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China, Central Asia vow to build a closer community with a shared future at milestone Xi’an summit

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It is no coincidence that Xi’an has been chosen to host the first in-person gathering among heads of state of China and five Central Asian countries since their diplomatic ties were established 31 years ago.

Over 2,100 years ago, Zhang Qian, a Han Dynasty envoy, made his journey to the West from Chang’an, now the northwestern Chinese city of Xi’an, opening the door to friendship and exchanges between China and Central Asia.

Delivering a keynote speech at the China-Central Asia Summit held at the starting point of the ancient Silk Road on Friday, Chinese President Xi Jinping recalled the millennia-old friendship and hailed the relations as brimming with vigor and vitality in the new era.

In expounding on how to build a China-Central Asia community with a shared future, Xi stressed the need for mutual support, common development, and upholding universal security and everlasting friendship.

The summit from Thursday to Friday was attended by Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, Turkmen President Serdar Berdimuhamedov and Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev.

During their meetings or talks with Xi, the leaders expressed confidence and determination to boost cooperation with China, voicing their support for the China-proposed initiatives on global development, security and civilization.

Setting pace for BRI cooperation

Central Asia is where the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) began, as in a speech delivered at Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev University in September 2013, Xi for the first time proposed building the Silk Road Economic Belt. A month later, in Indonesia, he proposed the building of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

“Over the past decade, China and Central Asian countries have worked closely together to fully revive the Silk Road and actively deepen future-oriented cooperation, steering our relations into a new era,” Xi said in his speech.

He continued to hail the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan highway, the China-Tajikistan expressway, the China-Kazakhstan crude oil pipeline and the China-Central Asia Gas Pipeline as the present-day Silk Road, and the China-Europe freight trains, freight trucks and flights the present-day camel caravans.

In addition to traditional areas of cooperation, China and Central Asia should also forge new drivers of growth in finance, agriculture, poverty reduction, green and low-carbon development, medical service, health and digital innovation, said Xi.

China’s trade with the five countries reached $70 billion in 2022, up by over 100 times since diplomatic ties were established. As of the end of March, China’s direct investment stock in Central Asia stood at over $15 billion, according to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce.

Working together for enduring peace

After the five Central Asian states declared independence in 1991, China was among the first countries to recognize their sovereignty and establish diplomatic relations with them. Since then, China and the countries have successively formed strategic partnerships.

At Friday’s summit, Xi reiterated that the sovereignty, security, independence and territorial integrity of Central Asian countries must be upheld, their people’s choice of development paths respected, and their efforts for peace, harmony and tranquility supported.

“It is important that we act on the Global Security Initiative, and stand firm against external attempts to interfere in domestic affairs of regional countries or instigate color revolutions,” he emphasized.

China and Central Asia, according to the Chinese leader, should continue to have zero-tolerance to the three forces of terrorism, separatism and extremism, and strive to resolve security conundrums in the region.

Strengthening dialogue between civilizations

On Thursday night, the leaders also watched an art performance, where dancers dressed in terracotta warrior costumes marched to the beat of drums, marking the opening of the year of culture and art of the peoples of China and Central Asia as well as the China-Central Asia youth arts festival.

Cultural workers delivering messages of friendship as well as entrepreneurs seeking business opportunities, health workers fighting COVID-19 and international students pursuing further education are the present-day goodwill ambassadors, said Xi on Friday.

Chinese universities are enrolling more students from Central Asia, fostering greater mutual understanding and affinity through youth exchanges. 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.

To promote dialogue between civilizations, China will continue to provide government scholarships for Central Asian countries and open special train services for cultural tourism in Central Asia, among other things, Xi announced.

“It is important that we implement the Global Civilization Initiative, carry forward our traditional friendship, and enhance people-to-people exchanges,” he said.

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