Both Russia and Britain wanted to gain more profits by trading with Qing and Yakub Bek’s regime, and they also wanted to use Yakub Beg’s regime as a tool to hamper each other’s expansion. Therefore, they were not really interested in sustaining this small state. At that time, Russia tended to expand towards the south to get more warm water ports, while the British needed to protect their colony, India. (The colonial or expansion competition was called “the Great Game” by British Lord Ellenborough in 1830. Here is a Youtube video that provided an overall introduction to it: “The Great Game of the 19th Century | BRITISH-RUSSIAN Rivalry – KJ Vids”) However, because Yakub Beg insisted his restrict Muslim policy, he controlled the commercial activities in Xinjiang. He failed to please neither Britain nor Russia by refusing to provide the trading privilege that Britain and Russia wanted.
Compared to Britain, Russia started trading with people in Xinjiang earlier. When Qing’s power was declined in the nineteenth century following the Opium War, Russia took the chance to start tradings around the border of Xinjiang secretly and escape the taxes. They used their livestock, metals, and fur to exchange China’s silk cloth and tea, which were seen as luxuries in Russia then. In 1851, through the unequal treaty, Treaty of Kulja, the trade was legitimated. Kulja and Chuguchak (both near the border of Xinjiang) was also opened to Sino-Russian trade. The treaty also allowed Russian merchants to trade and Russian consuls to reside in the Xinjiang towns of Kulja and Tarbagatai for eight and a half months each year. Therefore, the conflict in Xinjiang during that time period was not good for the Russian’s trading. They wanted a peaceful Xinjiang rather than a place split by uprisings. In addition, Yakub Bek’s regime completely destroyed the original non-religious legal system set up by Qing, and built up a system as Sharia as the legal law. Russia was afraid that his strict Islamic regime would destabilize their dominant position in other Muslim nations in Central Asia, where they were expanding. Russia took over Yakub Bek’s motherland Khanate of Kokand at the same year Yaque Bek conquered Xinjiang. With this threat, Yaque Bek was forced to make an “agreement” with Russia in 1866. This agreement stipulated that the two sides would not interfere with each others’ actions and give each other the right to pursue the convicts in each others’ lands. Russian Empire’s first Governor-General of Russian Turkestan, Konstantin von Kaufmann, tried to control Yaqub Bek further by providing weapons and clothes to him, even offer to help him to train his army. A few years later, Russia wanted more from Yaque Bek. In 1867, Russian proposed to build a road into his territory and asked for some privileges of trade, while Yakub insisted that Russia must recognize his regime first. Russia did not want to take the risk of fighting with them, so they refused. All these unpleasant interactions built up the tension between Russia and Yaque Beg and eventually made Yakub Bek embrace British’s support.
The British tended to use Yakub Beg’s regime to hamper the power of Russia more than to benefit from trading. In 1866, Yakub Beg dispatched a delegation to Kashmir and settled down a series of trade issues between southern Xinjiang and Britain India. Yaque Bek promises that he would protect India and, of course, Britain caravan. Through this route, many weapons and ammunition were sent to Xinjiang. After two years, Yakub sent a man to Punjab to seek more support from Britain. As a return, Robert Barkley Shaw and George W. Hayward went unofficially to Kashgar to “help” Yakub Beg. They then did a series diplomatic expedition to Xinjiang. (For their efforts of exploring and information collecting, they figured out the exact location of Kun Lun and Karakoram mountains, and the route of the Upper Yarkand River during their approach to Kashgaria.) Both of them suggested the Britain officials up the market in Xinjiang, even colonizing it. The Indian viceroy then not only sent another huge amount of weapons to Yakub Beg but also supported him to build an arsenal in Kashgar. These supports allowed Yaque Bek to expand his regime to the North of Xinjiang.
For Russia, they saw Yakub Bek’s expansion to the North as a threat. In order to prevent his further expanding, Russia took over Kulja area in 1871. Yakub Bek then promised more trading privileges to the Russians, such as Russians could freely trade and travel in southern Xinjiang, set up commercial commissioners, and lower the import and export taxes to 2.5%; while Russia finally recognized Yakub Bek as the head of Zheder Shah Khanate. What’s interesting here is that Russia claimed that they are taking Kulj, not for colonization or occupation, but for keeping it on Qing’s behalf, to distract Yaque Bek’s resentment. The take-up of Kulja aroused Qing officials’ attention. As mentioned earlier, Qing was busy suppressing uprisings in other parts in China when Yaque Bek built his regime. They were not even sure “whether Yaque Bek [was] a local or foreigner” (Boulger). But Russia’s action made them realize how serious the situation is: Qing was losing territory around the border. Now Qing was well prepared for recapturing Xinjiang – General Zuo Zongtang and his army had to experience suppressing many uprisings in the west-east area. Hearing that, Britain sent more weapons to Xinjiang to support Yakub Bek and sent a representative to try to persuade Qing officials to retrieve their army. However, after the government made the decision of reoccupying Xinjiang, the British choose to protect their trading with Qing government, therefore they did not try all they can do to help Yakub Beg.