China to aid 5 Central Asia countries with additional 50 million vaccines, to continue 'high-level political mutual trust'
Political mutual trust facilitates booming trade, enhanced connectivity
Published: Jan 26, 2022 12:38 AM
Chinese President Xi Jinping (center top) speaks from Beijing at a virtual summit commemorating the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and five Central Asian countries. Photo: Xinhua

Chinese President Xi Jinping (center top) speaks from Beijing at a virtual summit commemorating the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and five Central Asian countries. Photo: Xinhua

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday said China is ready to work with Central Asian countries in building a closer community with a shared future and pledged to build a cooperation belt for high-quality development, strengthen the shield for defending peace, diversify interaction mechanisms and offer assistance to advance the Global Development Initiative. 

Xi made the remarks at a virtual summit marking 30 years of diplomatic relations between China and the five Central Asian countries, where he said the keys to the successful cooperation were mutual respect, good neighborly friendship, solidarity in trying times, and mutual benefit. 

Experts pointed out that carrying on the precious experience of the past three decades of success in diplomatic relations, China and Central Asia will continue the high-level political mutual trust, expand win-win cooperation and jointly play a positive role for regional stability, security and development despite changes to regional and international situations. 

Elaborating on the success in relations, Xi said that over the past 30 years, China and Central Asian countries have joined hands in the common pursuit of development, and rendered mutual support on issues concerning each other's core interests as true defenders of multilateralism. 

We have combined efforts to fight the three forces of terrorism, separatism and extremism, transnational organized crime and drug trafficking, and to resolutely reject external interference or attempts to instigate color revolutions, Xi said.

China will continue to firmly support Central Asian countries in following development paths tailored to their national realities, firmly support them in safeguarding sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, in pursuing national revitalization and greater strength through unity, and in playing a bigger role on the world stage, Xi said.

Mutual trust leads to cooperation 
China shares borders with three of the five Central Asian countries - Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan - and has developed strategic partnerships and carried out cooperation under the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) with all five, including Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. 

In the past three decades, China has developed high-level political mutual trust with countries in Central Asia - from properly dealing with border issues to signing treaties of good-neighborliness and friendly cooperation, from promoting counterterrorism cooperation to expanding trade and investment, Cao Wei, research fellow from the Institute for Central Asia Studies of Lanzhou University, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Countries in the region also showed support to China's stance on topics of core interests, such as affairs related to its Xinjiang region and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region over the past years, Cao said.

Based on the political mutual trust, bilateral cooperation developed soundly over the past 30 years, with trade between China and Central Asian countries jumping to $50.1 billion in 2021 from $460 million in 1992, representing a 100-fold increase. 

At the Tuesday summit, Xi announced several major initiatives to further boost economic cooperation between China and the five Central Asian countries, including striving to increase trade between our two sides to $70 billion by 2030, establishing a dialogue mechanism on e-commerce cooperation among these countries, and holding a forum on industrial and investment cooperation in due course.  

"We will resume passenger flights in a gradual manner, establish 'fast tracks' to facilitate the movement of people, and improve 'green lanes' to ensure the unimpeded flow of goods against the backdrop of the pandemic," Xi said. 

The 100-fold jump is already significant and indicates a complementary trade structure, while the 2030 target means a further trade boom, and China will further open its market to welcome more high-quality commodities and agricultural products from the region, observers said.

Xi also announced an additional aid of 50 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Central Asian countries, plans to step up joint production and technology transfer with respect to vaccines and medicines, and a plan to bring the number of sister cities with the five countries to 100 pairs in the next five to 10 years.

In the next three years, the Chinese government will provide assistance worth $500 million to the five countries in support of livelihood programs, and offer 5,000 seminar and workshop opportunities to help them train professionals and strengthen the driving force for self-generated development, Xi said.

The prosperity of trade between China and Central Asia will contribute to the stability of the local and regional situation, Zhou Rong, a senior researcher at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Xi stressed at the summit the necessity to speed up the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway project, and further develop transport corridors connecting China and Central Asia. 

China and Central Asia needs to ensure the steady operation of oil and gas pipelines, expand cooperation across the energy industrial chain, and promote low-carbon transition in the energy sector. We also need to strengthen cooperation in artificial intelligence, big data, cloud computing and other high-tech sectors, Xi said. 

An increased connectivity via the framework of the BRI not only helps boost China's trade with the region, but also facilitates the five inland countries to better connect with the world, including its western side, Zhou said.

He Zhenwei, head of the China Overseas Development Association, told the Global Times on Tuesday that the improved connectivity will boost bilateral trade, as one of the main barriers in previous years was logistics, including cold-chain transportation for agricultural products such as fruits.

Besides traditional areas, technical and green energy programs are becoming new cooperation fields, observers said, highlighting that China always welcomes third-party participation in regional cooperation and never seeks a monopoly in trade and investment. 

Jointly address challenges 
Sheradil Baktygulov, an independent political analyst based in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, dubbed China's role in the development of Central Asia as "a locomotive of innovations." There are so many opportunities and China is going to explore new spheres of mutually beneficial cooperation with Central Asian countries, he told the Global Times on Monday, ahead of the summit. 

On the other hand, Cao Wei said that the stability and development of Central Asia will directly influence the operations of many BRI programs and development of China's Xinjiang region. When Xinjiang has ridden itself of terrorist attacks and shifts its focus to socioeconomic development, a secure outside environment will facilitate the region's development, Cao said. 

But experts pointed out some changes and challenges to the region, including the US' abrupt withdrawal from Afghanistan that disturbed a stable balance of power in the region, and the recent protests and riots in Kazakhstan that reflected potential risks to the security situation. 

The Kazakh situation was brought under control quickly with the assistance of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) - which comprises Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, but the chaos indicated the threats of separatism, terrorism and extremism to regional stability, according to experts.

Amid such a situation, the high-level China-Russia mutual political trust and close coordination ensures that both countries play constructive roles in the region, Cao said, noting that Russia's role on security and China's role on the economy and prosperity can complement each other. 

Some Western media have claimed that the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and CSTO would have conflicts, so would and Chinese and Russian stances on Central Asia, to sow a discord between China and Russia. But the reality is that the two structures have active interactions to jointly defend regional peace and push forward development, Cao said.

Russian Ambassador to China Andrey Denisov told the Global Times on Tuesday that both Russia and China are actively cooperating with Central Asian countries, and their interests in the region are intertwined and overlap - there is no sign of any conflicts. 

Russia is interested in developing stable and predictable relations with Central Asian countries and ensure their development and prosperity, Denisov said. He noted China and Russia can also use multilateral platforms such as the SCO to jointly discuss and tackle regional issues.