Eva Seiwert

PANEL 3: The Learning about China in Central Asia

Academic Collaboration along the New Silk Road and China’s Scarce Engagement in Higher Education institutions in Central Asia

Eva Seiwert, Research Associate, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg & Associate Research Fellow, OSCE Academy, Kyrgyzstan

As part of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been promoting higher education (HE) collaboration with partner countries. At one end of the ‘Silk Road’ lie Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan – two countries with close political, security, and economic ties to the PRC. At the other end lie Germany and the UK, which are not BRI countries but founding members of the AIIB. Given Germany and the UK’s geographical distance from and deteriorating relations with China, one might expect China to be engaging much more closely with Central Asian HE than with the more distant states in Europe. However, the exact opposite seems to be the case.

This paper investigates the PRC’s engagement with HE institutions in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, asking why academic cooperation with its western bordering countries is so surprisingly low compared to other regions. Through qualitative content analysis of government documents and interview data generated in Central Asia in 2022, the paper scrutinises the Chinese government’s strategy of internationalising its HE and examines what role Kazakhstani and Kyrgyzstani higher education play in it. The paper’s findings shed light on a largely overlooked aspect of China-Central Asia relations – academic cooperation – and contribute to existing debates on alleged ‘threats’ arising from the PRC’s academic institutions becoming increasingly influential globally.