China has announced that its President, Xi Jinping, will convene a two-day summit with leaders from five Central Asian nations in the coming week, indicating China’s intention to enhance its sway in the region.
The leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are set to attend the China-Central Asia Summit from May 18 to 19 in Xi’an, China. The summit aims to strengthen economic and diplomatic ties between China and Central Asia, with a particular focus on natural gas reserves and rail links crucial to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
China’s Foreign Ministry has announced that the China-Central Asia Summit is the first of its kind since the establishment of formal relations between China and the Central Asian republics 31 years ago. The summit will take place in Xi’an, an important location on the ancient Silk Road, and will be centered around strengthening economic and diplomatic ties with China.
The Chinese government has invested billions of dollars in tapping Central Asia’s natural gas reserves, making rail links that connect China to Europe crucial to the Belt and Road Initiative’s success. The China-Central Asia Summit in Xi’an is therefore a critical event, and China’s Foreign Ministry has announced that the leaders will sign “important political documents” during the summit.
According to China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin, Chinese President Xi Jinping will deliver a keynote speech at the China-Central Asia Summit. The summit is China’s first major diplomatic event of the year and will allow the heads of state to review the development of China-Central Asia relations and exchange views on various issues of common concern.
Beijing has a policy of “good-neighbourliness and friendship” towards Central Asia, according to Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang. The recent meeting in Xi’an saw all parties reiterate their commitment to mutual support and opposition to external interference in each other’s affairs. The summit is therefore an opportunity for China and Central Asia to strengthen their relationship further.
Central Asia was part of the Soviet Union and has been dominated by Moscow since the mid-19th century. However, Russia’s influence in the region has been challenged in recent years, with Beijing looking to forge closer ties with Moscow’s traditional allies. The China-Central Asia Summit is an opportunity for China to consolidate its relationship with Central Asia further.
According to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, China’s exports to Central Asia grew by 60% year-on-year to $1.4 billion in 2022. This growth demonstrates the increasing economic ties between China and Central Asia, making the China-Central Asia Summit a crucial event for both parties.
In 2020, Chinese President Xi Jinping made his first trip abroad since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic to Kazakhstan, one of the countries that border China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang. These countries have remained quiet over accusations of human rights violations by Beijing targeting Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities. The China-Central Asia Summit offers an opportunity to address these issues.