Standing in front of a map of the ancient Silk Road at a museum in Uzbekistan in September 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping pointed to a place, saying it was Xi'an, an ancient capital of 13 dynasties in China and also the starting point of the ancient Silk Road that went through Central Asia to Europe. It was one stop of Xi's first Central Asia trip as China's head of state, and he proposed to build a Silk Road Economic Belt in that trip, which together with the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road later evolved into the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Ten years later, Xi is set to host the first China-Central Asia Summit in the ancient city from May 18 to 19, to be attended by state leaders from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, a milestone for China-Central Asia ties that will draw a new blueprint for China-Central Asia relations, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
Experts have indicated that the upcoming head-of-state summit will elevate China-Central Asia ties to a new high, and will become a window for the world to observe China's vision of some global initiatives, such as the Global Development Initiative (GDI), the Global Security Initiative (GSI) and the Global Civilization Initiative (GCI).
Unveiled by Xi in a speech at the UN General Assembly in September 2021, the GDI aims to support developing countries in poverty alleviation, public health, and other issues, and achieve balanced, coordinated and inclusive growth in the face of the severe shocks of COVID-19.
BRI: Boost common development
Different from the GDI, the BRI is more concentrated on connectivity. It's intended to build a trade, investment, and infrastructure network that connects different regions along the ancient trade routes. Currently, 17 railway routes connect Xi'an with Central Asian countries and many other Asian and European destinations, with more than 1,100 train trips made in the first quarter of the year.
Over the past decade, Central Asian countries have become pioneers in promoting the BRI and and have built the region into an example of high-quality BRI development. From fully loaded trains to humming production lines and natural gas pipelines, vigorous cooperation has resulted in common development and promoted people's well-being.
According to official data, trade volume between China and Central Asia in 2022 hit a historic high of $70.2 billion, up by over 100 times since diplomatic ties were established about three decades ago.
"The BRI is about achieving global growth. With global development, we can achieve the principles of global security," Kairat Sarybay, executive director of the Secretariat of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), told CGTN, adding he believes the BRI serves the well-being of the world and global development.
Security cooperation: Safeguard regional peace
Security is the premise of development. At the 2022 Boao Forum for Asia, Xi announced the roll-out of the GSI. Differing significantly from that of Western powers in both its principles and practices, the GSI is a Chinese "vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security."
Amid growing regional turbulence, China and Central Asia have always adhered to the principles of the GSI: constantly establish and improve security cooperation mechanisms, conduct multilateral and bilateral joint exercises and border patrols, jointly combat terrorism, separatism and extremism, and crack down on drug trafficking and fighting other cross-border crimes.
Take cooperation on the Afghanistan issue as an example. China and Central Asia are all concerned about the spillover of unrest in Afghanistan and the spread of extremism and terrorism caused by the U.S. hasty withdrawal in 2021. However, instead of making alliances, China has been committing to solving these issues through multilateral cooperation mechanisms such as the Foreign Ministers' Meeting among the Neighboring Countries of Afghanistan, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Foreign Ministers' Dialogue and the Multilateral Meeting of Secretaries of Security Councils/National Security Advisers on Afghanistan.
Experts say China is creating a new type of security partnership by cooperation, which is different from Western countries' security alliance system.
Sun Degang, a researcher at the Center for Middle East Studies of Fudan University, said that the West is still holding a traditional security view, which is exclusive and based on military alliance, while China is taking a common security concept, which means China is pursuing a kind of safety that "is based on the safety of everyone, not on the unsafety of others."
Exchanges and mutual learning: More vibrant
Xi proposed the GCI at the CPC in Dialogue with World Political Parties High-level Meeting on March 15 this year, stressing that tolerance, coexistence, exchanges and mutual learning among different civilizations play an irreplaceable role in advancing humanity's modernization process and making the garden of world civilizations flourish.
Over 2,100 years ago, Chinese envoy Zhang Qian was twice sent to Central Asia on missions of peace and friendship. Today, from exchanges of students to joint archaeology, from the mutual translation of books to the co-production of films, the thousand-year-old friendship between China and Central Asia has become more deeply rooted and long-standing.
The Silk Road spirit has become a great heritage of human civilization, Xi said at the BRI Forum for International Cooperation in 2017, noting that these ancient silk routes opened windows of friendly engagement among nations. The spirit of the Silk Road represents "peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefit."
So far, there are 62 pairs of sister provinces, regions and cities between China and Central Asia. In 2022, China proposed holding a China-Central Asia people-to-people friendship forum and vowed to bring the number of sister cities with the five countries to 100 pairs in five to 10 years.
And an increasing number of Central Asian students have selected China as their preferred destination for studying abroad. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of Central Asian students studying in China witnessed an annual growth of over 12 percent between 2010 and 2018. As the world emerges from the pandemic, there is growing anticipation of setting a new record in the number of Chinese and Central Asian students studying in each other's educational institutions.
Experts believe that the upcoming summit will generate tangible outcomes and open a new chapter for China-Central Asia relations. It is also seen as an important opportunity for China and Central Asian countries to make joint efforts in building a closer community with a shared future.