The China-Central Asia Summit kicked off on May 18 in Xi’an, the capital city of China’s Shaanxi Province and the starting point of the ancient Silk Road. The two-day summit is the first held offline by the heads of state of China and the five Central Asian countries, which include Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, since establishing diplomatic ties 31 years ago.
“China and the Central Asian countries have had four foreign ministers’ meetings in a cordial and friendly atmosphere since 2020. I believe the summit will be the same and pave the way for more mutually beneficial cooperation between the two sides,” said Ruslan Izimov, Kazakh sinologist and director of the Center for China Studies in Central Asia "Sinopsis", in an exclusive interview with GDToday on May 16.
Ruslan Izimov, Kazakh sinologist and director of the Center for China Studies in Central Asia "Sinopsis" (Photo provided to GDToday)
The summit and the foreign ministers’ meetings were 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.
“For Central Asian countries, the C+C5 mechanism is a promising form of cooperation, because compared to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), it offers Central Asia the opportunity to discuss the region’s major challenges directly with China,” Izimov noted.
“The mechanism is also part of Central Asian states’ practice of the multi-vector foreign policy. We cannot afford to be a subordination to any major power,” Izimov added. In addition to China, Central Asia has also established the C5+1 mechanism with other parties such as the US, Russia, Japan and the European Union.
In terms of Central Asia’s economic cooperation with China, Izimov holds that the region has played a key role in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which was first proposed by China in Kazakhstan in September 2013.
“Central Asia is one of the most favorable corridors for China’s access to Europe and the Persian Gulf. The region is not only rich in energy and minerals, but also provides a consumer market for Chinese goods,” Izimov said.
The BRI also benefits Central Asia in various fields. Izimov took Kazakhstan as an example. “Today, China is not only a trading partner of Kazakhstan, but also a major investor. It has been providing Kazakhstan with the latest technologies in the fields of agriculture, finance, information technology (IT) and military,” he elaborated.
Izimov told GDToday that the cooperation list between China and Kazakhstan includes 52 projects, with 20 projects worth around 4.45 billion USD having been completed between 2015 and 2022, and 15 projects worth more than 5 billion USD being implemented.
According to Xinhua, there has been over 100-fold growth in two-way trade since China established diplomatic relations with the five Central Asian countries 31 years ago. The trade between the two sides reached 70 billion USD in 2022 and recorded a year-on-year expansion of 22 percent in the first quarter of 2023.
With the 10th anniversary of the BRI approaching, Izimov believes more cooperative opportunities will emerge between China and Central Asia in spite of the regional and global uncertainties posed by challenges such as the Ukraine crisis, and the summit will be the springboard.
Reporter | Lydia Liu
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Editor | Wing, Steven, Jerry