Since China is taking centre stage and Central Asian states are making their marks on international and regional dynamics, the first China-Central Asia summit, being held from May 18-19, has set global interest afire.
The world is buzzing with multi-dimensional undercurrents of the China-Central Asia summit as global leaders know very well the snowballing impacts of “gathering” on fast-changing geopolitical, geoeconomic and geostrategic landscapes. Chinese President Xi Jinping will chair the China-Central Asia Summit, in Xi’an in northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, starting point of the ancient Silk Road.
With Likely thrust on a wide-ranging agenda, including political, economic, security and people-to-people exchange, economic cooperation in energy, agriculture, green economy and other sectors, the summit will hash out comprehensive alignments of partnerships and deeper collaboration with five Central Asian nations on challenges as well as Belt and Road Initiative.
Currently, the Central Asian countries known as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are in a serious process of tweaking political reforms and economic transformations. The summit is expected to help leaders brainstorm to fine-tune such radical changes in the development environment designed by China.
The summit is gearing up to take place when Central Asian countries desperately need modern infrastructure and finance with the help of China. Central Asian countries deserve China-led blanket development as they are a major supplier of minerals, metals, and energy to China and are also an important overland transit country, bringing Chinese goods to Europe along the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – and Kazakhstan was also where Xi first announced the overland portion of the BRI back in 2013.
It will also be a categoric message to anti-globalization forces that the future does not lie in decoupling and protectionism, rather shared future is key to forge ahead in Central Asia and other parts of the world.
That is why the “apex meeting” will inject new impetus into the development agenda not only for Central Asian countries but also for supercontinent “Eurasia”. Central Asian states sit at the heart of Eurasia which is home to three of the world’s most sophisticated and advanced economic regions and where 75 percent of the world’s population lives. Eurasia possesses “three-fourths of the world’s energy resources”. The location of Central Asia has made it a “strategic pivot” from an economic, political, social, cultural and security perspective.
Region of Central Asian states lacks the high-tech economic structure to keep pace with the world. The Asian Development Bank has estimated that $33 billion per annum would need to be spent till 2030 to tackle the infrastructure deficit in Central Asia. The summit is likely to usher in an era of fresh launch of macro and micro projects (roads, railroads, pipelines, industrial parks, and special economic zones) that would improve connectivity between China and Europe via the Central Asian region
Through the Chinese prism, the summit is believed to unlock those areas of cooperation that are still untapped and undiscovered for cultivating joint ventures on the inclusive economy, peace and security. Central Asia is in an unenviable position of being a key pillar in China’s BRI. Experts are of the view that Central Asia is one of the pillars of its Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB), thanks to the region’s abundant natural resources and position along the overland route to European markets that circumvents the maritime “Malacca challenges.”
Meanwhile, security challenges are a matter of concern. The shocks and aftershocks of multiple and overlapping crises—including the crisis in Afghanistan, and war in Ukraine—continue to shake the Central Asian region and its economies. Given the untowardness of businesses amidst these external shocks, impacts of climate change, record high inflation, unilateralism and challenges in the post-covid era, the Summit is believed to be putting a sharp focus on the security dynamics and spillover effects in Central Asia as well as China.
Last month, State Councillor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang chaired the fourth China-Central Asia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Xi’an and underlined the need to expand security collaboration because of new risks and challenges in the region, especially the chaos caused by U.S.’ clumsy and hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan. Their need for security cooperation has always been existing and is increasing now to nip terrorism, extremism and separatism.
China’s economic and trade cooperation with the five Central Asian countries has produced noticeable results since the establishment of diplomatic ties more than 30 years ago. China’s trade with five Central Asian countries surged 37.4 percent year on year in the first four months of 2023, the General Administration of Customs revealed.
China’s trade with the C 5 increased to $70.2 billion in 2022 from $0.46 billion in 1992. China is the largest trading partner of Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and the second largest trading partner of Kazakhstan, as well as the third largest trading partner of Tajikistan.
The bilateral trade volume witnessed a 40 percent growth from a year ago. It saw a strong development momentum and recorded a year-on-year expansion of 22 percent in the first quarter of this year. Last year, China’s imports of agricultural, energy and mineral products from the five countries jumped over 50 percent from a year earlier, while exports of mechanical and electronic products to them increased by 42 percent. Investment cooperation has also benefited all sides. As of the end of March 2023, China’s direct investment stock in the five Central Asian countries stood at over $15 billion. The cumulative turnover of completed projects reached $63.9 billion.
A batch of cooperation projects has been launched in the fields of infrastructure, oil and gas exploration, manufacturing, medical and health care, education, technology and the digital economy. China and all five Central Asian countries have signed cooperation documents on the joint construction of the Belt and Road Initiative. There are some landmark projects, such as the Horgos International Border Cooperation Centre and the China-Central Asia gas pipeline.
Running through Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, the China-Central Asia gas pipeline is China’s first transnational gas pipeline. By the end of 2022, the pipeline had delivered a total of 423.2 billion cubic meters of natural gas to China since it began operation in 2009. The pipeline has effectively promoted the social and economic development of countries along the route and played an important role in the diversification of China’s energy imports and the improvement of the domestic energy consumption structure. The assembly centre of the China-Europe Railway Express in Xian has 17 mainlines from the city to Central Asia countries, which has become the golden channel for two-way logistics in China and Central Asia.