Summit set to boost links with Central Asia

Xi to chair meeting, blueprint expected for new era of relations, spokesman says

A view of the Bell Tower in Xi'an city, Northwest China's Shaanxi province. (PHOTO / VCG)

The upcoming China-Central Asia Summit, to be chaired by President Xi Jinping, will further elevate ties between China and the five Central Asian countries, bring economic and trade cooperation to a higher level and deliver more tangible benefits to the people, officials and analysts said.

Xi will chair the summit on May 18 and 19 in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying announced on Monday.

The summit will bring together President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan, President Sadyr Japarov of Kyrgyzstan, President Emomali Rahmon of Tajikistan, President Serdar Berdimuhamedov of Turkmenistan, and President Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan, she said.

The gathering, one of the major diplomatic events to be hosted by China this year, will be a significant milestone in the history of ties between the two sides, Wang Wenbin, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said at a news briefing on Monday.

Xi will deliver an important speech at the summit, and the six heads of state will exchange views on the development of the China-Central Asia mechanism, cooperation in various sectors and major international and regional issues of common concern, he said.

Key political documents will also be signed during the summit, he said. "It is our belief that under the joint efforts from various sides, the summit will draw up a new blueprint for China-Central Asia relations and usher in a new era for cooperation."

Total trade volume between China and the five Central Asian countries reached a record $70 billion last year, according to the National Development and Reform Commission.

Li Yongquan, head of the China Society for Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies, said China has always respected the five Central Asian countries' sovereignty, independence and their right to choose development paths suited to their own national conditions.

"China has always seen Central Asia as a priority in its neighborhood diplomacy, while the stability and development of the region is directly related to China's own development," Li said.

Last year, Xi chaired a virtual summit in Beijing to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the Central Asian countries, during which he announced a plan to provide grant assistance of $500 million to the countries to support livelihood programs.

Xi also made Kazakhstan the destination of his first foreign trip since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, paying a state visit to the nation in September.

Going forward, the building of an even closer community with a shared future between China and Central Asia will give fresh impetus to bilateral ties and contribute to the region's security, stability and development, said Li from the China Society for Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies.

Zhao Huirong, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies, said that the elevation of the multilateral mechanism between China and the five countries indicated a new level of emphasis placed on the relationship.

"A summit between heads of state will help build a strong pillar for the building of a community with a shared future between the two sides and lead the way for the future growth of ties," she said.

Central Asia is the place where Xi proposed the Silk Road Economic Belt, the forerunner of the Belt and Road Initiative. The region has also played pivotal roles in the BRI going global, Zhao added.

"The five nations are active participants and beneficiaries from the BRI, and we have reasons to believe that the summit will help scale up pragmatic cooperation and enable the region to continue leading the way for BRI cooperation," she said.

China and the five countries agreed during a foreign ministers' meeting last year to establish the China-Central Asia Summit mechanism, with the six countries to hold biennial summits starting this year.