The upcoming China-Central Asia Summit — the first of its kind, scheduled to be held in Xi’an next week, will witness ties between China and the five Central Asian countries elevated to a new high. Fruitful, comprehensive results are expected to be realized in multiple areas, be it political, economic and security, as participating countries are expected to reach new consensus of cooperation amid new challenges and risks in the region, said observers.
The China-Central Asia Summit will be held on May 18 and 19 in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province. Chinese President Xi Jinping will chair the summit, foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying announced on Monday.
At China’s invitation, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan, President Sadyr Japarov of Kyrgyzstan, President Emomali Rahmon of Tajikistan, President Serdar Berdimuhamedov of Turkmenistan and President Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan will be attending the summit, Hua said.
Hua also announced that at the invitation of President Xi, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan, President Sadyr Japarov of Kyrgyzstan, President Emomali Rahmon of Tajikistan and President Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan will pay a state visit to China respectively from May 16 to 20.
The China-Central Asia Summit is the first major diplomatic event to be held in China this year, Wang Wenbin, spokesperson of Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a Monday briefing. Being the first offline summit between leaders of the six countries since the establishment of diplomatic relations 31 years ago, Wang said the summit is of milestone significance to China’s ties with the five Central Asian nations.
During the summit, President Xi will give an important speech; and leaders are set to exchange views on major international and regional issues, said Wang. He also noted that important political documents will be signed.
The spokesperson said China is willing to join hands with Central Asian countries, using the presidents’ visit to further expand cooperation, and push forward ties, as well as contributing to world peace and prosperity.
The highest-level summit between China and those Central Asian countries indicates that the comprehensive strategic partnerships China established with all five Central Asian countries have reached a new high; and that those countries share a new consensus on development amid new challenges and risks in the region, Yang Jin, an associate research fellow at the Institute of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.
Yang noted that the summit carries special significance as previous cooperation between China and Central Asian countries was either bilateral; or under multilateral frameworks, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), while this summit focuses only on cooperation between China and Central Asian countries.
China shares a special bond with Central Asian countries. For his first foreign trip since the COVID-19 pandemic, President Xi paid a state visit to Uzbekistan in September 2022 and attended the 22nd meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the SCO. Moreover, this year also marks the 10th anniversary of the Silk Road Economic Belt initiative proposed by Xi during his visit to Kazakhstan in 2013.
More room for cooperation
Last month, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang chaired the fourth China-Central Asia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Xi’an. The meeting yielded a consensus as they agreed to adhere to solidarity and mutual assistance, and enhance mutual support; adhere to mutual benefit and win-win results, and advance high-quality Belt and Road cooperation and expand security cooperation.
Issues dominating the summit will be wide-ranging, including political, economic, security and people-to-people exchange, Zhao Huirong, an Eastern European studies expert from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times. She noted economic cooperation will be one of the key issues at the summit. “Pushing for more collaboration under the Belt and Road Initiative will be important … Both sides may also discuss agreements on energy, agriculture, green economy and so forth.”
Trade between China and the five Central Asian countries reached $70.2 billion last year, a historic high, China’s Minister of Commerce Wang Wentao said last month. In 2022, China’s imports of agricultural, energy and mineral products from these countries jumped over 50 percent, while its exports of mechanical and electronic products to them increased by 42 percent.
China and Central Asia have kept close collaboration on security for years. Experts predicted cooperation on security will be another focus at the summit because of new risks and challenges in the region. One of these security challenges include the risks the US’ hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan poses for regional countries.
Zhao said that to promote regional security and improve global security governance, China has launched various beneficiary initiatives, such as the Global Security Initiative; and has been playing an active role in multilateral mechanism to assuage risks and bring peace.
Last week, Qin Gang attended the fifth China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Foreign Ministers’?Dialogue in Islamabad, Pakistan. The three countries have pledged to further strengthen trilateral cooperation on security and counter-terrorism.
Following the US pulling out from Afghanistan, outside forces that interfere with Central Asia’s affairs have decreased, which makes the room for cooperation between China and those countries much bigger, Zhu Yongbiao, director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at Lanzhou University, told the Global Times. Zhu said Central Asian countries’ willingness in cooperating with China has also grown stronger in recent years, not only because both sides maintain strong momentum in collaborating on energy, infrastructure and other areas, but because these countries share similar stance on many major international issues.
Working together, not competing
China’s cooperation with Central Asian nations has been growing stronger to adapt to the current changes. But some Western media cannot stop smearing China’s role in the region, claiming that it competes with Russia’s influence in the region.
Yang said the reports are “absurd and harbor evil intention.” Such claims disrespect Central Asian countries’ diplomatic wisdom, as they are sovereign countries and have the right to cooperate with whoever can bring them concrete benefits, said the expert.
When meeting with Qin Gang in Xi’an in April, Kazakhstan’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Murat Nurtleu said that the strategic partnership with China remains one of the priorities of Kazakhstan’s foreign policy. Nurtleu highlighted the need for joint efforts to implement the agreements reached at the highest level to expand multifaceted cooperation between the two countries, particularly in trade and investment, the Astana Times reported.
Li Yongquan, director of the Eurasian Social Development Research at the Development Research Center of the State Council, told the Global Times that “For 30 years, Central Asia has been situated in a complicated geopolitical atmosphere. One of the reasons why regional countries can thrive despite the multiple unstable factors is because China and Russia have cooperated on maintaining safety and stability in the region. China and Russia have a shared interest on this issue,” said Li.