On January 25 of this year, a video format was held at the summit of the heads of state “Central Asia – China”, dedicated to the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the countries of Central Asia and China.
The event was attended by President K.Tokayev, President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping, President of Kyrgyzstan S. Zhaparov, President of Tajikistan E.Rahmon, President of Turkmenistan G.Berdimuhamedov and President of Uzbekistan Sh.Mirziyoyev. What conclusions can be drawn from the results of the last meeting?

First. Over 30 years of cooperation between the Central Asian countries and China, they have become truly good neighbors who show a high interest in mutually beneficial cooperation. 


And it is important to emphasize that this is not just some kind of ideological stamp or standard diplomatic wording that many countries usually apply to such cases. To begin with, over the past three decades, the Central Asian countries – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – have constructively and fairly resolved the border issue with China.
After the collapse of the USSR and the appearance on the world map of the young independent republics of Central Asia, the recognition and approval of borders was the most important indicator of their subjectivity and sovereignty. In the 1990s, China approached this sensitive issue very wisely, resolving all issues fairly and mutually beneficial. The key result of this approach was genuine trust and good-neighborliness between the countries of the region and China. A Chinese proverb says: mutual trust is the foundation of friendship. And so it turned out in practice: it was on this basis that all the achievements and results achieved in subsequent years became possible. 

Continuing the topic of the fruits of Central Asian-Chinese cooperation, it is appropriate to use an excerpt from the speech of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who noted: “For 30 years we have always been close to each other on the way to joint development. Over these years, the trade turnover and the volume of mutual investment have increased almost 100 times, a number of significant cooperation projects have been successfully implemented, such as the China-Central Asia gas pipeline, the China-Kazakhstan oil pipeline, the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan highway, and the China-Tajikistan highway. China-Europe rail transit through Central Asia is rapidly increasing.” 

Second. For 30 years, the Central Asian countries and China have demonstrated mutual understanding and support in various difficult and important periods.
President of the Republic of Kazakhstan K.Tokayev said that in general, over the past three decades, the Central Asian states have developed an effective model of cooperation based on good neighborliness and constant support for each other. There are many examples in history, we will briefly recall some of them.
In the early 1990s, China supported Kazakhstan during the abandonment of the largest nuclear arsenal and provided our country with security guarantees. Later, when the countries of the region signed the Treaty on a Nuclear-Free Zone in Central Asia, this initiative also received the full political support of China, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a nuclear power. 


In the 2000s, the Central Asian countries (without Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, which joined later), together with the PRC and the Russian Federation, created the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. This joint initiative combined efforts to counter three evils – terrorism, extremism and separatism, and in many ways strengthened regional security at a time when a large-scale terrorist wave passed through the world. 

During the international COVID-19 pandemic, all countries in the region provided regular humanitarian assistance to each other, continued partnership cooperation and intensive dialogue, despite closed borders and other forced restrictions. By the way, it was in the conditions of global quarantine that the dialogue “Central Asia+China” (July 2020).
Chinese President Xi Jinping said very important words: “for 30 years we have been standing shoulder to shoulder on the guard of justice. By jointly defending multilateralism, we resolutely support each other in matters affecting vital interests, stand in solidarity at a critical moment, thereby protecting our legitimate rights and strategic interests, promoting the democratization of international relations and the formation of a more just and rational world order.” 

Central Asia stands in solidarity with this approach. The Central Asian Republics and China strongly support the policy of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs and respect for national identity. The countries of our region are consistent in their position of supporting the fundamental principle of “one China”.
In the context of the large-scale geopolitical and economic pressure that the West is exerting on China today, the Central Asian republics always demonstrate their own position and firm opinion regarding relations with their Eastern neighbor: China is a good neighbor and an important partner for the Central Asian states, and the position of other foreign countries on this issue does not matter. 

The third. The main leitmotif of the last summit was the discussion of long-term plans and projects aimed at further deepening of Central Asian and Chinese cooperation.
It is noteworthy that the leaders of Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan talked less about the achievements of cooperation over 30 years, and more about future development. This indicates a very large, yet unrealized reserve, which is laid in regional cooperation and that the leaders and peoples of the countries of the region and the PRC are looking to the future. 

Over these 30 years, the Central Asian countries and China have created a powerful foundation that allows us to reach a new, higher level of relations. This also suggests that relations between the Central Asian countries and the PRC have entered a new historical era. It can be said that the last Summit of the Heads of State drew an invisible line in the annals of regional cooperation: new initiatives and expansion of cooperation are ahead.
Much attention will be paid to the further construction of the Belt and Road Initiative, including through the implementation of large-scale projects with high added value in the areas of digitalization, green technologies and innovation, where China’s successes are most obvious. For its part, Kazakhstan, which is a key link of the Belt and Road, fully supports the updated criteria of cooperation announced by the leader of the People’s Republic of China – high standards of projects, long-term and social orientation. 

