China-Central Asia Summit
THE recently concluded China-Central Asia Summit in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, has established a firm basis for enduring collaboration between China and the Central Asian States of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The summit presented a detailed strategy for cooperation, encompassing various aspects such as infrastructure development, trade expansion, emphasis on superior quality goods and reinforcement of P2P interactions. China has expressed willingness to synchronize its national development policies and plans with the five Central Asian nations and facilitate modernization and mutual prosperity.
President Xi Jinping stressed the need for a new complementary, mutually beneficial high-level interaction model. Central Asia is the Eurasian continent’s centre, Xi said at the conference. He added that China wants a shared future with Central Asia. China emphasizes its ties with the five Central Asian countries, its strategic neighbours. Xi announced the Silk Road Economic Belt in Astana, Kazakhstan, in 2013. After three years of COVID-19 prevention and control, he chose Kazakhstan as his first international destination to Uzbekistan for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit.
The summit primarily focused on security concerns, as President Xi emphasized the need for a collaborative global security initiative. He also expressed a firm stance against external interference in the internal affairs of regional countries and efforts to incite ‘colour revolutions’. Additionally, he advocated for a zero-tolerance policy towards the ‘three forces’ of extremism, separatism and terrorism and urged to resolve regional security dilemma. The speaker emphasized the need to safeguard the sovereignty, security, independence and territorial integrity of the Central Asian States. The leaders of the Central Asian nations expressed unanimous concurrence with Xi’s statement. Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev asserted that the region should remain a hub for innovation and development and that any attempts to turn it into a site for geopolitical rivalry would be unacceptable.
In recent years, China has emerged as the primary trading partner for the five Central Asian nations, with a trade volume surpassing $70 billion in the previous year. By contrast, the trade volume between Central Asia and the European Union amounted to approximately $47.5 billion, while that with Russia stood at $42 billion and the United States at $4.4 billion in 2022. The trade volume between China and Central Asia in the initial quarter of 2023 has surpassed $24.8 billion, exhibiting a 37.3 percent increase compared to the previous year. This suggests that the annual trade between the two regions will likely reach a new peak in the current year.
The President of China, Xi Jinping, has called for an augmentation of energy trade between China and the Central Asian nations and strengthening collaboration in the energy domain, with a particular emphasis on green energy and the non-military utilization of nuclear power. As per the announcement made during the Xi’an summit, it has been decided that the Central Asian nations will augment the provision of unrefined petroleum to China by utilizing the extended Atyrau-Kenkiyak and Kenkiyak-Kumkol pipelines. Xi emphasized the significance of prioritizing the construction of “Line D” of the China-Central Asia gas pipeline for all parties involved.
Xi reaffirmed China’s support for a global transportation tunnel through the Caspian Sea and the creation cutting-edge transportation hubs to move commodities between China and Europe. The transit time for goods from China to Europe via Central Asia and the Caspian Sea has dropped from 53 days to 19-23 days. The goal is to reduce it to 14-18 days by year’s end. According to Kazakhstan’s Prime Minister, Alikhan Smailov, transit time has been cut in half from 12 to 6 days and efforts are to lower it to 5 days by year’s end. This means efforts to shorten commodity transit from China to Europe have been further hindered.
President Xi proposed the establishment of novel collaborative high-tech initiatives in finance, agriculture, green and low-carbon development, medical services, healthcare and digital innovation between China and the five Central Asian nations. According to his statement, China intends to formulate a strategy to enhance scientific and technological collaboration with the Central Asian nations. This will involve imparting knowledge on poverty alleviation and encouraging Chinese enterprises operating in the area to generate employment opportunities. President Xi announced that China would provide financing support and grants worth 26 billion yuan ($3.8 billion) to Central Asian countries to enhance cooperation and promote regional development.
The participation of the five leaders from Central Asia in the Xi’an conference resulted in an improved level of coordination. The heads of state of the five Central Asian nations have reached a consensus to establish a comprehensive strategy to enhance regional commerce and augment exports to China. The potential outcome of this action is an increase in investment within China which could subsequently strengthen economic cooperation.
Frequent summits are of paramount importance. The participants reached a consensus that the upcoming summit in Kazakhstan in 2025 will serve as a catalyst for Central Asia’s sustained progress and development. The China-Central Asia summit established a foundation for a productive partnership. The potential for regional growth and development in China and Central Asia can be realized through implementing policies, promoting economic integration and fostering innovation. The growth of China and Central Asian States is contingent upon their ability to engage in dialogue, invest and collaborate concertedly.
—The writer works as a Researcher with an Islamabad-based policy think tank, the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad
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