What has China gained from the China-Central Asian Summit?

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In light of shifts in the international relations, the governments of Central Asia are seeking China as their new ally that will assist them in maintaining regional security. When the G-7 summit was taking place and the emphasis was on reducing the risks associated with China, China made sure to secure a diplomatic victory in Central Asia. Russia’s capacity to perform a role as a security guarantor in the region has been hindered as a result of newly emerged global challenges, internal domestic rebellions in the region, and Russia’s war in Ukraine. Despite the fact that economic and trade concerns were in the discussions for the whole of the summit, China has advanced its position as a global security provider in Central Asia.

The summit took place on the 18th and 19th of May, 2023. Chinese President Xi inaugurated the China-Central Asia Summit at the International Conference Center in Xian, which is located in Shaanxi Province. China and the other Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan were present at this diplomatic summit. Xian, previously known as Changan, was a Chinese city located in the center-northwest of the country. It was formerly the eastern beginning point of the Silk Road, which was an ancient trading route that linked China with Central Asia and the Mediterranean. Because of this, the area where the summit took place had a lot of historical significance. There were 54 agreements and 19 new cooperation structures reached as a consequence of the summit. At the end of the summit, nine multilateral documents were announced that highlighted the Xian declaration.

The deepening of ties between the five Central Asian nations and China is in the basic and long-term interests of both sets of countries, as well as the shared ambitions of the leaders. At this summit, China and Central Asian countries have drafted plans to deepen their connections. China has promised to expand cargo over its central Asian borders. It has opened the market for air transportation, assisted in the creation of an international transport corridor that will run across the Caspian Sea, and constructed a regional logistics network for these nations. Central Asian countries have particular goals as they have been enhancing relations with China. These states aim to manage these connections so that they may optimize their connectivity to the rest of the world without becoming too reliant on either Russia or China. This summit has also resulted in the creation of a China-Central Asia energy development cooperation that has bolstered energy cooperation. China further agreed to assist Central Asian nations in enhancing their abilities for law enforcement, security, and defense; to support their autonomous efforts to maintain regional security and combat terrorism; and to collaborate with these countries to advance cyber security. China has evolved into a significant player in this region to maintain peace and order as well as advance scientific progress, technical innovation, and economic growth. Transport linkages continued to be at the center of this summit. At the summit, the participating nations reaffirmed their commitment to the construction of a railway connecting China, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan; roadways connecting China to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan; and transport infrastructure for trans-Caspian trade routes that make use of seaports in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. The pursuit of sustainable development by these nations requires close collaboration with China.

China and Central Asia have been critical allies in international connectivity. Beijing began investing billions of dollars in the region’s transportation and infrastructure shortly after the launch of its Belt and Road Initiative in Kazakhstan in 2013. Since 2013, the Central Asian countries’ most important trade partner has been China. China is dependent on Central Asia for a number of essential resources, much as Central Asia is dependent on Chinese commerce and investment. Many cities in China are dependent on oil and natural gas pipelines coming from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, respectively. In addition to promoting economic contacts, it is probable that China believes that greater ties with this region would help in energy cooperation. It would further control ethnic turmoil in far-western Xinjiang, which surrounds Central Asia, and fill the gap left by Russia throughout its war in Ukraine. These are all goals for which deeper relationships with the region may help achieve a steadfast commitment to each other to pick a development path that is consistent with their national circumstances. It will also uphold domestic interests, including sovereignty, independence, security, and territorial integrity, and oppose involvement in the internal affairs of others. China is increasing its involvement in an area that has traditionally been dominated by Russia. In addition, since the United States is playing a lesser role in the area as a result of its departure from Afghanistan, China now has the ability and the motive to expand its presence in the region. Also, the Central Asian states, do not want to be caught in the midst of a rivalry between great powers. Rather these states seek to strike a balance in their ties with China, Russia, and the United States.

But China has been seen as ensuring a diplomatic win at this summit. These nations are essential to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is worth one trillion dollars. Firstly, China has strengthened political ties with its neighboring countries in Central Asia. This is due to the fact that Russia’s war on Ukraine and the United States’ presence in the region have diminished as a result of the departure of American soldiers from Afghanistan. Secondly, China is planning to create an alternative route for the transportation of goods from Afghanistan to the Arabian Sea through the port of Gwadar in Pakistan. This new route and connectivity have a comparable level of geopolitical importance for both Chinese and Central Asian countries. Both China and the countries of Central Asia would benefit in the long run from the establishment of a trans-Afghan route. Thirdly, China has moved to the forefront with central Asian countries for energy cooperation and energy resources with direct participation. About 55% of China’s total imports from central Asian countries were comprised of energy items such as coal, crude oil, and natural gas and will increase more after the summit. Latly, this summit has established a new platform for China-Central Asia cooperation and opened up new opportunities for economic collaboration. In 2022, China and the states of Central Asia have transacted more than $32 billion worth of trade. In the first four months of 2023, the total value of China’s import and export volumes with the nations of Central Asia amounted to 173.05 billion yuan ($24.8 billion), representing a 37.3% rise in comparison to the same time in the previous year. In 2022, China and these countries saw a record-breaking increase in trade amounting to $70 billion, with Kazakhstan alone accounting for $31 billion of that amount.

The recent China-Central Asia Summit did more than just promote security and development ties. It also empowered China to replace Russia as the key player in the Central Asia area and to expand its trading channels. The Belt and Road Initiative was given significant attention in the Xian declaration, which also made a clear connection between it and several national development policies in Central Asia. This emphasis on transport infrastructure throughout central Asia, and particularly across the region, underscores how crucial the area is for China’s efforts to diversify its trade routes and emphasizes the significance of the region as a whole.

In concluding remarks, it can be added that this summit between China and Central Asia has economic and geo-political dimension, despite the fact that it is often discussed in terms of issues pertaining to development and stability. The recent China-Central Asia Summit did more than just promote security and development ties. In this summit, China has established itself as a diplomatic winner, prioritizing its own interests and its cooperation with these nations. This summit has created a win-win diplomatic situation for China and Central Asian countries.

– Aishwarya Sanjukta Roy Proma is a Research Intern at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

Published in Modern Ghana [Link]