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Chinese foray into Central Asia

Updated On: Nov 09, 2007

The past week has seen a flurry of diplomatic activities by the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Russia and several Central Asian states. 

In his two-day official visit to Turkmenistan at the invitation of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, Premier Wen Jiabao met with both Berdymukhamedov and Akdzha Nurberdyeva, chairman of the Turkmen Assembly. In a format increasingly familiar with Chinese diplomacy around the world, a series of agreements concerning bilateral cooperation were signed during the visit. Wen highlighted the traditional friendship between the Chinese and Turkmen peoples and both countries’ desire to closely coordinate their actions in multinational frameworks such as the United Nations. This was coded message for their opposition to a unipolar world dominated by one single superpower.

Besides TurkmenistanChina also reached out to Belarus with whom it has enjoyed a healthy and stable relations since the two countries established diplomatic ties 15 years ago. In recent years, exchanges of visits by top Chinese and Belarussian leaders have become more frequent with Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko visiting China four times. Again, both countries declared their preference for the creation of a multi-polar world, and support for the authority of the United Nations and oppose unilateralism. Speeches from the leaders of China and Belarus were peppered with language of solidarity against western dominance. 

Sino-Belarussian trade has economics as its foundation. Bilateral trade surged from less than 460 million U.S. dollars in 2004 to nearly 800 million dollars in 2006.  From January to July 2007, bilateral trade has already reached 466 million dollars, and is likely to remain robust for the rest of the year.  

To signal the arrival of Chinese soft power in the country, a Confucius institute was established in the State University of Belarus in Minsk in January 2007, which is expected to facilitate teaching of the Chinese language and the spread of the Chinese culture in the country. Meanwhile, more than 1,300 Chinese students are currently studying in Belarus.

In Kazakhstan, Wen said Kazakhstan is a good neighbor and an important partner of China. The establishment of strategic partnership between the two countries is in the fundamental interests of their peoples and conducive to peace, stability and joint development in the region. His Kazak counterpart Prime Minister Karim Masimov said that Kazakhstan attaches great importance to its relations with China and the country wishes to enhance their bilateral exchanges and cooperation. The greatest headway made in bilateral ties was in the field of energy. The two leaders reached consensus that both countries should implement cooperation projects such as natural gas exploration and pipeline construction and extend their cooperation to areas other than energy production.

Moving on to Uzbekistan, the Chinese premier noted that the legislative bodies of the two countries have played "an irreplaceable role" in advancing bilateral relations as a whole.  He met both Erkin Halilov, speaker of the Legislative Chamber of the Uzbek Supreme Assembly and the Senate President, Ilgizar Sabriov.  Hailing the growth in bilateral relations, Wen said development of friendly cooperation between the two nations is in the fundamental interests of the two peoples. China is ready to work with Uzbekistan to bring bilateral cooperation of mutual benefit to a new level, he said.

Returning the compliments, Uzbek leader Halilov remarked that China is an important force for safeguarding regional peace and stability and promoting common prosperity. The Uzbek side appreciates the respect China has shown for the country's domestic and foreign policies and the Uzbek parliament favors a strengthening of friendly cooperation between the two countries

China and Uzbekistan issued a joint communique, pledging further efforts to strengthen bilateral relations and cooperation in various fields. The communiqué noted the two countries’ resolve to support each other's policies and actions over such major issues as safeguarding national independence, sovereignty and security, and oppose any attempts to interfere in the internal affairs under the guise of human rights.  More importantly, China and Uzbekistan also signed 10 agreements on closer cooperation in various fields including economic and technology, public health, finance, transportation, water supply and environmental protection.  China also pledged to expand its import of cotton from Uzbekistan, grant the country the tourist destination status and supports its efforts to join the World Trade Organisation.

While Chinese diplomacy in Central Asia is impressive, perhaps the most important bilateral diplomatic initiative of all is China’s talks with Russia. China-Russia relations are now both at their best in history and at the most important historical stage, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said in a recent interview with Itar-Tass News Agency and Interfax News Agency in Beijing before making an official visit to Russia. During the interview, Wen said China-Russia relations have seen big and substantial changes since the two countries established a strategic cooperative partnership 10 years ago. The two countries have enhanced political mutual trust, greatly expanded trade and economic cooperation and enriched the content of strategic cooperative partnership by holding such cultural events as "Year of Russia" and "Year of China". Wen said the next decade will be an important historical period for both the evolution of the international situation and the development of China-Russia relations.

