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“This is the BEST KOSTANAY flour from our country, made from high-quality wheat grown in Kostanay, renowned as the granary of Kazakhstan.” The 6th China International Import Expo (CIIE) featured a bustling “Made in Kazakhstan” pavilion, with a continuous stream of visitors. Yelshibek Tomiris, a Kazakh girl, proficient in Chinese, enthusiastically introduced their hometown’s quality products to everyone.
Just a street away from the National Exhibition and Convention Center (Shanghai) at the Greenland Global Commodity Trading Hub, Yelshibek Botakoz, the elder sister of Yelshibek Tomiris, is busy preparing for the opening of the Kazakhstan Import Pavilion. The pavilion has become a year-round showcase and trading platform after the 6-day CIIE. “Six-day Expo is too short! In the future, everyone can come here anytime for goods.” Yelshibek Botakoz laughed heartily. She has attended three consecutive CIIE events, but was absent this year due to her new role as Director of the Kazakhstan Import Pavilion.
The sisters’ hometown, Kazakhstan, has significant ties to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). In 2013, during President Xi Jinping’s visit to Kazakhstan, he first proposed the Silk Road Economic Belt Initiative, making Kazakhstan one of the earliest countries to engage in BRI cooperation with China. Over the past decade, the two countries have achieved fruitful results in economic and trade cooperation and cultural exchanges.
This history has shaped the sisters’ dreams in China. They have been curious about China since childhood. Yelshibek Botakoz, at the age of 17, came to China for her studies in 2017, and is now pursuing a Master’s Degree in International Business at ECNU. “The experience of participating in three editions of the CIIE has changed me. It transformed me from a shy and introverted young girl into an outgoing and optimistic young woman with a clear vision for the future.” As she approaches graduation next year, she finds her dream career through this grand platform—engaging in Kazakh-China international trade, contributing to the economic and cultural exchanges between the two countries.
Inspired by her sister, Yelshibek Tomiris, also studying at ECNU, applied for voluntary work at this year's CIIE. She became a volunteer at the Kazakhstan National Pavilion, responsible for promoting their country’s products and culture and providing translation and explanations on-site.
Kazakhstan is one of the five guest of honor countries at this year’s CIIE, with over 40 Kazakh institutions and companies participating. The Kazakhstan National Pavilion showcases the country's development potential in exports, investments, tourism, and logistics, and features state-owned enterprises like the Kazakhstan National Investment Corporation and Air Astana. At the same time, the Kazakhstan National Pavilion has organized multiple small and medium-sized food enterprises, forming the “Made in Kazakhstan” showcase at the business exhibition.
For Yelshibek Tomiris, the experience is one of great excitement and surprise. “Participating in such a grand event for the first time, we are all very excited to help more Chinese friends understand our country.” In the “Made in Kazakhstan” pavilion, products such as camel milk powder, honey, snacks, liquor, dried fruits, and flour fill the stands. Yelshibek Tomiris and her peers are each responsible for promoting a brand, shuttling busily between exhibitors and customers.
Since 2020, Yelshibek Botakoz has been a volunteer for three consecutive CIIE events. She marvels at the platform that brings together so many global goods and trade opportunities in Shanghai. Over the past three years, the number of exhibitors she has served has grown from one to thirty. In 2022, Yelshibek Botakoz also organized Kazakhstan Food Week, assisting companies unable to attend on-site due to the pandemic to connect with offline buyers. While realizing the huge demand in the Chinese market for high-quality Kazakh products, Yelshibek Botakoz's plans have become clearer.
“Kazakhstan ranks ninth in the world in terms of land area, but most people still associate it with being part of the Soviet Union and a major oil-exporting country. They don't know about the beautiful scenery and the delicious and healthy products like camel milk, honey, and wine in our country. I hope to fill this gap.”
As a result, in addition to their studies, Yelshibek Botakoz and Yelshibek Tomiris have started a public account named “Qazaqland Sino-Kazakh” on platforms like TikTok and Xiaohongshu, introducing Kazakh culture, language, history, and local cuisine, and sharing their China stories. “Through sharing, we hope to bring our country's good products to China and the world.”
After serving at the CIIE, the Kazakhstan Import Pavilion marks Yelshibek Botakoz’s first achievement. Not only publicizing products, she actively participated in the entire process of attracting brands. “This year, we have three new brands, all coming to the Chinese market for the first time. These are the wheat flour of my childhood memories, energy bars made from fruits and nuts, and a popular snack among Kazakhs.” Before the event, Yelshibek Botakoz spent several months assisting with translating documents for brands, customizing product packaging for export, coordinating with Customs, ensuring food safety procedures, and conducting market research in China to help with pricing. “In Kazakhstan, wheat flour is usually sold in large packages. After researching the Chinese market, we specifically introduced a smaller packaging version for Chinese consumers to sample.” In the, she wants to further introduce health products, beauty products, tourism, art, fashion, and more businesses to China.
In Shanghai, while studying, Yelshibek Botakoz and Yelshibek Tomiris actively participate in various cultural exchange activities. The CIIE has solidified the sisters’ determination to become ambassadors for Sino-Kazakh trade and cultural exchange.