"Soaring high like a golden eagle": Xi and China-Kazakhstan friendship

Chinese President Xi Jinping receives the Order of the Golden Eagle, or "Altyn Qyran" Order, awarded by Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev at the Ak Orda Presidential Palace in Kazakhstan, Sept. 14, 2022. (Xinhua/Rao Aimin)

2 July 2024

A soaring eagle carrying the Sun adorns the Order of the Golden Eagle, the highest honor of Kazakhstan.

When Chinese President Xi Jinping received this accolade from President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in 2022, Xi envisioned a future where China-Kazakhstan relations would soar high like a golden eagle towards a bright horizon.

"A genuine great leader," Tokayev commented while bestowing the Order, highlighting Xi's historic role in consolidating the friendship between the two countries.

As Xi prepares for an upcoming state visit to Kazakhstan, he is poised to build on this legacy of bilateral friendship and drive China-Kazakhstan relations to soar to even greater heights.


During his state visit to Kazakhstan in September 2013, Xi, for the first time, proposed building a Silk Road Economic Belt, a key part of the Belt and Road Initiative.

Xi's first trip since resuming international travel after the COVID-19 pandemic was also to Kazakhstan. Xi told Tokayev, "I chose Kazakhstan. This highlights the high level and unique nature of China-Kazakhstan relations and reflects our deep friendship."

"Incomparable." This is how Xi characterized bilateral ties. Decades after China and Kazakhstan established diplomatic relations in 1992, they advanced their relationship to a permanent comprehensive strategic partnership in 2019 during Tokayev's state visit to China. Both leaders committed to building a China-Kazakhstan community with a shared future in their vis-a-vis talks in 2022 and 2023.

"The level of strategic mutual trust and mutual understanding between China and Kazakhstan is at its highest," said Yang Bo, a professor of the School of Russian and Eurasian Studies at Shanghai International Studies University.

"This is precisely why, in 2013, President Xi chose Kazakhstan as the location to announce the Silk Road Economic Belt to the world, and facts have proven that this choice was very correct," Yang said.

Bilateral cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative has been highly effective. Through industrial collaboration, Kazakhstan has secured a logistics base in Lianyungang, a coastal city on China's Yellow Sea. The Western Europe-Western China Highway, successfully links the Asia-Pacific and Western European markets, spanning 8,445 km from Lianyungang across Kazakhstan to the Baltic Sea at St. Petersburg in Russia.

This aerial photo taken on May 9, 2023 shows a port in Lianyungang, east China's Jiangsu Province. The China-Kazakhstan (Lianyungang) logistics cooperation base, launched in 2014, is the first entity project under the BRI.  (Xinhua/Ji Chunpeng)

Trade between China and Kazakhstan hit a record of 41 billion U.S. dollars in 2023. Capacity and investment cooperation has generated a project list with a total value exceeding 21.2 billion dollars and continues to expand into the low-carbon sector with key outcomes including Zhanatas wind farm, the Turgusun hydropower plant and the Almaty solar power plant.
"Many cooperation aspects are groundbreaking," said Yang, "thanks to the high level of strategic trust between the two sides led by head-of-state diplomacy."


In recent years, China-Kazakhstan relations have surged ahead, mainly driven by the leadership of both countries, according to Chinese Ambassador to Kazakhstan Zhang Xiao.

Tokayev is a sinologist who speaks fluent Chinese language and understands China well. He began studying Chinese when he attended the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, where, years later, Xi elaborated his signature vision of "building a community with a shared future for mankind" in 2013.

Tokayev studied Chinese at Beijing Language and Culture University from 1983 to 1984, where he achieved top grades. After that, he served as a diplomat at the Soviet Union Embassy in Beijing.

Tokayev recalled living near Beijing's Wudaokou area, home to several of the country's top universities, and cycling through hutongs to see China's development firsthand. Tsinghua University where Xi studied from 1975 to 1979 is also located in Wudaokou.

