An update on recent developments in China-Central Asian affairs.
Russian media outlets adopted a cautious attitude in analyzing the results of the May 18-19 China-Central Asia summit, held in the Chinese city of Xi’an. A source of much wariness was a portion of Chinese leader XI Jinping’s keynote address in which he expressed China’s readiness to “strengthen the capacity of law enforcement, security and defense” in neighboring Central Asian states. Russian media analysis tended to see in Xi’s offer an intent to realign the region away from Russia towards China.
Russian-language outlets also devoted attention to the Chinese announcement of a $3.7 billion aid package designed “to strengthen cooperation and development of Central Asia,” as well as a trilateral memorandum on the construction of a China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway. Beyond mention of those two developments, however, there was little substance to report. Details about the assistance package – specifically which country is receiving what – are proving elusive.
In another development meriting attention, the Chinese state-owned international broadcaster CGTN reported on plans to open Chinese-funded medical laboratories in Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan, as well as implement a “second phase of investment” in a similar project in Uzbekistan. Such laboratories already exist in Tajikistan and Kazakhstan.
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev held pre-summit talks with Xi on May 17. A report published by the presidential press service contained a laundry list of 23 bilateral agreements signed by officials from the two countries, including a pact enabling visa-free tourism. The president on May 19 also announced the opening of a Kazakh consulate in Xi’an. In addition, Tokayev participated in a bilateral investment event, resulting in the signing of 47 deals potentially worth about $22 billion.
The telegram channel of the Kazakhstan’s sovereign wealth fund, Samruk-Kazyna, provided some detail on one of the deals, covering the construction of wind farms. A memorandum of understanding involving Samruk-Kazyna, Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Energy, the China Energy Investment Corporation CPIH and the Chinese company SANY Renewable Energy, outlines plans to manufacture windmills in the Central Asian country. The deal also aims to “increase the total capacity of renewable generation in Kazakhstan by 40 percent.” Meanwhile, Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Agriculture signed protocols that can make it easier for Kazakh farmers to export agricultural products to China.
Agriculture Ministry representatives later sought to dispel rumors circulating on the Chinese-language internet about the sale of Kazakh land. “The provision of [agricultural] plots to foreigners is strictly prohibited,” a May 21 report published by inbusiness.kz quoted ministry official Murat Temirzhanov as saying.
In Almaty, Kazakh Prime Minister Alikhan Smailov participated in a European Union-Central Asia Forum that focused on reducing transit times for freight traffic. Projects are in the works to reduce the time it takes freight to complete the journey from China to Europe via Kazakhstan from 19-23 to 14-18 days. To help reduce the time freight traffic spends traversing Kazakhstan, Smailov said the country is “implementing two large trade and logistics hubs,” the prime minister’s press service reported May 19.
Outside of his participation in the China-Central Asia summit, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev spent most of his time in Xi’an touting bilateral trade and investment. The presidential press service reported that 41 bilateral deals worth potentially $25 billion were signed during the presidential trip, covering such areas as energy development, chemistry, metallurgy, geology, automotive production, electrical engineering and construction. During the summit, Mirziyoyev voiced a desire to see a doubling of trade between Central Asian states and China by 2030.
While in Xi’an, Mirziyoyev opened an “Exhibition of Uzbek–Chinese Cooperation” that featured 15 joint projects. Prior to the Uzbek president’s arrival, over 400 Chinese business leaders also attended a Chinese-Uzbek business forum on May 17, the Ministry of Investment, Industry and Trade of Uzbekistan reported. Industry & Trade Minister Laziz Kudratov noted that year-on-year bilateral trade turnover increased by roughly 20 percent in 2022, totaling about $9 billion. He added that Uzbekistan wants to boost the value of trade turnover to $10 billion this year.
A May 18 meeting between Xi and Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov resulted in the signing of 25 agreements, including a joint declaration on the establishment of a strategic partnership. Japarov also held talks with other major Chinese figures, including Premier Li Qiang and Chair of the People’s Political Consultative Conference Wang Huning, along with top business executives. Discussions focused on the China-Kyrgyz-Uzbek rail project and the Kambar-Ata hydroelectric power station.
Tajik President Emomali Rahmon’s one-on-one meeting with Xi on May 18 yielded 25 cooperation agreements covering such areas as anti-terrorism, media, humanitarian assistance and trade. In a separate meeting with Premier Li Qiang, Rahmon reportedly discussed accelerating the construction of Line D of the Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan-China gas pipeline. The Tajik presidential press service also quoted XI as lavishing praise on Rahmon, calling him “a wise, experienced and far-sighted politician” whose “suggestions and thoughts are very important to us [China].”
The semi-official news website Turkmenportal confirmed on May 18 that Turkmen President Serdar Berdymukhamedov met with Xi, adding that bilateral agreements were signed covering such areas as animal quarantine, mass media and customs. Berdymukhamedov also proposed to expand Turkmen gas exports and transit routes to China.
Source: Eurasia Net