Xi to Central Asia: Injecting prosperity and security to an uncertain world
Updated 08:59, 15-Sep-2022
Gao Lei , Xia Lu
Samarkand, Uzbekistan, September 13, 2022. /CFP

Samarkand, Uzbekistan, September 13, 2022. /CFP

Editor's note: Gao Lei is a research fellow at the Center for Xi Jinping Thoughts on Opening-up, Research Institute of Globalization and China's Modernization, University of International Business & Economics. Xia Lu is a research fellow at National Academy for Development & Strategy, Renmin University of China. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

Every year in early September, there are routine news' stories about the beginning of a new school year, as well as about different parenting methods. But this September renders two big news events for all those who care deeply about China's future.

The first news is the announcement on the date of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China and the second one regards Chinese President Xi Jinping's overseas trips, sending a strong signal of change. According to China's official news agency, President Xi will attend the 22nd Summit of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, and will pay state visits to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan from September 14 to 16, upon invitations of both central Asian states' leaders, respectively.

Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are two major regional powers in central Asia, or central Eurasia. They both have established diplomatic relations with Beijing since declaring their independence from the former Soviet Union in 1992, marking this year the 30th anniversary of their China ties. Kazakhstan is the largest one in territorial size with the largest GDP (gross domestic product) per capita among the "five-stans," while Uzbekistan is the most populated of them with more than 33 million people living in the landlocked nation. Reflecting on the past three decades, China has formed strategic partnerships with Central Asian countries as they have become independent sovereign states serving their own national interests.

Among their respective national interests' concerns, security is the most urgent one. This region has been ravaged by secessionism, terrorism, and extremism, the so-called "three forces," as well as transnational criminal activities, including drug production and trafficking, which have brought about non-traditional security challenges to China's national security as well. Therefore, cracking down on the "three forces" with these Central Asian countries conforms with China's interests and consolidates the interests of these countries. Kazakhstan and China have established a permanent comprehensive strategic partnerships, building on the safety infrastructure while setting a model for a good neighbor and friendship.

The people of this region have longed for prosperity as much as they have for security. To promote the comprehensive integration of Central Asian countries into the region, as well as in the global economic system and to develop cooperation on an equal and mutually-benefiting basis would serve the fundamental interests of both sides. In the past three decades, bilateral trade between China and these Central Asian countries has increased nearly a hundredfold. Especially in September 2013, programs of the "21st Century Silk Road Economic Belt," one of the two pillars of the Belt and Road Initiative, proposed by President Xi, when he paid a visit to Kazakhstan's national university, has injected new impetus into the cooperative development of China and these countries.

The construction company's staff from China were operating, Kazakhstan, March 12, 2018. /CFP

The construction company's staff from China were operating, Kazakhstan, March 12, 2018. /CFP

Among them, Kazakhstan is second largest trading partner and sixth largest source of investment, while Uzbekistan is the largest trading partner and source of investments for China. Beijing has signed documents under the Belt and Road Initiative to promote cross-border trade and investments, focusing on energy, mineral resources development, electronics, and light manufacturing.

China has also offered a generous sum to the International Development Assistance program, with no political conditions required for the Central Asian countries. Hence, Uzbekistan is receiving more than half of China's entire development assistance for the area. Most assistance programs are expeceted to upgrade the infrastructure that have deteriorated even before the Soviet Union collapsed. The most anticipated one is the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan Railway. The underlying logic: More infrastructure building can help the rural areas get more integrated with the surrounding region and the world at large.

Let's also take a closer look at the founding of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in June 2001. As a permanent inter-governmental organization based in China and named after a Chinese city for the first time, the SCO promotes mutual trust and friendships between China and Central Asian countries to a higher level, as well an important platform for regional coordination among all member states on a multilateral basis in the 21st century. After over 20 years, the cooperation have expanded from dealing with security issues and trans-border criminal activities in its original stage to fields, such as trade, national defense, law enforcement, environmental protections, culture, science and technology, education, energy, transportation, financial credit, among others.

Later this week, the SCO will have its 22nd Summit of the Council of Heads of State, which as the supreme decision-making body of the organization, will review the current status and prospects of multilateral cooperation development and determine priorities and practical measures for strengthening SCO activities at the present stage.

After the first round expansion of the SCO in 2017, this year will witness the second round with Iran getting admitted as full member, while Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia will be accepted as dialogue partners. Meanwhile, the procedures for Belarus' accession will be initiated and the issue of granting dialogue partner status to Bahrain and Maldives will be discussed as well. The member states can maintain maximum freedom and mobility, since the SCO does not impose any strict obligations on its member states or interfere with its partnerships or with other states and organizations. The expansion speaks only for the growing influence of the SCO, instead of casting challenges to anyone.

It is expected that the SCO Summit this year will push for greater prosperity and security in an uncertain world.

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