China offers Central Asian countries an alternative
Published: May 14, 2023 06:54 PM
Illustration: Liu Xidan/GT

Illustration: Liu Xidan/GT

The China-Central Asia Summit will be held from May 18 to 19 in Xi'an, Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, marking the upgrading of the cooperation mechanism between China and the five Central Asian countries from the foreign ministerial level to the head-of-state level. Last year marked the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Central Asian countries. This summit marks the beginning of the next 30 years and is a creative effort to draw a blueprint for future cooperation between China and the five Central Asian countries.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict has profoundly changed the geopolitical pattern of the Eurasian continent. As Central Asia is a hub connecting various plates of the Eurasian continent, countries like the US, the EU, India, and Japan, have competed for Central Asia. For a time, the diplomatic stage of Central Asia was very lively.

However, some countries are set on their geopolitical goals, aiming to shape their influence on Central Asian countries and try to exclude other competitors. In particular, Europe and the US are trying to instill the concept of the "axis of evil" of China, Russia, and Iran into Central Asian countries, using their concerns about sovereignty and independence after the Russia-Ukraine conflict to sow a discord between Central Asian countries and Russia and China. 

But these major powers have not seriously considered what the most urgent needs of Central Asian countries are at the current stage. While some major powers pursue shaping their regional influence, Central Asian countries themselves hope to achieve regional stability, development, and security through diversified cooperation. These powers and the region have different ideas. Although Central Asian countries have proposed urgent tasks such as curbing inflation, responding to environmental crises, and combating terrorism, these major powers have not responded positively. This sense of disappointment in the hope that has been dashed seriously affects the enthusiasm of Central Asian countries, leading them to view multilateral cooperation with these major powers in a utilitarian way.

China's cooperation with Central Asian countries is another story. The China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will celebrate its 10th anniversary this year. Over the past decade, China has signed cooperation agreements on the BRI with all Central Asian countries, becoming a model for building a new type of international relations. A series of large-scale strategic projects have not only provided a large amount of tax revenue and employment opportunities for Central Asian countries but also substantially accelerated their industrialization process.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, China and Central Asian countries have helped each other and jointly promoted vaccine and medical health cooperation, adhering to scientific tracing and opposing Western countries' use of the pandemic for political purposes. A batch of anti-epidemic materials, emergency assistance, and doses of COVID-19 vaccines from China have helped Central Asian countries build an effective barrier against the pandemic, fully demonstrating the friendship between the two sides in times of difficulty.

Over the past 30 years, cooperation between China and Central Asian countries has continuously been enhanced in many areas, including development, peace and security, connectivity, cyberspace, health, and the relationship between humans and nature, laying a solid foundation for building a community with a shared future between China and Central Asia.

Looking back at China-Central Asia relations, adhering to independent values, reflected in transcending geopolitical thinking, is an important experience. Unlike some other major powers, China's cooperation with Central Asia is not aimed at third parties, does not exclude the influence of other countries, is not a zero-sum game, but focuses on providing development and security dividends for Central Asian countries and providing the greatest welfare for the people of the Eurasian continent.

The summit focuses on the current geopolitical situation and the needs of various countries. Maintaining political stability, improving connectivity, accelerating industrial transfer, combating terrorism, and jointly curbing inflation are not only the common aspirations of China and Central Asian countries, but also key components in safeguarding the building of the BRI.

It will set a good example for future stages, and all parties will continue to maintain the friendship, promote comprehensive cooperation, enhance people-to-people communication, and ultimately achieve the goal of building a community with a shared future for mankind.

The author is a lecturer at the China National Institute for SCO International Exchange and Judicial Cooperation of Shanghai University of Political Science and Law. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn