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China-Central Asia Summit kicks off; high-level summit demonstrates Central Asia’s growing importance on China’s diplomatic agenda

BEIJING , May 20, 2023 /PRNewswire/ -- President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan held a welcome ceremony for Central Asian leaders and their wives in Tang Paradise, a complex based on the site of the original relic of an imperial garden dating back to the Tang Dynasty, in Xi'an on Thursday night. China-Central Asia Summit kicked off on the same day.

Experts said that convening of the "landmark" summit, first of its kind, demonstrates Central Asia's growing importance on China's diplomatic agenda, and increasing significance to China's energy and strategic security, amid complicated international and regional circumstances.

In an approximately overlapping time, leaders from G7 countries are scheduled to gather in Japan to take aim at China and Russia. Observers said China-Central Asia Summit, although not deliberately arranged at a close time with G7, sends contrast signals to the world, as G7 speaks language of outmoded Cold War mentality whilst China-Central Asia Summit's promotion of cooperation and inclusiveness represents world development trend.

In the welcome speech, Xi said no matter how the international situation changes, China and Central Asian countries always respect each other, maintain neighborly friendship, stick to win-win cooperation. Our nations' relationships have made historical strides from good neighbors to strategic partners, and to a community with a shared future, said Xi. He said such relations have injected positive energy to regional peace and development, and made new contribution to construction of a community with a shared future for mankind.

We sincerely welcome Central Asian countries to get on board of China's fast development express, and jointly create a better future for China-Central Asia cooperation, said Xi.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, and Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov arrived on Wednesday in Xi'an, Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, to attend the China-Central Asia Summit. Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Turkmen President Serdar Berdimuhamedov arrived on Thursday.

A 190 people formed dance team has been performing waist drum, yangko (a popular rural folk dance), and other folk arts at Xi'an Xianyang International Airport, where those leaders' flights landed.

Xi held talks with Japarov, Rahmon, Berdimuhamedov and Mirziyoyev respectively on Thursday. The Chinese President held talks with President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan on Wednesday.

After the meeting, leaders of China and Kyrgyzstan signed a joint declaration on elevating the bilateral relationship and witnessed the signing of multiple bilateral cooperation documents in fields such as economy, trade, industrial development and investment, customs, agriculture and culture.

Presidents of China also signed joint statements with the leaders of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

These joint documents emphasized support for each country's sovereignty, security and territorial integrity, as well as willingness to cooperate on trade, energy; and push forward the construction of high-quality development of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The declarations also mentioned the crackdown of three forces, terrorism in this region. Those Central Asian countries declared to stick to one-China principle and oppose Taiwan independence. Zhu Yongbiao, executive director of the Research Center for the Belt and Road at Lanzhou University, told the Global Times that the joint declaration show political mutual trust between China and Central Asia has been further elevated. "China and Kazakhstan already forged a unique permanent comprehensive strategic partnership, now that ties between China and Kyrgyzstan have also been lifted to a new level," said Zhu.

The declarations have showed Central Asian countries' acknowledgment about BRI and willingness to further deepen their cooperation with China under the BRI framework, said Zhu.

Those countries' support on China's propositions on Taiwan question and Xinjiang region demonstrates mutual support for each other's development routs, and that we share the same idea on sovereignty, as well as security, Yang Jin, an associate research fellow at the Institute of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.

More important partners

Experts told the Global Times the grand ceremony to welcome leaders of Central Asian countries and making the "first major diplomatic event that China hosts this year" focus on Central Asian countries show Central Asian countries' growing importance in China's diplomatic agenda.

Wang Xiaoquan, an expert from the Institute of Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that Central Asian countries' unique strategic importance to China has been highlighted by current international and regional circumstances. "Central Asia is China's strategic rear in coping with risks from the eastern side," he explained.

When the US is rallying its allies against China, China needs a stable Central Asia, Wang explained, noting that the region's safety also has a far-fetching impact on China's Northwestern region.

The region's importance to China is also embodied by both sides' cooperation on energy. For example, China once received 30 percent of its natural gas imports through the China-Central Asia pipeline. Residents in Beijing, Shanghai and some other cities already use natural gas from Turkmenistan.

From the big picture, since the Russia-Ukraine crisis, camp confrontation mentality has gained momentum in international society. For China and Central Asian countries, cooperation can promote regional peace and stability, sending signal different from camp confrontation and avoid the world sliding into bigger confrontation, Zhao Huirong, an Eastern European studies expert from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.

Contrasting signals

In another summit to be held in Japan between May 19 and 21, G7 leaders seek to hammer out a unified response to Chinese "economic coercion." The Wall Street Journal, cited sources saying that the US and its allies "are poised to increase pressure on China at this week's Group of Seven summit in Japan, with an expected joint statement rejecting use of economic retaliation against nations over policy disputes and other disagreements."

Western media began to draw parallel of the two summits, depicting China-Central Asia Summit as China's effort to counter the G7 summit. "The two meetings symbolize the calcification of a multipolar world in which Global South nations are being courted as important strategic partners," Bloomberg reported on Thursday.

"I don't think the convening of China-Central Asia Summit is deliberately arranged at overlapping time with G7, as high-level leaders' summit requires a long time to prepare in advance," said Wang Xiaoquan. Yet Wang opined that the two summits, held at approximately the same time and within close adjacency, send "meaningful signals" to the world.

G7 focuses on discussion of domination of world order and monopoly of international economy; whilst China and Central Asian countries, all developing countries, seek to build a fairer and more rational world order, said Wang. The expert predicted six leaders at the China-Central Asia Summit will discuss China proposed Global Security Initiative and Global Development Initiative, in addition to the Belt and Road Initiative and other topics, which represent the trend of world development.

Qian Feng, director of the research department at the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University, told the Global Times that China-Central Asia Summit speaks the language of openness, inclusiveness and win-win cooperation; and does not target any third party; whilst G7 uses the outmoded mentality of Cold War to crackdown and ring-fence certain countries.

Editor: Guo Lili

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