Speaking of Xi, Tokayev said, "We share a profound trust. He is very wise, cultured, warm and friendly."

"I believe that we will continue to maintain this personal relationship to ensure greater success in comprehensive cooperation between Kazakhstan and China," he said.

A warm moment of interaction between the two leaders occurred when Tokayev celebrated his 70th birthday in Xi's home province of Shaanxi in May 2023. On his birthday, Tokayev arrived in the ancient Silk Road city of Xi'an, also the capital city of Shaanxi Province, for a state visit to China and also the inaugural China-Central Asia Summit.

Artists perform during a welcome ceremony for Central Asian leaders and their wives attending the China-Central Asia Summit in the Tang Paradise in Xi'an, northwest China's Shaanxi Province, May 18, 2023. (Xinhua/Xu Zijian)

Upon meeting Tokayev, Xi expressed his delight at hosting him in Xi'an and extended birthday wishes. "On this special occasion, your visit speaks volumes about the strength of our bilateral ties and reaffirms your unique bond with China," Xi told him.

Later in October that year, Tokayev was invited to attend the third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing, marking the initiative's 10th anniversary. Tokayev opened his speech in Chinese at the event.

In further discussions with Xi, Tokayev emphasized Kazakhstan as the birthplace of the Belt and Road Initiative. He noted Kazakhstan's unwavering support and active involvement from its inception. He told Xi: "China is a friend and partner that Kazakhstan will always trust."


Xi sees young people as the "mainstay" of friendship between China and Kazakhstan. "The common interest and ideal they hold for life all bring them together in true friendship."

During his inaugural state visit to Kazakhstan in 2013, he engaged directly with students from Nazarbayev University. "Seeing so many young, glowing faces in the audience, I could not but reminisce about my own university days," Xi said.

The Chinese president shared story of Kazakh youth Ruslan Tulenov, who then was a student at China's Hainan University and has a rare Rh-negative blood type referred to as "panda blood" in China.

For a time, Ruslan insisted on voluntary blood donations to help Chinese patients. His life-saving gesture touched many, including Xi, who called him "the envoy of China-Kazakh friendship."

Recalling the unexpected recognition, Ruslan said, "I never expected him to mention an ordinary international student. It was a moment of profound warmth. President Xi is a caring person."

Since graduating, Ruslan has assumed the role of Global Press Officer at the Hainan International Economic Development Bureau, actively promoting the Hainan Free Trade Port globally. In 2022, he met Xi in person in Hainan. Referring to Ruslan as a "China expert," Xi said: "We welcome more international talents to join us."

Another Kazakh youth who left an impression on Xi is Ismail Daurov. Now a doctor at the China-Kazakhstan Center for Traditional Medicine in Astana, Ismail never imagined that his casual remarks would connect him with the Chinese president.

 Ismail Daurov (L), a Kazakh student who has a Chinese name Ma Wenxuan, talks with his classmate about their theses at Shaanxi University of Chinese Medicine in northwest China's Shaanxi Province, June 10, 2019. (Xinhua/Li Yibo)

"I am a foreigner, but not an outsider," Ismail once said during the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, while pursuing his postgraduate studies at Shaanxi University of Chinese Medicine, he volunteered to assist a local community in Xi'an.

Xi later quoted Ismail's words during a speech at a virtual summit marking the 30th anniversary of diplomatic ties between China and five Central Asian countries. The young Kazakh's words "have touched the hearts of many in China," he said.

Xi's commendation was a humbling surprise for Ismail. The young Kazakh hopes to heal more people in Kazakhstan with traditional Chinese medicine and "dedicate my life to healing people."

"Youth are at the forefront of fostering people's friendships," said Serik Korzhumbayev, editor-in-chief of Delovoy Kazakhstan newspaper. "They will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in nurturing the enduring friendship between China and Kazakhstan and propelling bilateral relations towards a future as radiant as soaring eagles."

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