BIRMINGHAM: As G7 leaders were preparing for their recent summit in Japan, Chinese President Xi Jinping hosted his Central Asian counterparts from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Central Asia is critical to China’s attempts to build an alternative to the US-led liberal order that is unquestionably dominated by Beijing and in which Russia will, at best, be a junior partner.
In his opening address, Xi outlined his “vision of a China-central Asia community with a shared future”. This will rest on four principles: Mutual assistance, common development, universal security and everlasting friendship.
While the relationship between China and Central Asia is often framed in terms of security and development, it also has a political side. This is all evident in the initiatives to create more regional cooperation launched at the summit in Xi'an.
These propose links between Chinese ministries and government agencies and their counterparts in Central Asia, increasing educational and cultural exchanges, and creating mechanisms like the Central Asia-China Business Council. All of these are likely to further consolidate China’s dominant regional role.
In return, China will insulate the mostly authoritarian leaders of Central Asia from Western economic and political pressure to move towards democracy and protect their sovereignty and territorial integrity against any Russian adventurism.
The summit resulted in a staggering 54 agreements, 19 new cooperation mechanisms and platforms, and nine multilateral documents, including the Xi'an declaration.
Even if one were to discount most of these as having uncertain prospects of actual implementation, there can be no doubt about China’s regional significance.
According to UN statistics, for example, the volume of trade in goods between China and the five countries of the region rose from a mere US$460 million three decades ago to more than US$70 billio...