The Chinese leader Xi JinpingThursday kicked off a meeting the country hails as a historic milestone, rolling out the red carpet for leaders from five Central Asian countries that are central to China’s regional ambitions.
THE China-Central Asia inaugural meeting it is part of China’s broader goal to strengthen economic and political partnerships with like-minded countries, to counter what it sees as a US-dominated world order seeking to contain and suppress China.
In particular, the Xi summit was expected on the eve of the annual meeting of group of seven in Hiroshima (Japan), which begins on Friday and will be attended by the leaders of the richest large democracies in the world, including the president Joe Biden.
One of the main problems facing G-7 leaders will be how to deal with what the United States calls China’s growing assertiveness.
Xi has sought to increase China’s influence in Central Asia as part of his efforts to improve his image as a world statesman.
China salutes leaders of five former Soviet republics –Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan– on the floor with a huge crowd of dancers and children jumping and singing: “Welcome, welcome! Welcome!”
Xi, in a speech on Friday, called on China and Central Asia to deepen theirs economic cooperationcalling it related to “profound historical origins”.
The two-day meeting also highlights China’s interest in filling part of the void left by Russia, a key trading partner and long-standing security provider to the region.
Russia’s war in Ukraine has weakened Moscow’s influence in Central Asia, creating a window for China.
“China has been trying to highlight more and more these clusters and platforms where China is the focal point, not the West,” said Raffaello Pantucci, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
“It’s part of the larger story China is spinning, which is that there is another world order out there.”
The meeting takes place in Xi’an, a city in central China, a fundamental stop on the ancient silk trade route, which for centuries has united China with central Asia and the Middle East.
China’s interest in Central Asia stems from concerns over violence and ethnic tensions in the Xinjiang region in the far west of the country, which borders Central Asian countries.
According to analysts, China sees in the economic prosperity of the region a way to further stabilize Xinjiang.
China has invested billions of dollars in pipelines, roads and railways that help bring Central Asia’s rich reserves of natural resources to China.
Many Chinese cities depend on natural gas from Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan has some of the largest oil fields in the world outside the Middle East.
In 2013, Xi chose Kazakhstan as the venue for a speech in which he outlined the vision of his Initiative for Belt and roada trillion-dollar plan to build infrastructure projects in developing countries to bring them closer to China’s orbit.
Last year, Xi visited Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan in his first overseas trip since the pandemic began.
However, the relationship hasn’t always been smooth sailing. Several Belt and Road projects in the region have been stalled or embroiled in scandals, including a power plant failure in 2018 that left much of the Kyrgyz capital without heat or electricity.
Local residents have protested concerns that their countries are borrowing too much from China and the internment of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.
And Xi’s ambitions in the region are complicated by his friendship with Russia’s president, Vladimir Putinand for the close ties that unite the two countries.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, has rocked Central Asia, raising concerns that Russia may try to take over other places that used to be part of the Soviet Union or embolden separatists.
Xi said in his speech on Friday that “sovereignty, security, independence and territorial integrity of the countries of Central Asia.
Theresa Fallon, director of the Center for Russia-Europe-Asia Studies in Brussels, said China was engaged in “hard diplomatic footwork” to try to gain an advantage with Central Asian countries without angering Putin .
“China and Russia share an anti-Western narrative, but there are many areas of potential frictionFallon said.
The US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, he also visited Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan this year, hoping to encourage Central Asian countries to resist providing economic aid to Russia in the face of Western sanctions.
According to Niva Yau, a researcher in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan who works as a non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global China Hub think tank, China is closely watching the growing number of Western players courting Central Asia.
By holding the summit, China intends to “give Central Asia more assurances that China will always be here, that China is predictable, that China can provide Central Asia with the support it needs.”
c.2023 The New York Times Society
Mary Ortiz is a seasoned journalist with a passion for world events. As a writer for News Rebeat, she brings a fresh perspective to the latest global happenings and provides in-depth coverage that offers a deeper understanding of the world around us.