China’s focus on strengthening ties with Central Asian countries has become increasingly significant as the West perceives a threat to the US-led world order. In an effort to counter Beijing’s challenge, the US and its allies convened to develop a common strategy. At the same time, Chinese President Xi Jinping welcomed leaders from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan to the city of Xi’an. The two-day summit, seen by analysts as a battle for influence between China and the Western powers, coincided with the Group of Seven (G7) summit in Hiroshima, Japan.
Amid the flurry of diplomatic activities, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is expected to meet with G7 leaders in Hiroshima to discuss the ongoing war with Russia. China has also been involved in efforts to mediate the Ukraine crisis, with special envoy Li Hui touring Europe and Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin scheduled to meet President Xi in Beijing the following week. Chinese state broadcaster CCTV hailed the Xi’an summit as a success, emphasizing the bright future of China-Central Asia relations. The leaders’ symbolic planting of pomegranate trees showcased the strong friendship and cooperation between China and the region.
During his keynote address at the summit, President Xi highlighted the profound historical origins and practical needs that underpin China’s relationship with Central Asian nations. He called for the expansion of economic and trade ties and energy cooperation, including the acceleration of the construction of the Line D China-Central Asia gas pipeline and the strengthening of oil and gas trade. While tensions persist between Beijing and Western powers on various issues, Central Asian leaders have supported China, hoping to enhance Chinese engagement in their region as Western economies pull away.
In a joint statement issued after the summit, the six leaders demonstrated solidarity, reaffirming their mutual support for core interests and development approaches. The statement emphasized that democracy is a shared pursuit and value of humanity, asserting that each country has the sovereign right to choose its development path and governance without interference. The document also emphasized the importance of cooperation in renewable energy and the stability of energy supply for economic, trade, and investment collaboration. Enhancing regional connectivity, including transportation links between Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and other countries, was also highlighted.
Observers noted the significance of the summit’s timing in relation to the G7 meeting and speculated on its underlying motivations. The summit aligns with China’s need for a reliable energy pipeline and underscores the region’s importance in Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative. Reuters reported that the G7 leaders would discuss adopting a tougher stance on Beijing. Analysts view the summit and G7 meeting as a battle for influence between China and the US-led West, with discussions reminiscent of a new Cold War. While some experts argue that the two meetings have different driving factors, the overlapping dates hint at the intensifying competition between China and Western powers for global influence.
The Xi’an summit signifies China’s determination to strengthen ties with Central Asia, leveraging its economic prowess and influence. As the West grapples with concerns about China’s rising power, Beijing seeks to deepen regional economic and security cooperation. Central Asia is crucial to China’s vision for regional connectivity and trade as part of the Belt and Road Initiative. By fostering closer relationships with Central Asian countries, China aims to enhance its influence, secure vital energy resources, and strengthen its position on the global stage. The summit’s outcome and its implications for future geopolitical dynamics will continue to be closely monitored by international observers.
During a high-level meeting, the G7 leaders acknowledged the necessity of restraining Beijing’s influence. At the same time, China and countries in Central Asia expressed their desire to counteract Western containment efforts, particularly in terms of security. This statement, made by an official named Yang, highlighted the prevailing geopolitical tensions and power struggles between China and the Western world.
Yang emphasized that China needed to adopt a comprehensive approach to address security threats and the mounting pressure exerted by the United States and its allies. He underscored that the deteriorating situation in China’s eastern environment, including the South China Sea, had become increasingly evident, especially following the Ukraine conflict. Consequently, Yang proposed that China should focus on bolstering security and economic cooperation in its Western regions by increasing investments.
To fulfill this objective, Beijing sought to strengthen its ties with the nations of Central Asia, an area where Western countries possessed limited influence. Yang asserted that China had more flexibility and opportunities for collaboration in this region, making it considerably challenging for the West to interfere. By expanding its engagement with Central Asia, China aimed to establish a stronger foothold and counterbalance Western containment efforts, ultimately enhancing its own security and economic prospects.
The G7 leaders’ acknowledgment of the need to contain Beijing reflected their concerns over China’s growing influence and assertive actions in various regions. Simultaneously, China’s approach of pursuing closer ties with Central Asia indicated its strategy of diversifying alliances and seeking alternative avenues for cooperation, reducing its reliance on Western nations. This move allowed China to expand its reach beyond its immediate neighborhood and pursue its interests in a region relatively insulated from Western intervention.
Moreover, China’s focus on strengthening economic cooperation in the western part of the country suggested its intent to tap into the region’s resources and development potential. By investing in infrastructure projects and fostering trade partnerships, China aimed to spur economic growth and regional integration, while also fortifying its security interests in these strategic areas.
China’s strategic interest in Central Asia extends beyond security considerations. It encompasses securing energy supplies, particularly in light of the ripple effects of the Ukraine crisis and sanctions imposed on Russia. Dong Jinyue, a senior China economist at Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, highlighted the potential significance of the Line D China-Central Asia natural gas pipeline in enhancing energy cooperation between China and Central Asia. The pipeline not only holds promise for meeting China’s energy needs but also offers potential benefits for the labor market in Central Asia and can contribute to overall economic development in the region.
Recognizing the importance of fostering economic growth and stability in Central Asia, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a substantial financial aid package of 26 billion yuan (US$3.7 billion) during a recent announcement. This investment and support for regional development projects signal China’s commitment to strengthening its ties with Central Asian nations and promoting their socio-economic progress. Given the Western sanctions imposed on several Central Asian countries due to their association with Russia, Chinese economic aid and investment assume critical political and economic significance.
According to Li, an expert from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, the growing alignment of Central Asian nations with China holds immense significance for China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). As key participants in the BRI, Central Asian nations play a pivotal role in realizing China’s vision of enhanced connectivity and economic integration across the Eurasian region. Li emphasized that China’s engagement with Central Asia was driven by economic considerations and the strategic importance of establishing a robust network of infrastructure and trade routes as part of the BRI.
While the Belt and Road Initiative has encountered certain challenges along the way, Central Asia’s increasing alignment with China provides renewed impetus and potential for the initiative’s success. China’s investments and economic aid in the region support the infrastructure projects under the BRI, facilitating their implementation and strengthening regional cooperation. Moreover, by leveraging its financial resources and expertise, China can contribute to addressing the development needs of Central Asian countries, fostering stability, and creating new avenues for economic growth.
China’s interest in securing energy supplies from Central Asia aligns with its broader energy security strategy. By diversifying its energy sources and reducing dependence on a single supplier, China aims to mitigate potential disruptions and uncertainties in the global energy market. Additionally, the energy cooperation between China and Central Asia holds the potential for long-term partnerships that foster mutual benefits, such as technological exchanges, job creation, and economic growth.