Xi’s Central Asia tour makes common ambitions clear to regional leaders

By Farooq Yousaf Source:Global Times Published: 2013-9-11 0:18:02

In less than six months of coming into power, Chinese President Xi Jinping set off for his third major foreign visit. This time around, he plans to consolidate his country's position with important states in Central Asia.

In his short stint as the Chinese president, Xi has covered three continents with important visits to Africa, Latin America and the US, and Central Asia.

Although Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his latest meeting on the side lines of the G20 Leaders' Summit with his Chinese counterpart, said that the relations between Russia and China are moving "positively," yet China's renewed Central Asian focus may attract some attention from Moscow.

Xi's latest 10 day program consists of four Central Asian states, namely Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, along with a second visit to Russia for the all-important G20 summit in St. Petersburg. He will round off his tour with an Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)  leaders' summit in Kyrgyzstan.

All four Central Asian republics are enjoying major economic cooperation deals with China. From the longest gas pipeline in the world, from Turkmenistan to China, to infrastructure deals with Kazakhstan, China's investments in the region are boosting bilateral ties with all its regional partners.

Xi started his tour with Turkmenistan, where one of the major highlights was the inauguration of the first phase of the world's second largest gas field, making China the biggest buyer of gas from Turkmenistan.

According to reports, Xi will also be signing oil and gas deals worth $30 billion with Kazakhstan. Such deals indicate that the president is looking to acquire maximum possible resources to keep his country's economy moving in the right direction.

Amid all these intricacies and regional dynamics, China will seek a cooperative mechanism with Russia over Central Asia as the close partners have the same energy suppliers, especially Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. Thus, Xi's visit would send a positive signal of cooperation to Russia so that both countries can achieve mutual benefits.

That is why, using the G20 summit in St. Petersburg as an ideal opportunity, China signed a long awaited mega gas supply deal with the Russian energy giant Gazprom. The deal was signed by the heads of Gazprom and CNPC, in the presence of both country's presidents.

Furthermore, Xi, during the summit, was also categorical in his stance on Syria and supported the Russian narrative. Xinhua quoted Xi telling US President Barack Obama that only a political solution could solve the Syrian crisis and not a military one. 

In terms of regional stability, Afghanistan is also an integral part of Xi's agenda of discussion with his Central Asian counterparts. This is because the possible US pull out from Afghanistan makes the whole situation tricky as any spillover of violence from the country could harm Chinese interests in the region.

Furthermore, along with these interests, instability in China's Xinjiang is also a matter of concern for China as the rebels are allegedly trained in Afghanistan.

Xi's concerns and emphasis on importance of regional peace and stability was evident in his congratulatory letter to a meeting for law and justice ministers of SCO member states recently.

Finally, the annual summit of the leaders of the SCO in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on Friday, would also help define the direction of Xi's regional policies and cooperation. China and Russia have effectively used the platform to bring regional states together and thus place high value to it.

On the other hand, both the states are also willing to take India and Pakistan on board as full members of the SCO.

Xi is starting to explain what his vision of the Chinese dream actually means. The dream signifies a prosperous China, but this prosperity is only possible through regional stability and cooperation.

The author is a program consultant and editor at the Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad. farooq@crss.pk

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