In the next three years, Kazakhstan is ready to invest $20 billion to implement these tasks and projects. Investments and efforts will expand transit flows from China to Europe and the Middle East (in 2021, more than 12 thousand trains passed through Kazakhstan from China to the west and back), as well as meet the growing needs of Central Asian countries (including access to foreign markets). According to the World Bank, the development of transport and logistics communications in Central Asia can potentially ensure the GDP growth of the five republics at the level of 15%. 

Fourth. The dialogue between the leaders of the Central Asian countries and China was filled with real specifics – clear proposals, projects and ideas. There were many initiatives in the speeches. In this context, it is advisable to pay special attention to the proposals of Xi Jinping, the head of the country with the second global economy – in many ways, the proposed projects open up new development opportunities for Central Asia. In particular, China plans to:
– to open wide access for high-quality goods and agricultural products of Central Asia to the huge domestic market of China;
– to continue the successful practice of holding the Forum of Trade and Economic Cooperation between China and the countries of Central Asia;
– strive to bring the trade turnover between China and Central Asia to 70 billion US dollars by 2030;
– to create a dialogue mechanism for cooperation in the field of e-commerce, to hold, if necessary, a forum for industrial and investment cooperation.
– to provide an additional 50 million doses of vaccine to the Central Asian countries in 2022 as humanitarian aid and to open centers of traditional Chinese medicine in the needy countries of the region;
– to discuss the creation of the China-CA Health Industry Union;
– create a platform for the presentation of tourism resources and then include all your countries in the list of outbound tourism countries;
– to hold a Forum of Friendship between the Peoples of China and the Central Asian States;
– to increase the number of twin cities in the next 5-10 years to a total of 100 pairs;
– to allocate 1200 quotas for government scholarships to students from Central Asian states in the next 5 years,
– to open new Institutes and Classes of Confucius CA;
– organize events – Youth Arts Festival, Young Leaders’ Camp “Bridge to the Future”.
– to provide the Central Asian states in the next 3 years with gratuitous assistance in the amount of 500 million US dollars for the implementation of socially significant projects;
– provide 5 thousand quotas for professional development of specialists in areas such as healthcare, poverty reduction and improving the well-being of rural residents, interconnectedness and information technology. 


What does this mean? First of all, that China is deeply interested in a politically stable and economically prosperous Central Asia. And the Eastern neighbor of our region is ready to provide real, not declarative, support to the Central Asian countries and provide opportunities for social well-being. Taking into account the fact that last year the People’s Republic of China officially defeated poverty and, in general, accumulated enormous experience in ensuring social development – together with the proposed projects, this can give a constructive impetus to the Central Asian republics. 

If we analyze similar dialogue initiatives in Central Asia by the EU, the USA, Japan, India and South Korea, it will be obvious that they are “empty” and ideologically pumped formats in which there are no real economic and social projects.
Fifth. The last summit consolidated another important trend – the dialogue “Central Asia+China” has reached a new political level with the participation of heads of state.
The first historic meeting of the heads of Central Asian and Chinese countries was held in this format. In his speech, the head of Kazakhstan said: “One of the main tasks of today’s summit is the search for new solutions and mechanisms to unlock the huge potential of Central Asia. In recent years, intraregional cooperation has reached a qualitatively new level.” 

In practice, raising the level of this platform means that the dialogue has received serious political support at the highest level, which means that all the ideas voiced will receive due attention. And proposed at the meeting by the President of Kazakhstan K.Tokayev’s ministerial format of consultations and interaction (in addition to the already participating Foreign Ministries) will complement the presidential format and give the dialogue platform real tools for implementing the projects under discussion. 

In general, China has introduced a serious political innovation in the region by organizing a successful summit of heads of state “Central Asia + China”. It seems that now other foreign countries implementing the dialogue formats “Central Asia Plus…” will try to organize similar meetings following this example. Question: will they be able to present the appropriate specific content to the dialogue, in addition to duty declarations and exchange of pleasantries? 

Results of the last meeting “Central Asia+China” showed that both the Central Asian countries and China itself have not only a strong interest in the further development of cooperation, but also have a lot of real ideas and projects that can be converted into a concrete action plan. And the most important thing in this case is that it will be a joint action plan that will have a broad multiplier effect for the entire region. 

The historic meeting is also notable for the fact that China not only declares its desire to see the neighboring region, strategically important for it, stable and prosperous, but also has the appropriate vision, projects and financial capabilities. And this is met with full support in the Central Asian states, which in the future will receive an additional incentive for modernization. 

China Studies Centre,

Nur-Sultan, 2022

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