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China and Central Asian countries will gather for a historic Summit

Photo: Unsplash

Chinese President Xi Jinping welcomes his counterparts from five former Soviet republics in Central Asia on Thursday in a historic summit aimed at strengthening regional ties, as US President Joe Biden meets G7 leaders in Japan, according to AFP. The event, qualified as “extremely important” by Beijing, takes place in the great historical city of Xi’an (north), at the eastern extremity of the old Silk Road, which connected Europe and China through Central Asia. It is the first edition of this “China-Central Asia summit” since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Asian giant and these countries in 1992, after the collapse of the USSR. Former members of the Russian Empire, then of the Soviet Union, these nations (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) maintain privileged economic, linguistic, and diplomatic ties with Moscow. But with the war in Ukraine, Russian influence began to weaken. A relative vacuum that the Chinese president is all the more willing to fill as he wants to develop his country’s international stature and influence, according to experts.

“Xi Jinping wants to present himself as a leader capable of promoting development and peace in the world,” Zhiqun Zhu, professor of international relations at Bucknell University in the US, told AFP. The summit takes place almost at the same time as a meeting in Hiroshima of the leaders of the G7 (Canada, France, the USA, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom), in which American President Joe Biden, whose country regularly presents Beijing as a threat, The event in Japan will probably focus on the strategy to be applied to “counter China’s growing influence in the world”, according to Zhiqun Zhu. On the other hand, the “diplomatic and strategic importance” of this unprecedented meeting organized in Xi’an on Thursday and Friday “should not be underestimated”, underlines the quoted expert. “The China-Central Asia Summit shows that China’s renewal cannot be stopped and that it enjoys strong support in Central Asia as well as in emerging countries.” China estimates that its trade with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan reached a total of about $70 billion (64 billion euros) last year and increased over a year by 22% in the first quarter of 2023. The former Soviet republics of Central Asia also occupy a crucial place in the Chinese initiative of the “New Silk Roads”, also known as the “Belt and Road”. Backed by Xi Jinping, who launched it in late 2013, this pharaonic program is designed specifically to develop, with Chinese funds, roads, ports, railways, and infrastructure abroad. The Asian giant, whose development needs raw materials, has already invested billions of euros to exploit natural gas reserves in Central Asia and build railway links connecting China to Europe through this region. The summit, which opens on Thursday, would in particular be an opportunity to advance certain infrastructure projects. Among them are the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway line, which has been at a standstill for a long time and costs 6 billion dollars, as well as the expansion of the oil pipeline between Central Asia and China. During a meeting with Xi Jinping on Wednesday, the President of Kazakhstan, Kasîm-Jomart Tokaev, hailed the “significant results” of recent years of cooperation under the “New Silk Roads”, especially in transport and logistics. The Chinese president told his Kyrgyz counterpart, Sadir Japarov, on Thursday that his country is “willing to work with Kyrgyzstan to build a community of good neighborliness, friendship, shared prosperity, and a common future.” Xi Jinping will hold talks with other regional leaders on Thursday during the day. A welcoming ceremony is planned for the evening. The main announcements of the summit should take place on Friday morning, with a meeting between the six presidents and the press as well as the probable publication of a joint statement.

By Sara Colin

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