Xi’s Kazakhstan visit to draw new blueprint for ties, SCO
Published: Jul 02, 2024 10:44 PM
Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in Astana, Kazakhstan, on July 2, 2024, for the 24th Meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and a state visit to Kazakhstan at the invitation of Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. Xi was warmly welcomed by Tokayev and a group of Kazakhstan senior officials upon his arrival at the airport. Photo: Xinhua

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in Astana, Kazakhstan, on July 2, 2024, for the 24th Meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and a state visit to Kazakhstan at the invitation of Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. Xi was warmly welcomed by Tokayev and a group of Kazakhstan senior officials upon his arrival at the airport. Photo: Xinhua

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Kazakhstan on Tuesday for the 24th Meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and a state visit to Kazakhstan, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Observers said that the visit to Kazakhstan - the country where Xi made his first foreign visit in 2022 since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and proposed the Silk Road Economic Belt, an essential component of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013 - underscores the rock-solid bilateral relationship and the high level of political trust built between the two countries and led by head-of-state diplomacy, and that the Central Asian region is of significant importance to China's foreign policy. 

As this year marks the 32nd anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Kazakhstan, the visit will draw a blueprint for future bilateral and regional comprehensive cooperation modes, analysts said, pointing to a wide range of areas for further collaboration, such as jointly safeguarding regional security and boosting connectivity, as well as facilitating people-to-people exchanges under the SCO and BRI frameworks. 

The flourishing ties between China and Kazakhstan, as well as the Central Asian region, set a model for building a new type of international relations championed by SCO cooperation, that is respect for diversity of civilizations and pursuit of common development, discarding geopolitical thinking, observers said. 

It serves as a sharp contrast to certain Western countries' geopolitical zero-sum mind-set under which they, in disregard of the genuine demands of Central Asian economies, ramp up pressure only to shape their influence on the continent and exclude other participants. 

Xi said on Tuesday that China and Kazakhstan have established a unique permanent comprehensive strategic partnership. Xi made the remarks in a written statement upon his arrival in capital Astana.

Xi also hailed achievements of China-Kazakhstan cooperation in a signed article published in Kazakh media on Tuesday. Xi said that he looks forward to meeting with Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to plan the way forward for closer China-Kazakhstan cooperation and draw a new blueprint for further growth of bilateral relations and the SCO.

Expectations running high

The Global Times noticed that hundreds of local residents were waving the national flags of China and Kazakhstan near the landmark building Beijing Tower in Astana on Tuesday morning to extend a warm welcome to Xi's arrival. "Warm welcome!" The crowds made up of local residents, lined along both sides of the roads where the motorcade will pass, and cheered excitedly in Chinese. 

Local residents and scholars hold high expectations for the visit, with some in particular highlighting the increased connectivity between China and Kazakhstan under the BRI.  

"The Silk Road was one of the most important logistical means for transporting goods from Asia to Europe. I believe this is a sign of great cooperation between our countries and our neighbors, and that is going to lead to the future economic growth of both of our countries," a Kazakh college student named Konstantin told the Global Times. 

"China is one of the largest countries in the world. Many Kazakhs travel to China and bring back a lot of useful information and technology. I think cooperation with China is having a very positive impact on our country," another Kazakh resident surnamed Salima told the Global Times.

Observers said the visit underscores that strategic guidance by the heads of state is a political advantage and a distinctive feature of China-Kazakhstan relations. Those close interactions at the highest level will "inject certainty and new impetus" into the development of the Central Asia and the world, against the backdrop of rising geopolitical tensions.  

"For both China and Kazakhstan, it is important not only to maintain but also to consistently enhance the positive dynamic of our interaction, deepen the friendship between our peoples, and contribute to regional peace and stability. We are confident that the visit will lead to an even more productive and mutually beneficial [relationship]," Aliya Mussabekova, chief expert at the Asian Studies Department at Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

In 2013, Xi visited Kazakhstan and proposed the idea of building an "economic belt along the Silk Road", which, combined with the proposal of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, eventually became the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

He visited the Central Asian country in 2017 and 2022 to boost bilateral ties, according to a Xinhua News Agency report. 

The two countries further advanced their relationship to a permanent comprehensive strategic partnership in 2019 during Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev's state visit to China, reaching its historical high. 

"Currently, China has established strategic partnerships or comprehensive strategic partnerships with many countries worldwide. However, defining the China-Kazakhstan relationship as a permanent comprehensive strategic partnership is unique… The definition is objective, accurate, and reflects both sides' affirmation and positive expectations toward our friendship," Zhang Xiao, Chinese Ambassador to Kazakhstan, told the Global Times in an exclusive interview.  

China and Kazakhstan have been firm supporters of each other on issues concerning their core interests, despite an ever-changing international environment, which lays a solid foundation for bilateral ties to continue developing to even greater heights, according to analysts. 

Kazakhstan has endorsed multiple China-proposed initiatives: the Global Development Initiative, the Global Security Initiative and the Global Civilization Initiative. The two neighbours have also vowed to build a community of a shared future for mankind. 

Relations between China and Kazakhstan are based on deep-rooted shared visions, as both countries have a vision of necessity to avoid further toxification of international relations, as well as an urgency to return to normalcy in international ties on the basis of mutual accommodation of legitimate interests of every member of the international community, Bolat Nurgaliyev, former SCO secretary-general, told the Global Times.

A model for cooperation 

Kazakhstan is hosting the SCO summit in Astana and has pledged to make every effort to enhance the potential of the SCO, the Astana Times reported. After the Astana summit, China will assume the rotating presidency of the SCO for 2024-2025.   

"One of the top items on the agenda at the SCO summit is to maintain regional stability. China and Kazakhstan could strengthen security cooperation,  resolutely fight against the 'three evil forces' and guard against 'color revolutions' instigated by external forces," Cui Heng, a scholar from the Shanghai-based China National Institute for SCO International Exchange and Judicial Cooperation, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Another area for cooperation is the economy, and China, as the largest economy in the SCO with overarching trade ties with every member state, could play a constructive role in collaboration with Kazakhstan.

According to Cui, on the economic front, China and Kazakhstan could jointly promote the implementation of more regional infrastructure connectivity projects, such as the launch of the highway section of the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR), also known as the Middle Corridor, which could offer the most cost-effective passage in Eurasia amid rising geopolitical tensions.

Bilateral cooperation under the BRI between China and Kazakhstan has been "setting trends" in Eurasia, scholars said. 

In 2023, trade between China and Kazakhstan hit a record of $41 billion, Xinhua reported, accounting for nearly half China's trade with Central Asia. Capacity and investment cooperation have generated a project list with a total value exceeding $21.2 billion. Through industrial collaboration and a synergy between the China-proposed BRI and Kazakhstan's "Bright Road" economic policy, Kazakhstan has built itself into a key regional transportation center and a crucial transit hub for China-Europe freight trains, with 80 percent of the cargo shipped by the flagship BRI project passing through the country.  

Across Central Asia, China's collaborations with the other four regional countries have also been gaining momentum. China's bilateral trade with Tajikistan last year expanded 53.5 percent year-on-year to $3.93 billion, recording a new high, customs data showed. Chinese leader, at the invitation of President Emomali Rahmon of the Republic of Tajikistan, will also pay a state visit to Tajikistan, China's Foreign Ministry announced on Sunday.

"China is willing to use the SCO summit as an opportunity to strengthen cooperation and coordination with all five Central Asian countries, deepen mutually beneficial cooperation and advocate for a fair multipolar world and inclusive globalization," Zhang said, stressing that the cooperation will continuously inject new energy into building a closer China-Central Asia community with a shared future.

Li Ziguo, a senior research fellow with the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times on Tuesday that more than 30 years of China-Central Asia cooperation has proven that China is a constructive player in the region. Whether through BRI projects or bilateral cooperation, China has been dedicated to the development of these countries without any geopolitical requirements attached, Li added.

While certain Western major powers are investing in the region for geopolitical competition, China has the industrial capacity that Central Asian countries truly need for their modernization, providing them with technologies and cost-effective products that are highly competitive, analysts said.