China + Central Asia (C+C5) Photo: VCG
The China-Central Asia Summit, the first major diplomatic event hosted by China this year and the first ever in-person summit between the leaders of China and the five Central Asian countries, is being held in Xi’an, Northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, between May 18 and 19. The summit is viewed as an important milestone in relations between China and Central Asia countries, ushering in a new era of win-win cooperation. What’s the significance of the summit for the region and the world? What can we anticipate in terms of further cooperation resulting from the summit? Global Times reporters Lin Xiaoyi and Xie Wenting (GT) talked to Prof. Saidmukhtar Saidkasimov (Saidkasimov), former deputy prime minister and former minister of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan, to delve into these topics and more.
Saidmukhtar Saidkasimov. Photo: Courtesy of Saidkasimov
GT: What is your expectation for the upcoming China-Central Asia Summit? How do you assess the significance of convening such a summit for China, Central Asian countries, and the world?
Saidkasimov: The first China-Central Asia Summit with the in-person participation of the leaders of China and the five Central Asian countries – one of the largest diplomatic events this year – is certainly a huge positive event in world politics and international relations.
The global significance of this summit lies in the fact that it represents the further deepening of mutual trust, broad mutually beneficial cooperation, the rapprochement of peoples within a large region in Asia, and the strengthening of peace and stability. This trend of peaceful, creative coexistence of a number of countries is very illustrative against the backdrop of destructive disintegration tendencies that are growing in the world.
The interest of all participants in the summit to further expand cooperation was indicated in the previous meeting of the foreign ministers from the six countries.
China and Central Asian countries advocate for good-neighborliness and fraternal cooperation in all spheres of their development. It should be especially noted that the further expansion of regional cooperation is based on unwavering respect for the development path chosen by each country in accordance with their national characteristics and interests. There is a clear commitment to providing firm mutual support on issues related to fundamental interests, such as state sovereignty, independence, security, and territorial integrity, as well as to countering external interference in any form in the internal affairs of the summit’s participants.
During the preparing for the summit, a common understanding was reached that the coincidence or proximity of their positions on key issues of the international and regional agenda will contribute to the continuation of close coordination and interaction within the UN and other multilateral formats, while strictly observing the goals and principles of the UN Charter and universally recognized norms of international law in order to maintain peace and stability in the world, and the search for political and diplomatic solutions to all conflicts.
It is deeply symbolic that the summit is being held in the ancient city of Xi’an, from which as the story goes, the famous Silk Road began. Xi’an is now regarded as the main hub of cooperation with Central Asia, which concentrates scientific, educational, logistical, trade, and other opportunities for the implementation of the planned large-scale joint projects in the trade, the economy, energy, science and technology , and in the agricultural and humanitarian fields.
It is natural and pragmatic that the agenda of the summit includes various international and regional geopolitical issues, and above all the general and bilateral relations of its participants, and the further expansion of mutually beneficial cooperation, bringing relations to a new level, contributing to peace, stability, development, and prosperity in the region and all over the world.
Effective measures are expected to be taken to increase the level of trade, economic and investment cooperation between the six states, strengthen cooperation in customs and quarantine areas, facilitate trade procedures, especially the formation of a multimodal and integrated network connecting road, rail and air traffic and border checkpoints, creating the most favorable conditions for passenger and cargo flows, expanding cooperation in such areas as agriculture, new energy sources, e-commerce, green and digital economy, high technologies and others. Of course, special attention will also be paid to the development of cultural and humanitarian cooperation, further intensification of cooperation and exchange in the fields of education, science and technology, culture, tourism, healthcare, media and cinema, etc.
GT: This year marks the 10th anniversary of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). How do you assess the results of cooperation between China and Uzbekistan under the BRI?
Saidkasimov: Uzbekistan and other countries in the region have been active participants in the BRI from the very beginning. It is symbolic that this project was first announced in Central Asia, in Kazakhstan. Over the last decade, it has shown its practical significance on a large scale. This is demonstrated by the development in many countries, including Uzbekistan, and the BRI projects are of mutual benefit.
China has firmly held the position of the main economic partner of Uzbekistan for many years. A number of interstate, intergovernmental, and interdepartmental agreements have been reached. Projects are being successfully implemented in industrial cooperation, infrastructure modernization, as well as in the areas of transport, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, and the creation of joint high-tech industrial parks with the participation of companies from both countries.
In general, over the last 30 years, the strategic partnership between Uzbekistan and China has become dynamic and sustainable. Thanks to joint efforts, the trade turnover between Uzbekistan and China increased 140 times during this period. The volume of Chinese investment in the economy of Uzbekistan has increased five-fold since 2017.
China’s ccooperation agreements with all countries in the region, and their implementation shows real results.
Significant joint projects are systematically moving forward. An event of historical significance was the signing of the trilateral agreement on cooperation on the construction project of the railway “Uzbekistan – Kyrgyzstan – China” as part of transport corridor “Uzbekistan-Kazakhstan-China-Laos-Thailand-Malaysia” within the framework of the 2022 SCO summit in Samarkand. The agreement paves the way for the completion of its feasibility study in the near future. The implementation of this project will serve as the basis for expanding the geography of trade and transportation from China through Uzbekistan to Europe and to the Gulf region, turning Uzbekistan from an inland state into an important communications hub in the region.
For a deeper integration of Central Asia into the system of interregional transport and logistics corridors, the practical implementation of the construction project of the Termez – Mazar-i-Sharif – Kabul – Peshawar railway is also considered important, which will contribute to the development of the regional interconnectedness of Central and South Asia, as well as ensuring sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction in the region.
Uzbekistan, with the help of China, has significantly diversified export destinations, modernized infrastructure and reoriented investment flows to new frontiers.
