(PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo) Analysts have devoted considerable attention to the rise of Sinophobia in Central Asia. Chinese loans, we are told, are forcing Central Asian states into ever-growing dependency on Beijing. Chinese companies setting up shop in Central Asia crowd out local industry and employ Chinese nationals rather than local residents. And to add insult to economic injury, China threatens Central Asians’ ethnonational future. Chinese men are marrying Central Asian women at alarming rates and Beijing is “reeducating” Central Asian co-nationals across the border in Xinjiang. These Sinophobic narratives are commonplace across Central Asia. Focusing on Sinophobic narratives, however, overlooks a curious paradox: Central Asians, when surveyed about their views of the Chinese government, are more likely to approve than disapprove of Beijing. That said, only a minority of Central Asians actually do express approval of the Chinese government. The answer to this paradox, largely overlooked in studies of Central Asian receptivity to China, is that a vast number of Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Tajiks, and Uzbeks may simply not know enough about China to express a definitive opinion. The majority of Central Asians are not Sinophobic, they are Sino-agnostic. As this memo illustrates, not knowing about China presents both opportunities and challenges for Beijing as it seeks to burnish its image in the region.
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Associated Minerva Project:
Russian, Chinese, Militant, and Ideologically Extremist Messaging Effects on United States Favorability Perception in Central Asia