China’s Xi presents development plans for Central Asia

Xi Jinping meets leaders of five Central Asian nations at a summit in China, calls for trade and energy development.

Chinese President Xi Jinping held a summit with leaders from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan [Florence Lo/Reuters]

Chinese President Xi Jinping has unveiled an ambitious plan for Central Asia’s development that includes building infrastructure to boost trade and taking on a new leadership role in a region that has traditionally been a Russian sphere of influence.

China is ready to coordinate development strategies with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and promote the modernisation of all, Xi said in an address to a China-Central Asia Summit in Xian, northwest China, on Friday.

“This summit has added new impetus to the development and revitalisation of the six counties and injected strong positive energy into regional peace and stability,” Xi said later at a press conference with his Central Asian counterparts.

“We will jointly foster a new paradigm of deeply complementary and high-level win-win cooperation.”

Reporting from Xian, Al Jazeera’s Jessica Washington said Xi told Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev that China and Kazakhstan have an “enduring friendship”.

“That’s a message that he reiterated to the other Central Asian leaders, a message of the friendship of cooperation of China being a reliable partner for the region,” Washington said.

Xi told the other leaders that their development paths would be independently chosen and respected and that their sovereignty, security, independence and territorial integrity would be safeguarded.

Parallel summits

With its engagement, China has put itself at the forefront of the race for political influence and energy assets in the resource-rich region, with Russia distracted by its war in Ukraine and the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, diminishing the US presence in the region.

The five former Soviet republics, with a network of trade corridors, offer China alternative routes to transport fuel, food and other commodities in the event of disruptions elsewhere.

The pledges of support and cooperation at the two-day summit come as the Group of Seven (G7) leaders meet in Japan from Friday.

Al Jazeera’s Washington said some editorials in Chinese state media argued that “the US is pushing coercive diplomacy that actually works against developing nations”. Other editorials accused the “G7 of being closed and narrow-minded and very cliquey in terms of the way that it engages in diplomacy”, she said.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (centre left) welcomed to the g& summit at the Hiroshima Peace Park by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. He is standing on the left. Their respective spouses are on the right. The ruin of the A Bomb Dome is behind them.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, centre left, and her husband Heiko von der Leyen, centre right, pose for a photo with Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, left, and his wife Yuko Kishida at the Peace Memorial Park during a visit as part of the G7 summit [Franck Robichon/AP]

Increased trade and investment

Xi also said China would upgrade bilateral investment agreements and increase cross-border freight volume with the region.

It will encourage Chinese-funded businesses in Central Asia to create more jobs, build warehouses, and launch a special train service aimed at promoting tourism, he added.

“To bolster our cooperation and Central Asian development, China will provide Central Asian countries with a total of 26 billion yuan ($3.8bn) of financing support and grants,” Xi said.

Two-way trade between China and Central Asia hit a record $70bn last year, with Kazakhstan leading with $31bn, as China seeks deeper links in its quest for greater food and energy security.

Xi said the building of Line D of the China-Central Asia natural gas pipeline should be accelerated.

He also called on China and Central Asia to increase their oil and gas trade, develop energy cooperation across industrial chains, and boost cooperation on new energy and the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

In the longer term, China supports the construction of a cross-Caspian Sea international transport corridor and would strengthen the construction of transport hubs of China-Europe freight train services, Xi said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies