. In a word, the Russian television and internet resources’ actually unchallenged dominance in the Kazakhstani information field is not a revelation to either the Russian or the Kazakh observers.

Here is what the influential Russian internet edition told its readers in this regard:“Kazakhstan absolutely does not control more than half of the television network and almost the entire book market, not to mention the Internet. The information environment [in the Central Asian country] now is quite friendly to the authorities of Kazakhstan solely thanks to the support of Moscow, which protects the republican elites”. Now to go over how the situation in question is seen from a Kazakh perspective. According to some experts in Kazakhstan, ‘in our country, a huge number of officials are still in the grip of colonial thinking and watch Russia, the Russian ideology and media with an open mouth’, and even ‘President Tokayev sees the situation in his country through the eyes of Russian propaganda media’.  Such kind of a situation in the Kazakh information field is of course the best fit for the Russian side. And they appear willing to go to great lengths to not allow any other side or country to encroach upon their exclusive dominance in the Kazakh information field. In this regard, the incident this author wants to tell you about below seems to be momentous.

It was in the beginning of the year of 2020. Then I was the editor-in-chief of Tenge Monitor, the only Kazakh-language newspaper on economic matters,  that was part of the Qazaq Gazetteri media group which, in turn, was owned by the Kazakh government and controlled by Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Information. At that time, the Qazaq Gazetteri media group also included over a dozen more newspapers and magazines. Then one day, the then-general director of the media group, Shamshidin Patteyev, gathered the editors-in-chief of the print media subordinate to him and told them about his trip to China as part of the official Kazakh delegation headed by Erlan Karin, an adviser to Kazakh President Tokayev (Note: A little later on, Erlan Karin became Kazakh Secretary of State,  the fifth-highest ranking official in Kazakhstan).

Shamshidin Patteyev spoke with delight about the reception that the Chinese side arranged for them. But the major thing he said was that he alone, without Erlan Karin, had been received by a high-ranking representative of the Secretariat for Ideology of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China,  and they had had a thorough conversation. It was about the implementation of a joint Chinese-Kazakh media project with the participation of one of the Chinese major economic newspaper. The Chinese side wanted to start publishing its Kazakh-language version as a supplement to the Tenge Monitor. It was expected that this newspaper supplement would give a boost to advertising proposals from China.

Shortly afterward, Shamshidin Patteyev got the editors-in-chief of his media group for a meeting with the representatives of that Chinese economic newspaper and their translator, a Chinese Kazakh. This time, there was talking in more detail about ways to implement the said Chinese-Kazakh media project. It was said that the project had already been ready to be launched. All this time, the project most probably was being supervised by Dauren Abayev, the then Minister of Information of Kazakhstan. In early May 2020,  he left this position and was replaced by Aida Balayeva. The talk about the said Kazakh-Chinese media project immediately ceased.

Some time passed and one day I asked one official (I cannot name him, since it was a private talk),  who had also engaged in the discussions on this project, about its fate. He replied: “The Russians blocked that project. Forget about it”. Shortly after that, I left the Kazakh Gazetteri media group. About two years later, Tenge Monitor, the only Kazakh-language newspaper on economic matters, ceased to exist.

Akhas Tazhutov

Akhas Tazhutov is a political analyst from Kazakhstan.

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