THE NORTHERN CASPIAN ON CHINAS GEOPOLITICAL AGENDA

David BABAYAN


David Babayan, Ph.D. (Hist.), Independent Expert


Introduction

Everyone knows that in addition to its keen interest in the Southern and Northern Caucasus, the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) is also active in Central Asia, another area of its geopolitical interests.

Much has and is being written about this, but for some reason no one has examined Chinas presence in the Northern Caspian (I have in mind the Atyrau Region of Kazakhstan, the relations with which are part and parcel of Chinas Central Asian policy, and the Astrakhan Region and Kalmykia of Russia).

Here I will dwell on Chinese strategy in the two latter regions of the Russian Federation, that is, in the Russian part of the Northern Caspian. As a sort of corridor or link between Central Asia and the Caucasus with a multitude of ties between them and this part of Russia, the region is of immense geopolitical importance for Beijing.

Indeed, the Northern Caspian offers a lot of opportunities for China, ranging from the economy to the humanitarian and religious spheres; its strategic location is very important for Chinas security. This means that this region is one of the components of Chinas Central Asian and Caucasian geopolitics.

Kalmykia

The relations between China and Kalmykia, with a very specific and interesting history behind them, go back into the past: at the turn of the 17th century, the Kalmyks moved to Russia from China (from Jungaria, to be more exact). In 1771, a larger part of the newcomers moved back to China; many died before reaching the Celestial Empire, which makes the Kalmykian exodus a very contradictory event in the history of the Kalmyks. Today, there are Mongolian peoples (closely related to the Kalmyks) in the Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region (in the northwest of China); some of them are direct descendants of those Kalmyks who moved back to China in the 18th century.

There are two Mongolian administrative-territorial units in the XUAR: the Bayingolin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture and the Bortala Mongol Autonomous Prefecture; the former, which covers the area of 470.9 thousand sq km, is the largest autonomous territory in the XUAR and even in China. There is also a Hoboksar-Mongol Autonomous County in the XUAR.

Kalmykia is involved in active cooperation with these territories, as well as with the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

The Kalmyks are the only people in the region who profess Tibetan Buddhism. This and the factors enumerated above create a favorable atmosphere for closer relations between China and Kalmykia and add very specific features to their cooperation.

Significantly, the ethno-religious factor played an important role when Russia and China started their relations: in 1709-1713, Peter the Great allowed Kalmykian envoys to go to Tibet on an official visit; in 1712, they unofficially met Jing Emperor Xuan Ye, who reciprocated with an embassy to Russia to


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