Chinese President Xi announces large-scale development plan for Central Asia

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XIAN, May 19 (Reuters) Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday unveiled a grand plan for Central Asia’s development, from building infrastructure to boosting trade, taking on a new leadership role in a region that has traditionally been a Russian sphere of influence.

China is ready to coordinate development strategies with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and promote the modernisation of all, Xi said in an address to a China-Central Asia Summit in northwest China.

“This summit has added new impetus to the development and revitalisation of the six counties, and injected strong positive energy into regional peace and stability,” Xi said later at a press conference with his Central Asian counterparts.

“We will jointly foster a new paradigm of deeply complementary and high-level win-win cooperation.”

With its engagement, China has put itself at the forefront of the race for political influence and energy assets in the resource-rich region, with Russia distracted by its war in Ukraine and the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan diminishing the U.S. presence in the region.

The five former Soviet republics, with a network of trade corridors, offer China alternative routes to transport fuel, food and other commodities in the event of disruptions elsewhere. Pledges of support and cooperation at the two-day summit would contrast the “negative” image of China brought up at the summit of seven major nations in Japan on Friday.

China’s aid to Central Asia also appears to counter US accusations of coercive diplomacy.

Xi said China and Central Asian countries should deepen trust and provide “clear and strong support” for their core interests of sovereignty, independence, national dignity and long-term development.

He did not mention Ukraine, which, like Central Asian countries, was part of the Soviet Union.

“China stands ready to help Central Asian countries improve law enforcement and security and build defense capabilities,” he said. trade and investment
Xi also said China will improve bilateral investment agreements and increase cross-border freight volumes with the region.

He added that he would encourage Chinese-funded companies in Central Asia to create more jobs, build warehouses and launch special train services to promote tourism.

“To strengthen our cooperation and the development of Central Asia, China will provide a total of 26 billion yuan ($3.8 billion) in financial assistance and subsidies to Central Asian countries,” Xi said.

Two-way trade between China and Central Asia hit a record $70 billion last year, with Kazakhstan leading with $31 billion as China seeks closer ties to boost food and energy security .

Xi said the construction of the D-line, a natural gas pipeline connecting China and Central Asia, should be accelerated. He also called on China and Central Asia to expand oil and gas trade, develop cross-industrial chain energy cooperation, and strengthen cooperation on new energy and peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

In the long term, China will support the construction of international transport corridors across the Caspian Sea and strengthen the construction of transport hubs for freight train connections between China and Europe, Xi said.