China-Central Asia Summit: Shaping the future of cooperation
Tashkent, Uzbekistan (UzDaily.com) -- The first-ever China-Central Asia Summit is being held on May 18 and 19 in Xi’an, a Chinese city known for its ancient Silk Road trade route. At the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping, all five heads of state of Central Asia will take part in the summit. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters on May 8 that the "first major diplomatic event that China hosts this year" will be a milestone, ushering in a "new era of cooperation," and an "important political document" will be signed at the summit that will "draw a new blueprint for China-Central Asia relations."
In addition to participating in the summit, the leaders of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyz Republic, and Tajikistan are visiting China, where they hold individual talks with President Xi.
The two-day summit will have about 20 bilateral and multilateral events. The leaders of the states will exchange views on creating new cooperation mechanisms on topical international and regional problems. The leaders of the six countries are expected to sign several important policy documents in areas such as the economy, trade, food, climate change, and connectivity.
Political and economic relations between the countries are at the highest level. With about 8,000 Chinese firms operating in the region, China’s trade with Central Asia exceeded $70 billion by the end of 2022, up 40 percent from the previous year.
It was announced that Beijing is preparing a "grandiose plan" for developing relationships. Deepening cooperation is anticipated in the energy sector; it is expected to increase the supply of Turkmen gas to China through the fourth gas pipeline ("line D"). The operating three lines are the longest gas pipeline in the world. Two-thirds of China’s gas pipeline imports came from Central Asia last year, as 423.2 billion cubic meters of natural gas were delivered.
The construction of an international logistics base in Lianyungang was completed, which connected the countries of Central Asia with the Pacific Ocean. With the participation of Chinese capital and technology, the longest Qamchiq tunnel in Central Asia was built on the Angren-Pap electrified railway line connecting the Uzbek capital Tashkent with its second-largest city Namangan.
Important decisions will be made in the further development of transport infrastructure. As part of global rail traffic heading to Europe, shipments through Kazakhstan’s border points are gaining momentum. In 2022, the Alashankou and Khorgos stations passed 13,300 freight trains in the China-Europe direction, which is 8.7 percent more than in 2021.
On May 5, Xinhua News Agency reported that more than 2,000 freight trains passed through those points in 2023, a 12 percent increase over the volume of traffic a year earlier. The number of China-Europe freight trains to pass through Central Asia accounts for nearly 80 percent of the total China-Europe freight trains.
A feasibility study for constructing the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway was recently completed, the length of which will be around 450 kilometers, of which 280 km will pass through the territory of the Kyrgyz Republic. The budget for the project, which will pass through mountainous terrain and include tunnels with a total length of 57 km, is likely to exceed $5 billion.
This route will shorten the journey to Europe by 900 km and further shorten delivery time. This railway would connect China through the so-called Middle Corridor with all the Central Asian countries, as well as with Iran, Azerbaijan, and Turkiye, and eventually with Europe.
This will require cooperation with all transit countries. Three key Central Asian ports, namely Aktau and Kuryk in Kazakhstan and Turkmenbashi in Turkmenistan, will need to be modernized and play an essential role in inter-Caspian intermodal transport.
The summit will focus on enhancing people-to-people exchanges between China and Central Asia. A significant increase in travel of citizens and tourist flows is expected. Deputy head of the Civil Aviation Administration of China’s (CAAC) general department Sun Wensheng said they are preparing to sign a Memorandum of Understanding to develop the global Air Silk Road project jointly. The CAAC called on airlines to open more flights between China and Central Asia, although flights between the two regions are already carried out by 10 airlines.
Most importantly, holding such a summit will attract considerable attention from many Chinese commercial corporations, both state-owned and private, who will begin active research into investment opportunities in the neighboring Central Asia region, which is becoming strategic for China.
The summit will be an opportunity that all participating countries cannot miss.
The article was published on CGTN. Decision Makers is a global platform for decision-makers to share their insights on events shaping today’s world. Djoomart Otorbaev is the former prime minister of the Kyrgyz Republic, a distinguished professor of the Belt and Road School of Beijing Normal University, and the author of the book "Central Asia’s Economic Rebirth in the Shadow of the New Great Game" (Routledge, February 2023). The article reflects the author’s views and not necessarily those of CGTN.