15.06.2022 Author: Vladimir Danilov

China Bolsters Cooperation with Central Asian Nations


Amidst the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, on June 8, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi held the third “China+Central Asia” Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

Although similar meetings have taken place before, this summit has become urgent due to the recent depreciation of national currencies in the former Soviet republics, soaring food prices and economic woes triggered by, among other things, the events in Ukraine. Given that China has become a leading economic partner of Central Asian countries long ago, they count on its support.

In his opening remarks at the meeting, the Chinese top diplomat said that the mechanism for the “China+5” foreign ministers’ meeting was established two years ago. “Over the past two years, we have worked together to fight the pandemic, focus on economic recovery and promote regional stability, achieving tangible results. At the beginning of this year, the heads of state of the six countries jointly announced the building of a China-Central Asia community with a shared future, charting the course for cooperation among the six countries and ushering the China-Central Asia relations into a new era,” he said. The diplomat also pointed out that regardless of the shifts in the global landscape China will always firmly support Central Asian countries in safeguarding their sovereignty, pursuing development paths suited to their national conditions and building a solid Central Asia.

As the Chinese media emphasized, many hope that this third “China+C5” meeting in Beijing will serve to ramp up bilateral and multilateral cooperation with Central Asian countries in energy, trade and food supply sectors. This is also true for the security amidst the events in Ukraine, although experts doubt that Beijing is ready to get heavily engaged in security matters. While putting emphasis on the development of economic ties with Central Asian countries, China apparently isn’t sure about Russia’s commitment to play a serious role in Central Asia as it hasn’t solved its European issues yet.

Chinese experts have pointed out that food prices have risen significantly in Central Asian countries in recent months; there are even food supply disruptions, and unemployment has increased. Given that many of those countries live off money transactions coming from Russia, the region’s population has taken a financial hit amidst the events in Ukraine. That’s why while addressing this and other issues at the conference, Beijing took the effort to offset those difficulties by implementing economic cooperation projects with Central Asian countries, also raising the question of Afghanistan and peaceful reconstruction of this nation.

Against that backdrop, the prospects of energy, transport and communication cooperation between Central Asia and China were underscored. Turkmenistan, for instance, signaled that it’s ready to consistently ramp up natural gas supplies to China through the Central Asian territory while in terms of transport cooperation touting the feasibility and real possibility of establishing multimodal transport links from China to the west through the territory of Central Asia. For that reason, Turkmenistan has proposed to use the capabilities of its port infrastructure on the Caspian Sea.

Given that earlier this year Kazakhstan suffered from a terrorist attack which exacted a human toll and led to social upheavals, the likes of which have not been seen for decades, Wang Yi told Mukhtar Tileuberdi, Deputy Prime Minister and Kazakh Foreign Minister, that China is poised to strengthen cooperation with the nation in the law enforcement field to jointly fend off any infiltration attempts by external forces and to prevent any attempted color revolutions. Another thing that stands out is the fact that the representative of the Chinese Foreign Ministry supported the path of development chosen by Kazakhstan as a result of the referendum on constitutional amendments, including the limitations put on the powers of the president, although this isn’t compatible with the trend of strengthening the personal power of President Xi Jinping in China.

At the meeting, Wang Yi outlined the program featuring priority steps in economy and transport that are vital for Beijing as it is being deterred in the Pacific. The necessity of joint high-quality construction works within the Belt and Road initiative as well as accelerated integration of development strategies was emphasized. The minister also pointed out the importance of advancing the natural gas pipeline project, ensuring the safe operation of major arteries such as the China-Europe freight trains, speeding up the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan Railway project as well as supporting the construction of the Trans-Caspian International Transport Corridor.

The meeting ended up in adopting the Joint Statement, the Roadmap for the Development of Regional Cooperation for 2022-2025, the Initiative on Deepening China+Central Asia Connectivity Cooperation, and the Data Security Cooperation Initiative of China+Central Asia.

After Wang Yi met with Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the Chinese Foreign Ministry outlined Beijing stance on the current international situation in a communique “expressing deep concerns about the serious spillover impacts of the Ukraine crisis.” Also, China’s hopes that “Central Asian countries will stand firm, eliminate interference, strengthen coordination, cooperate in good faith and safeguard regional peace and stability” were underlined.

Commenting on this “China+C5” meeting held by Wang Yi, US news and analytical website Eurasianet pointed out that Central Asian nations shouldn’t take sides in geopolitical stand-off over Ukraine. Eurasianet said that the Chinese top diplomat reportedly warned his partners that any attempt to align on the US foreign policy would inevitably lead to serious fallout. China condemned what it called illegal international sanctions against Beijing’s Russian partners as well as “financial terrorism” and economic weaponization.

Vladimir Danilov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”