Recently chaired by Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang in Xi’an, the 4th China-Central Asia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting offered a valuable platform for the foreign ministers of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan to discuss their shared interests and areas of bilateral and multilateral cooperation. This meeting, coupled with the subsequent Summit of the 4+1 framework between China and CARs, marks a significant stride towards China’s partnership and engagement in the region, aimed not only at promoting trade but also deepening strategic, security, and political ties. The high-level interactions between the representatives of these nations reflect a mutual understanding and willingness to bolster this partnership, cementing the growing partnership of China in the Central Asian region.
During the meeting China’s foreign minister emphasized opposing any external interference in the domestic affairs of Central Asian countries, to maintain the region as a “pure land” for win-win cooperation rather than a “battlefield” for geopolitical maneuvering. In this backdrop and statement, China sees Central Asia as a crucial component of its Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to promote economic integration across Eurasia. To achieve this goal of economic rejuvenation and connection with this important region, China intends to have a stable and cooperative regional environment, free from external interference that could disrupt economic development and regional stability. Similarly about the emphasis on maintaining the region as a “pure land” for win-win cooperation reflects China’s interest in portraying its engagement in Central Asia as a mutually beneficial partnership, rather than a form of neo-imperialism.
It is important to consider too that all the Central Asian foreign ministers agreed that their cooperation with China has set an example of mutually beneficial cooperation for others. They expressed a shared priority of interconnectivity, agreeing to build a multidimensional and comprehensive network integrating roads, railways, airlines, and ports. Additionally, they agreed to expand cooperation in areas such as trade, investment, agriculture, new energy, and e-commerce, as stated in a news communique released after the meeting. This also emphasis suggests that China recognizes the importance of preserving its reputation as a reliable partner, rather than being seen as a disruptive force in the region.
The partnership between China and Central Asian countries is undergoing significant changes in recent years, resulting in new dimensions of regional connectivity, trade, security, and cooperation.
This positive development is the outcome of the trust and collaboration that China and the Central Asian Republics are fostering in their mutual cooperative frameworks, including the Belt and Road Initiative and other regional connectivity initiatives. The shared priority of interconnectivity and the agreement to establish a multidimensional and comprehensive network that integrates roads, railways, airlines, and ports is a significant step forward in the partnership between China and Central Asia. This highlights the critical role of infrastructure development in promoting economic growth and regional integration.
The joint consent to expand cooperation in areas such as trade, investment, agriculture, new energy, and e-commerce shows a desire to diversify the partnership and promote a more comprehensive and mutually beneficial relationship. The move to broaden cooperation into new sectors underscores the growing importance of non-traditional areas in the China-Central Asia partnership. This can help to further deepen economic ties and enhance regional integration, as well as foster innovation and technological advancements.
In the post US withdrawal and deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan have created significant concerns for China and Central Asia. With the Taliban regaining control of the country, there is a potential for the spread of extremist ideology and terrorist activities in the region. This is particularly worrying for China, as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) has been operating in Afghanistan and has been linked to Uighur separatist movements in Xinjiang. The instability in Afghanistan could provide a safe haven for ETIM and other extremist groups to carry out attacks in China and Central Asia. As a result, China has expressed its commitment to working with Central Asian countries to address the security challenges posed by the situation in Afghanistan.
China has already held talks with Central Asian countries to enhance cooperation on border security, intelligence sharing, and counter-terrorism measures. This conversation is ongoing in the SCO framework as well. China has also emphasized the importance of economic development as a means of promoting stability in the region. China-Central Asia’s cooperation mechanism, with its focus on interconnectivity, infrastructure development, and trade, takes on added significance as a means of promoting regional cooperation and stability.
China-Central Asia cooperation mechanism provides a framework for addressing regional challenges and promoting regional stability. The shared priority of interconnectivity and the agreement to build a comprehensive network integrating roads, railways, airlines, and ports is a significant step towards achieving regional connectivity and promoting economic growth. The expansion of cooperation in areas such as trade, investment, agriculture, new energy, and e-commerce reflects a desire to deepen the partnership and promote a more comprehensive and mutually beneficial relationship. Despite the challenges, there is optimism that the cooperation between China and Central Asia will continue to strengthen and contribute to regional development and stability.