Published: 14:56, May 29, 2023 | Updated: 14:59, May 29, 2023
Summit acclaimed as major BRI boost
By Xu Weiwei in Hong Kong, REn Qi in Moscow and Chen Weihua in Brussels

Xi’s keynote speech strengthens notion of shared future as meeting helps revive the Silk Road spirit, experts say

President Xi Jinping speaks at a roundtable during the China-Central Asia Summit in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, on May 19. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

The China-Central Asia Summit has not only brought China and the five Central Asian countries closer to each other in economic, trade and cultural relations, it will also reinvigorate the ancient Silk Road by way of further promoting the Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI, international observers and experts said.

President Xi Jinping and the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan championed regional peace, stability, harmony and greater interconnectivity during the group’s first-ever summit, the experts noted.

The two-day summit in Xi’an, Shaanxi province in Northwest China, closed on May 19, with Xi delivering the keynote speech. 

The main theme of Xi’s speech was to further strengthen the concept of a China-Central Asia community with a shared future, said Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan, executive director of the Center for South Asia & International Studies based in Islamabad, Pakistan.

“To achieve this end goal, the Chinese president rightly pinpointed a simple but very effective recipe comprising deepening strategic mutual trust, and maintaining clear and strong support for each other on sovereignty, independence, national dignity and long-term development,” Khan said.

He also said Xi has called for efforts to fully unleash cooperation potential in traditional areas like trade, industrial capacity, energy and transportation, and to foster new growth drivers in areas like finance, agriculture, poverty reduction, low-carbon economic activities, health and digital innovation.

Khalid Taimur Akram, executive director of the Pakistan Research Center for a Community with Shared Future in Islamabad, said the summit was an outstanding example of Xi’s commitment to diplomatic endeavors and global leadership. 

China accorded significant importance to the summit as it would help bolster ties, promote collaboration, and advance peace and development in the region, he said.

“It is noteworthy to say that President Xi’s progressive measures are firm and solid, proving him to be a great statesman,” Akram said, adding that Xi “adhered to the goals of forming a unified international community and boosting high-level diplomacy”.

He noted that Xi wants to see a dynamic and prosperous Central Asia that will support people in the region in realizing their aspirations for a better life and provide a significant boost to global economic recovery.

Akram also observed that the China-Central Asia Summit hopes to revive the old trade routes and advance contemporary economic and commercial cooperation. Xi’an represents the historical interactions and thriving commercial activity along the Silk Road as it was the starting point of the historic trade route, the Pakistani expert said.

S.L. Kanthan, a geopolitical analyst based in Bengaluru, India, noted that more than 2,000 years ago, Xi’an — formerly known as Chang’an — was the origin of the famed Silk Road, which linked Chinese merchants to those in Central Asia, Persia and the Roman Empire.

The Ancient Silk Road could be viewed as the genesis of globalization and free trade, and its contemporary version is the BRI, the largest infrastructure project in human history, he said.

“Obviously, the Central Asian countries are pivotal to BRI, since they act as China’s gateway to the Middle East and beyond to Europe,” Kanthan added.

Zafar Uddin Mahmood, special assistant to the prime minister of Pakistan and president of the Understanding China Forum, noted that the “China-Central Asian countries summit … had been arranged at a critical time.”

“During the last decade China has proved its commitment and sincerity through successful implementation of BRI which has helped all,” he added.

Shavkat Alimbekov, a researcher at the International Institute for Central Asia in Uzbekistan, said the forum outlined a new plan for the development of mutually beneficial relations for the future, and opened a new era of cooperation.

“One of the key aspects of this cooperation is the Green Silk Road program, which focuses on using green development strategies, innovative solutions and advanced technologies to achieve environmental efficiency and sustainability,” Alimbekov said.

Serik Korzhumbayev, editor-in-chief of the Kazakh newspaper DKNews, said he believes the summit will enhance long-term cooperation and development across multiple fields between the six countries, and that “a new format of cooperation will make it possible to involve the Central Asian region with China’s large market in close economic ties”.

“China has now become an important partner in trade and economic cooperation of the five countries,” said Tursunali Kuziev, a professor at the Journalism and Mass Communications University of Uzbekistan, adding that innovation and exchanges in agricultural sciences have constantly advanced common progress.

Sheradil Baktygulov, a foreign affairs consultant with the Kyrgyz National Institute for Strategic Studies, said China deserves great respect for contributing to peace, friendship and cooperation in Central Asia and for advocating mutually beneficial cooperation and peaceful development of all countries.

Nikolai Podguzov, chairman of the Eurasian Development Bank’s management board, said China, as a global leader, is very important to the entire Central Asian region. China has realized the importance of cooperation with Central Asian nations, as well as the countries’ potential, he said.

Central Asia is a fast-developing region, which has vowed to tap into energy efficiency, connectivity, food production, and other industries. The summit will help address global and regional problems, boost mutual economic benefits, and strengthen cooperation both in the region and all over the world, Podguzov said.

Mominul Islam, chief executive of Bangladesh-based IPDC Finance Ltd and the newly-elected chairman of the Association of Development Financing Institutions in Asia and the Pacific (ADFIAP), said China’s ambitious BRI has brought opportunities to Central Asia.

The summit has significant meaning for the region, given the participation of the top leaders of all the five Central Asian nations, Islam said in remarks made during the ADFIAP’s annual meetings in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on the eve of the Xi’an summit. 

The cooperation is growing fast, he said, adding that deeper connections can be expected in various fields.

“The building of a common community across China and Central Asia will more than just benefit the countries involved, (it) will contribute to the world’s development,” said Professor Lawrence Loh, director of the Centre for Governance and Sustainability, which is part of the National University of Singapore.

Xi’s keynote speech was “most timely as the world urgently needs peace and prosperity at this juncture of intense geopolitical and macroeconomic challenges”, Loh said. Instead of polarization and instigative diplomacy, countries must collaborate in leveraging common ideals and resources to push collective progress.

Loh noted that Central Asia, as a linking node on the Silk Road, will require a coordinated approach to enhance trade and investments across the Asian, Middle Eastern and European regions.

Xi’s speech “signifies the importance he attaches to the connectivity of China with Central Asia, and Central Asia’s role in the Belt and Road Initiative put forward 10 years ago”, said Mustafa Hyder Sayed, executive director of the Pakistan-China Institute in Islamabad.

Since the BRI was launched, unique infrastructure projects along the Caspian Sea have transformed the landlocked region. “We see that after 10 years of a successful BRI, the future vision of connectivity, or a part of it, is laid out by President Xi in his speech at the summit,” Sayed said.

Xi’s speech was full of optimism and assurances, said Karori Singh, former director of the South Asia Study Centre at the University of Rajasthan in India. He said there was “a collective vow to stand together with solidarity for enduring friendship and share ‘weal and woe’ together in the interests of the people in the region”.

The identification of a long list of areas for collaboration makes it clear that China’s Central Asia policy is an important component of its larger global common development and security vision for a community with a shared future, he noted.

“All the major countries around Central Asia thus may collaborate and cooperate by joining the community with a shared future and play their constructive role in contributing to the development that is not contrary to anyone in the region,” he added.

Ina Stasevic, a journalist and medical expert from Croatia, said that the summit opened a new chapter in the cooperation between China and Central Asia.

“With the support of the other five presidents, President Xi gave us a vision of global development, a clear vision of the future, opening the door a step forward in the world,” she said.

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