Аллен Ханна Мишель -
Competition in Central Asia: a Case Study of Kazakhstan’s Receptivity to Russian and Chinese Soft Power
Сравнительная политика Евразии
Kazakhstan develops and strengthens its post-independence identity and grows in strategic importance for its powerful neighbors, against the backdrop of changing dynamics among Russia and China. A unique and strategically positioned actor in Central Asia, Kazakhstan’s geopolitical imperatives have long required a balancing act among world powers. This research aims to address the gap in soft power literature that focuses heavily on projection by instead evaluating the reception and effectiveness of Russian and Chinese soft power and to understand changes in orientation. The case study relies on semi-structured expert interviews with academics, research professionals and journalists conducted in Nur-Sultan and Almaty, Kazakhstan, and Saint Petersburg, Russia. Analysis suggests that perceptions of Russia and China are only loosely connected to their soft power; Russia is perceived in mostly positive terms, however this cannot be attributed to its soft power and is better explained through common history. Perceptions of China are much more negative and entrenched in stereotypes and clichés, and it is clear that it has not yet succeeded in overcoming the China Threat theory. Russia and China are considered powerful neighbors that require circumspection within Kazakhstan’s multi-vector foreign policy. The status quo brotherhood with Russia is not guaranteed in perpetuity and when it comes to China, official enthusiasm is contrasted by popular wariness. In support and illustration of this analysis, also discussed are key contemporary policies and events that demonstrate official signaling and popular response related to Kazakhstan’s relations with Russia and China. If any reorientation can be said to be occurring, it is in Kazakhstan’s ongoing grappling with its own self-image, with all efforts made to grow apart from the shadows of its powerful neighbors.