In order for Kazakhstan and Russia to respond successfully to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and international turbulence, its essential that they build and maintain a platform for an interactive dialogue with their respective citizens and attend to their needs. All this will become a strategic necessity, writes Iskander Akylbaev, Executive Director of the Kazakhstan Council on Foreign Relations.
Since the beginning of 2020, a perfect storm has struck international relations. The ongoing crisis in the Middle East, the friction around OPEC and the sharp drop in oil prices, the aggravation of relations between the US and China, the growing dilemma of arms control all these processes are taking place against the backdrop of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The coronavirus outbreak led certain states and then the world community to self-isolate, reinforcing our awareness of the power of the digital dimension of human interaction, and the necessity of structural reform in public administration. For the first time, international relations and diplomacy couldn’t operate in their usual mode, with handshakes. Summits like G-20 and G-7 are being held online, which can leave a feeling of understatement and incomprehensibility during negotiations, creating “translation difficulties” for political leaders. The so-called “Zoomplomacy” has its limitations.
For Kazakhstan, Russia and Eurasia as a whole, the on-going international and domestic processes are a test of strength. The uncertainty that arose with the spread of COVID-19 has not transported countries to a qualitatively different reality, but may provide an impetus to revise the established rules of the game. Against this background, the further development of integration within the EAEU, participation in the Belt and Road initiative, the SCO and other supranational projects necessitates even more thorough study and close interaction, even despite being in an online format. In this context, the growing long-term confrontation between China and the United States will create new trends and indirect tension in the region. Whereas the “Afghan factor” and continued turbulence will remain in the focus of attention of regional players. In this context, for Moscow and Nur-Sultan, the ability to adapt and manage changes at the foreign policy level is strategically necessary.
Consequently, a further alignment of forces and changes in relations between Washington and Beijing will be a cornerstone of the international balance of power. On May 20, the White House officially published a report titled “The United States’ Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China
,” positioning Beijing as a long-term threat. It is noteworthy that this document was published on the day of the annual session of China’s highest advisory body – the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and on the eve of the annual session of the National People’s Congress of the People's Republic of China (NPC) – the highest legislative body of China. Sessions were held on May 21-22, 2020 and determined the further vector of Chinese domestic and foreign policy, where policy towards Washington will play an important role. It is important to note that recent minor skirmishes on the border between China and India, the adoption of the new PRC bill to protect Hong Kong’s national security, and US sanctions on 33 Chinese companies related to the situation in Xinjiang demonstrate the tension in bilateral relations.
The role of Russia will also be important, namely, regarding the further actions of Moscow in the event of a growing deterioration in relations between Beijing and Washington. It may be the position of “neutral force,” ideologically supporting China. Most experts and China-watchers have reached an understanding that Beijing does not seek allies or alliances, preferring partnership. However, the recent attacks and statements by the Trump Administration regarding arms control signal a desire to integrate China into the new military security architecture.