The Chinese project for the archaeological restoration of Khiva, launched in 2013, has been successfully completed, giving the ancient city a new luster. Tourism cooperation is developing dynamically. More and more Chinese tourists have the opportunity to visit various sights of our ancient country. A huge number of examples convincingly show the creative power of the multifaceted and constantly growing cooperation between Uzbekistan and China, confirming the reality and validity of the great long-term expectations of our peoples to further strengthen friendly ties.
Practice shows that the implementation of the BRI creates favorable conditions that ensure an uninterrupted system of cargo flow, increase the capacity of border points, and improve the system of “green” corridors among others.
How do you evaluate the China-proposed concept of the “Chinese Path to Modernization?” Is Uzbekistan interested in China’s development model?
Saidkasimov: In Uzbekistan and other countries in Central Asia, close attention is paid to the implementation of large-scale reforms in China including its historical achievements, and successes as the world’s second-largest economy. I believe that the successful implementation of the concept of “Chinese modernization” is expected to shape a fundamentally new and integrated Chinese model of human development.
As practice has shown, China’s modernization involves social support for its vast population, universal prosperity, material and cultural well-being, harmony between humans and nature, and peaceful development. The Chinese experience in social development deserves deep study and reflection. Uzbekistan, by constantly expanding and deepening broad cooperation with China, wishes for success in its comprehensive modernization of society.
Uzbekistan is a major power in the heart of Central Asia. In the 31 years since its independence, the country has achieved great results in state development and national revival. Under the leadership of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, reforms and development in various fields are on a high-speed trajectory. The country has acquired an entirely new image, created decent living conditions, and significantly strengthened its position on the international stage.
Uzbekistan closely observes the Chinese path to modernization and considers it a model worth learning from. The countries can learn from each other in various spheres, including social support, prosperity, environmental harmony, and international engagement.
It is important to highlight Uzbekistan’s great interest in China’s successful implementation of the concept of building a moderately prosperous society and its historic victory over extreme poverty. Drawing from the Chinese experience, President Mirziyoyev instructed the development of a state program to reduce poverty in Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan also attaches special importance to cooperation in the field of digital technologies and strives to ensure a balanced approach to technological progress. Our country is interested in implementing joint projects based on Chinese experience in ecological innovations and technologies, attracting Chinese investments and technologies in the field of alternative energy, localizing components and equipment for solar and wind power plants, and training specialized personnel.
Additionally, China’s active participation in promoting sustainable development in Central Asia and jointly addressing the complex range of pressing climate issues, such as reducing the flow of major rivers and biodiversity, extensive air pollution, and increasing greenhouse gas emissions, is crucial. In this context, the joint promotion of the “climate” agenda and the achievement of “green” development goals have become a priority direction for our cooperation.
What forms of further cooperation do you think China and Central Asian countries can carry out on counter-terrorism?
Saidkasimov: It should be noted that the format of “China-Central Asia” cooperation undoubtedly includes closer cooperation in the fight against terrorism, separatism, extremism, illicit drug trafficking, transnational organized crime, and cybercrime with the aim of jointly maintaining reliable security and stability in the region. Uzbekistan fully supports the key role of this format in addressing security issues, and in developing collective responses to current challenges and threats to the sustainable development of Central Asian countries and China itself. It is expected that the further strengthening of regional security will also be a key point of the meeting in Xi’an.
In this regard, alongside the elimination of drug trafficking, one of the most challenging and crucial components of stability and economic prosperity in the region is the normalization of the situation and prevention of a humanitarian crisis in neighboring Afghanistan. China and Central Asian countries have long been involved in this sphere; however, new challenges and consequences have arisen, primarily due to the rapid withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan. The current situation in Afghanistan has the potential to negatively impact security in Central Asia.
Unfortunately, amidst other highly contentious international issues, there is currently a decline in the international community’s attention trained toward Afghanistan, although the countries in the region are interested in its development as a peaceful, independent, and prosperous state.
Uzbekistan was among the first to initiate practical cooperation with Afghanistan, primarily in the sphere of providing humanitarian aid, and called on other countries to do the same. Uzbekistan highly appreciates China’s constructive role in preventing a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. Undoubtedly, the joint implementation, primarily with Chinese partners, of infrastructure and humanitarian projects will contribute to the restoration of peace and stability in the country.
How do you evaluate China’s presence in Uzbekistan and Central Asia? Do you think the presence of China in Central Asia contradicts the presence of the United States in the region? Why?
Saidkasimov: The longstanding and continuously expanding cooperation between Uzbekistan, other Central Asian countries, and China, filled with tangible achievements in socio-economic and humanitarian development for all parties, undoubtedly serves as a positive factor not only for the peoples of this region and the entire Asian continent, but also for the world as a whole. All aspects of the China-Central Asian countries relationship are primarily of a peaceful nature, embodying constructive and creative content, and contributing to the constant improvement of the living conditions of more than a quarter of the global population.
Importantly, they are not directed against any other country, and do not affect or undermine the interests or security of any other state. In this regard, the format of cooperation, namely “China-Central Asia” serves as an illustrative example of regional integration and peace that can be emulated by many regions and continents.
Certainly, the growing global interest in Central Asia is being demonstrated not only by China but also by many other countries, primarily major players in global politics. In this regard, Uzbekistan advocates for broad, equal, and mutually beneficial cooperation with all interested parties based on strict adherence to the principles of mutual respect, recognition of national sovereignty, and independence, non-interference in internal affairs, and the complete absence of any preconditions or demands.
Uzbekistan categorically rejects any hegemonic efforts to turn Central Asia into a zone of political pressure and confrontation by leading players in international relations.