"Therefore, my coming visit to Russia has special significance," Wen said. "I believe the coming visit will further push forward the development of China-Russia strategic cooperative partnership," Wen told resident Russian reporters in Beijing. Wen said the two countries will continue to strengthen cooperation in all fields, including trade, economy, science, technology, education and culture.

Upon his arrival in Russia, Premier Wen Jiabao put forward a four-point proposal to boost economic and trade cooperation, and step up investments between China and Russia.  It called for particularly highlighted the need to boost cooperation between their border regions.

This proposal was raised against a backdrop of the rapid economic development of China and Russia in recent years, Wen said. What's more, the holding of reciprocal "national theme years" in China andRussia in the last two years has also enhanced the friendship and cooperation between the two peoples, which would help further bilateral cooperation, he added. Wen said trade volume between the two countries is growing at an unprecedented pace, from less than 30 billion U.S. dollars in 2005 to an estimated 40 billion dollars this year.  Significantly, the proportion of electromechanical and high-tech products in bilateral trade has risen to 26 percent from 17 percent two years ago, and the two sides have successively launched large cooperative projects in areas such as astronautics and telecommunications.

Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov also lauded the progress in bilateral economic and trade cooperation. He specifically noted the encouraging growth of both countries' mutual investment, the smooth cooperation in the high-tech area, and the great potential in bilateral energy cooperation and also encouraged enterprises of both countries to step up investments in the two countries.

Besides bilateral diplomacy, the Chinese were also strongly present in regional diplomacy. During the 6th Ministerial Conference on Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) attended not only by the eight Central Asian member states, but also by representatives from the Asian Development Bank, World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the United Nations Development Program, China promised that it will work together with the ADB and other parties concerned to contribute to regional economic development and common prosperity in Central Asia. 

China has also been very active in another multilateral forum, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).  At the 6th Meeting of Prime Ministers of the SCO member states, hanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a joint communiqué was issued calling for intensification of cooperation in trade and investments.  The prime ministers expressed satisfaction with the Agreement on Cooperation of the SCO Business Council and Interbank Consortium, and believe that the council and consortium would help strengthen pragmatic and effective cooperation within the SCO framework.  The prime ministers also instructed the SCO secretariat, with the help of experts groups, to intensify the research on the setting up a SCO development fund which could play an important role in supporting various economic cooperation projects.  (8 November 2007)

Sources:

Second Sino-Russian economic forum opens, leaders pledge to deepen economic ties (People’s Daily, 6 November 2007)

Chinese premier hails fruitful economic, trade cooperation with Russia, predicts promising future (People’s Daily, 6 November 2007)

Chinese premier proposes better China-Russia economic, trade cooperation (People’s Daily, 6 November 2007)

Chinese Premier arrives in Russia for official visit (People’s Daily, 6 November 2007)

ChinaUzbekistan ink 10 deals to boost cooperation (People’s Daily, 4 November 2007)

ChinaUzbekistan issue joint communique, pledging to enhance bilateral ties, co-op (People’s Daily, 4 November 2007)

Chinese premier arrives in Turkmenistan for official visit (People’s Daily, 4 November 2007)

ChinaBelarus enjoy sound, stable development of bilateral ties (People’s Daily, 4 November 2007)

Senior official: China to contribute to Central Asia's economic development (People’s Daily, 4 November 2007)

Chinese premier meets Uzbek parliament leaders (People’s Daily, 4 November 2007)

ChinaUzbekistan vow to promote bilateral co-op to higher level (People’s Daily, 3 November 2007)

China and Kazakhstan agree to enhance co-op (People’s Daily, 3 November 2007)

Energy supplies guaranteed (People’s Daily, 3 November 2007)

Joint communique: SCO member states to further enhance economic, culture co-op (People’s Daily, 3 November 2007)

Chinese premier: China-Russia relations at most important stage (People’s Daily, 2 November 2007)







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