President Xi Jinping hosted leaders of five Central Asian nations at a banquet on Thursday night – in which he said they are welcome to board China’s “express train” of development.
The leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and some of their wives, were treated to a lavish arts performance with dances and classic songs from each country.
Xi discussed building infrastructure networks to bolster trade – and shunning “external interference” – at the two-day gathering in the Chinese city of Xian.
Xian, in northwestern Shaanxi province, is “the historical starting point of the ancient Silk Road”, state media noted in a report that hailed “good neighbourliness” and their “partnership for mutual benefits”.
It is perhaps no coincidence that the event is being held at the same time as a gathering of western leaders for a Group of Seven meeting in Japan.
The display of solidarity from China’s Central Asian neighbours is expected to contrast sharply with the “negative” image of Beijing being presented at the G7 gathering in Hiroshima this weekend.
Xi keen to see a ‘stable, harmonious’ central Asia
In an address at the summit, President Xi said China stood ready to ramp up development with its neighbours and make joint efforts to help modernise all countries in the region, he said.
“The world needs a Central Asia that is stable, prosperous, harmonious, and well-connected,” Xi said.
At the same time, the six countries should oppose “external interference” in the internal affairs of regional countries and attempts to instigate “colour revolutions”, and maintain a zero-tolerance stance against terrorism, separatism and extremism, Xi warned.
“China is ready to help Central Asian countries improve their law enforcement, security, and defense capability construction,” Xi said.
The two-day summit in the historic Silk Road city has been portrayed in China’s domestic media as a triumph of regional diplomacy.
From Wednesday to Thursday, Xi met or held talks with Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Turkmen President Serdar Berdimuhamedov, Xinhua said.
Pledges of support
All pledged support for Beijing and said they would deepen bilateral ties.
The high-profile expression of trust by China’s neighbours will serve to counter US accusations of Beijing’s coercive diplomacy.
Xi’s gathering of five heads of state on Chinese soil without Russian President Vladimir Putin also ostensibly pulls Central Asia closer to the Chinese sphere of influence as Moscow’s focus remains locked on the war in Ukraine.
China and Central Asian countries should deepen strategic mutual trust, and always offer “clear and strong support” for each other on issues of core interests such as those involving sovereignty, independence, national dignity and long-term development, Xi said, without mentioning war-torn Ukraine, which like the Central Asian nations, was a former Soviet state.
Special train service proposed
China will upgrade bilateral investment agreements with Central Asian countries, and raise cross-border freight volume with the region in an all-round way, Xi said.
Beijing will encourage Chinese-funded businesses in Central Asia to create more local jobs, build overseas warehouses in the region, and launch a special train service aimed at promoting cultural tourism with Central Asia, he added.
Two-way trade between China and Central Asia hit a record $70 billion last year, with Kazakhstan leading with $31 billion, as China seeks deeper economic 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 oil and gas trade, develop energy cooperation across industrial chains, and boost cooperation in new energy and the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
Further out, China supports the construction of a cross-Caspian Sea international transport corridor, and China will strengthen the construction of transportation hubs of China-Europe freight train services, Xi said.
- Jim Pollard with Reuters