Cooperation expands trade ties

Digital technology new investment pattern between China, Central Asian countries

Visitors learn about local specialty products at the Uzbekistan exhibition area during the Sixth Silk Road International Expo in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, on Aug 14, 2022. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

China and five Central Asian countries — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan — are set to enhance their economic and trade ties by expanding cooperation in new areas such as digital technologies, green development and trade in services, experts and business executives said.

The six countries have been deepening pragmatic cooperation in economics and trade for the past three decades, establishing comprehensive, energetic and mutually beneficial partnerships in sectors including energy, natural resources, infrastructure and agriculture, according to China's Ministry of Commerce.

With China and these Central Asian countries accelerating the implementation of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and reinforcing ties in areas of common interests, such as manufacturing, transport, finance and telecommunications, experts said these moves will expand economic cooperation — from trade and investment activities mainly engaged in energy and natural resource-related industries — to more fields.

Bai Ming, deputy director of international market research at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation in Beijing, said that as digital trade has emerged as a new engine to fuel economic growth, it is able to effectively connect trade chains' information nodes, reducing information asymmetries and transaction costs between China and Central Asian countries.

Central Asian countries have followed the trend of digital development and deepened regional economic cooperation in fields such as smart cities, telemedicine and advanced manufacturing over the past several years, Bai said.

For example, Huawei Technologies has already participated in smart city-themed digital infrastructure projects in Uzbekistan and built digital transportation projects in cities in Tajikistan.

The collaboration of all involved parties in digital infrastructure development, sustainable growth and trade in services will pave the way for mutually advantageous cooperation, fostering an environment of widespread consultation, collective contribution and inclusive rewards in the partnership between China and the Central Asian region, said Wang Shoujun, dean of the Belt and Road School of Beijing Normal University.

Thanks to factors such as the tangible growth of the Belt and Road Initiative and the complementary trade structures, trade between China and the five Central Asian countries reached a record $70.2 billion last year, data from the Ministry of Commerce showed.

Such a good momentum has also been sustained this year, with bilateral trade soaring 37.4 percent year-on-year in the first four months of 2023, according to China's General Administration of Customs.

Crude oil, natural gas, minerals and agricultural products are Central Asian countries' main shipments to China. China exports mainly manufacturing equipment, steel, vehicles, electronics, textiles, garments and household appliances to these countries.

By the end of last year, China's direct investment stock in the five Central Asian countries had reached nearly $15 billion, with a number of cooperation projects launched in fields such as oil and gas exploration and processing, manufacturing, regional connectivity and digital technologies.

In a video-link meeting between the six countries' economic and trade ministers held in April, China's Minister of Commerce Wang Wentao said that China is willing to work with all sides to promote new patterns in trade and investment, pursue innovation as a development impetus, keep industrial and supply chains in the region secure and stable, and uphold the multilateral trading system.