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Unraveling the significance of the China-Central Asia Summit
  ·  2023-05-15  ·   Source: Xinhua News Agency

Tourists look at a Tang Dynasty (618-907) tri-colored figurine depicting camel-riding musicians at Shaanxi History Museum in Xi'an, northwest China's Shaanxi Province, on May 11 (XINHUA)   

The China-Central Asia Summit is set to take place in Xi'an, the capital city of China's Shaanxi Province, on May 18 and 19. On the occasion, the heads of state of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan will gather in China for the first time since the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. 

The event is the first summit held offline by the heads of state of the six countries since establishing diplomatic ties 31 years ago. The development of relations between China and Central Asian countries marks a significant milestone, paving the way for a new era of cooperation and creating a fresh blueprint for their partnership.

  

A crane loads containers at a railway port in Horgos, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, on May 11 (XINHUA) 

Meeting new demand 

The upcoming summit was born out of the China + Central Asia (C+C5) cooperation mechanism, established in 2020 to meet a growing demand for deeper cooperation between China and Central Asia.

Three of the five Central Asian countries -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan -- share borders with China, extending as long as 3,000 km. The stability in Central Asia is crucial to maintaining the stability of China, especially in its northwest region.

The friendly exchanges between the two sides trace back to ancient times. More than 2,100 years ago, Zhang Qian set off from what is now Xi'an as an envoy of the Han Dynasty. He started his mission to the western regions via Central Asia, which eventually led to the opening of the Silk Road.

After the five Central Asian states declared independence in 1991, China was among the first countries to recognize their sovereignty and establish diplomatic relations with them. Since then, China and the five Central Asian countries have successively formed strategic partnerships. Among them, China has elevated its ties with Kazakhstan to a permanent comprehensive strategic partnership and established comprehensive strategic partnerships with Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

Economic and trade cooperation between China and the five countries has achieved tangible results since establishing diplomatic ties. China's trade with the five reached 70 billion U.S. dollars in 2022 and recorded a year-on-year expansion of 22 percent in the first quarter of this year. As of the end of March, China's direct investment stock in Central Asia stood at over 15 billion dollars.

Central Asia is an important energy supplier to China. China once received 30 percent of its natural gas imports through the China-Central Asia pipeline. Residents in Beijing, Shanghai and other cities already use natural gas from Turkmenistan.

At the multilateral level, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has long been the leading platform for cooperation between China and Central Asia. With the exception of Turkmenistan, which adheres to the policy of permanent neutrality, the other four Central Asian countries are all founding members of the SCO. Within the framework, China has conducted fruitful security cooperation with Central Asian countries and made remarkable achievements in combating the "three forces" of terrorism, separatism and extremism, and promoting the peace process in Afghanistan.

As the SCO membership expands, its agenda has become more diverse. In addition to continuing their cooperation within the SCO framework, China and Central Asian countries also need a new specialized multilateral cooperation mechanism. In 2020, the C+C5 cooperation mechanism was introduced.  

Highly anticipated summit 

Central Asia, located in the heart of Eurasia, has served as a bridge connecting the East and the West. Regional countries have always pursued balanced diplomacy. To promote the collective interests of the region, efforts have been made to present a unified position on both regional and international matters.

Central Asia is increasingly inclined to coordinate diplomatically in the global arena. It has established the C5+1 mechanism with various parties such as China, the United States, Russia, Japan and the European Union.

Working with regions as a whole is not uncommon for China. For example, China has established the "10+1" mechanism with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The C+C5 cooperation mechanism has developed rapidly. During the four C+C5 foreign ministers' meetings, several projects were planned for the betterment of the people. These projects include establishing the China-Central Asia Agricultural Cooperation Center, a traditional medicine center, and the Luban Workshop, a Chinese vocational workshop program training talents overseas.

On January 25, 2022, China and the five Central Asian countries jointly announced building a China-Central Asia community with a shared future. On June 8, 2022, the third C+C5 foreign ministers' meeting established a China-Central Asia heads of state meeting mechanism.

It is worth noting that when interacting with Central Asian countries, China respects their development paths and considers their interests.

Meanwhile, China first proposed the Belt and Road Initiative in Kazakhstan in 2013. Since its inception, the initiative has been widely welcomed in the region, helping regional countries access broader markets and promoting building complete industrial systems in these resource-rich nations.

With the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative approaching, experts anticipate the China-Central Asia Summit will provide a much-needed boost to the relationship between China and Central Asia and Belt and Road cooperation.

According to Serik Korzhumbayev, editor-in-chief of Delovoy Kazakhstan newspaper, holding the China-Central Asia Summit in Xi'an, the starting point of the ancient Silk Road, is significant.

Korzhumbayev said the upcoming summit could potentially enhance long-term cooperation and development across multiple fields between China and Central Asia. This could lead to broader prospects and a boost in momentum.

"The summit will have a positive effect on the long-term cooperation and development of our countries," said Korzhumbayev. "A new format of cooperation will make it possible to involve the Central Asian region with China's large market in close economic ties."

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