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China-Central Asia Summit presents new model of multilateral cooperation

By Chu Yin

The China-Central Asia Summit was held in Xi’an, northwest China’s Shaanxi province from May 18 to 19. Xi’an was a natural choice as it is the ancient capital of thirteen ancient dynasties.

During the event, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with leaders from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. It is the first major diplomatic activity that China hosts this year, and also the first summit held offline by the heads of state of the six countries since the establishment of diplomatic ties 31 years ago.

Xi delivered a keynote address and presented four principles and eight proposals for future cooperation between China and Central Asian countries. A joint declaration, the Xi'an Declaration of the China-Central Asia Summit, was issued on May 19, which not only serves as a guide for China-Central Asia cooperation but also reflects China’s proactive diplomacy in this new era.

Chu Yin is a non-resident research fellow with the Center for China and Globalization (CCG). He is a renowned Chinese scholar and former professor at the University of International Relations. 

China is adjusting its diplomatic strategic layout based on new circumstances. Central Asia has always been of great significance to China's national security and border stability due to its geopolitical location, resource endowment, as well as ethnic and religious conditions. Intensive cooperation between China and Central Asia will contribute to the strategic stability in China's northwest region. Currently, the US is strengthening alignments with countries such as India, Republic of Korea, Japan, and Australia in an effort to exert pressure on China from the east and south. The situation in Afghanistan has also undergone significant changes, further highlighting the significance of a robust China-Central Asia relations. Additionally, the Ukraine crisis has heightened the importance of the Central Asian corridor because of the instability the crisis has brought to the passage connecting China with Europe through Russia and Eastern Europe. In such context, the China-Central Asia Summit is crucial for China to optimize its diplomatic layout and strengthen collaboration with Central Asia.

China is working on a new mechanism for multilateral cooperation. China and the five Central Asian countries have agreed to formally establish a head-of-state meeting mechanism, which will be held every two years, with the next summit scheduled to take place in Kazakhstan in 2025. Furthermore, the six countries will set up a permanent secretariat of the mechanism and carry out ministerial-level meetings in key areas. The China-Central Asia cooperation mechanism has distinctive characteristics, as it will not establish any formal international organization, rather it relies on summits and dialogues at various levels. At the same time, China and Central Asian countries will also enhance dialogues within the existing multilateral frameworks, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the United Nations. China-Central Asia cooperation does not draw lines based on so-called values, nor targets third parties, but together the two sides show the determination to choose their own path and oppose color revolutions.

China is striving for deepening the collaboration under the Belt and Road Initiative. Central Asia is the birthplace of the Belt and Road Initiative. During Xi's visit to Kazakhstan in 2013, he proposed to build the Silk Road Economic Belt. Over the past decades, Central Asia has consistently been at the forefront of implementing the initiative. In terms of policy coordination, China and Central Asia have firmly backed each other in their core interests. With respect to infrastructure connectivity, the number of cross-border railways, highways, and oil and gas pipelines between China and Central Asia have been increasing. In the areas of trade facilitation, financial integration, and people-to-people exchanges, notable achievements have been made, including the expansion and upgrades of ports, currency swaps, and the establishment of new Confucius Institutes. The Confucius Institute at Osh State University, Kyrgyzstan, is the first in the world that is eligible to grant undergraduate degrees. China and the five Central Asian countries have also emphasized the need to enhance the alignment between the Belt and Road Initiative and the developmental strategies of all sides, and have proposed the Cultural Silk Road and the Health Silk Road plans, as stressed in the Xi’an Declaration.

China is taking a more active stance in advocating the Global Development Initiative, Global Security Initiative, Global Civilization Initiative, and building of a community with a shared future for mankind. In Central Asia, these three initiatives and the idea of a shared future hold strong appeal. China provides assistance to Central Asian countries, opens its market to them, and welcomes them to board the "express train" of China's development. Furthermore, China dose not interfere in Central Asian countries’ security cooperation with third parties, and firmly opposes external interference in the internal affairs of regional states. Meanwhile, China views Central Asia as an equal partner in inter-civilization dialogue. Central Asian countries speak highly of China’s such stances, which is reflected in the high praise given by the heads of state during the summit. Moreover, it is stated in the first point of the Xi'an Declaration that China and the five Central Asian countries determine to work together for a even closer China-Central Asia community with a shared future.

The article was translated from Chinese to English by GDToday, and reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of GDToday.

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at newsguangdong@sina.com.)

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