Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 34 Issue 4
Author: Guido Keller
The 10th Cooperation Forum China – Central Asia, held recently in Xiamen, underscored Beijing’s strategic approach in the region and highlighted Central Asian nations’ imperative to enhance their connectivity and collaboration with the Chinese market.
This forum provided a platform for high-level discussions and exchanges, focusing on critical areas of mutual interest, including trade, infrastructure, and regional stability. The event emphasised the growing interdependence between China and Central Asia, with an emphasis on shared economic goals and geopolitical concerns.
Central Asian states exhibited a keen interest in leveraging their geographical advantage as a bridge between China and Europe, seeking to enhance their roles in the Belt and Road Initiative.
The 10th Cooperation Forum China – Central Asia: Background Information
On September 11th, 2023, the Chinese city of Xiamen hosted the 10th Cooperation Forum China – Central Asia which gathered representative and experts from the People’s Republic of China and the Central Asian republics to discuss issues of cooperation and development of the region in key areas such as the digital economy, the development of sea routes, sister cities, the role of women in the preservation of intangible cultural heritage, and the automotive industry.
The forum began with the passage of the official delegation of Central Asian countries through the pavilion, showing the results of cooperation between China and the countries belonging to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
Since its establishment, the forum’s scope and influence have continued to expand. During this 10th edition, parties discussed several topics, especially the importance of the digital economy, because practices developed in Central Asia can be successfully integrated into larger associations and structures.
Withing the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China and Central Asian countries might work jointly to build a digital economy and a community with shared goals. At this forum, Central Asian representatives shared their experience in developing issues in gender equality, in increasing the status and role of women in their societies.
Geopolitics of Central Asia and Beijing’s Regional Interests
The Covid-19 crisis and the beginning of the Ukraine conflict, coupled with the rising confrontation between Beijing and Washington over the Asia-Pacific region has transformed the international arena and pushed the formation of a multipolar world.
Among strategic regions in the international system, Central Asia has emerged because of its geographical role of a bridge between Europe and Asia crossed by trade routes. Therefore, the region plays a pivotal role in Beijing’s BRI, as showed by Chinese significant investments in regional infrastructures and markets.
Central Asia occupies a crucial position in the global geopolitical landscape, characterised by a convergence of interests among major powers. The region’s strategic significance lies in its vast energy reserves, vital transit routes, and its proximity to unstable areas.
China’s ambitious BRI aims to bolster connectivity with Central Asia, facilitating trade and energy flows. Russia, historically influential, maintains a strategic presence through military bases and economic ties, seeking to safeguard its regional interests. The United States and Europe view Central Asia as a nexus for regional stability, with a focus on countering Beijing and Moscow and the diversification of energy supply routes.
Additionally, the region’s proximity to Afghanistan renders it pivotal in discussions surrounding security and stability in South Asia since the US troops’ withdrawal and the Taliban’s rise to power in Kabul in August 2021.
In this geopolitical scenario, China has raised as a strategic actor for Central Asian republics thanks to Beijing’s copious investments in regional infrastructural development projects and cooperation with local governments.
Indeed, during the years, Central Asian countries have developed a strong financial reliance to Beijing, especially Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, making the People’s Republic of China a challenger to the Russian economic presence and Moscow’s Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).
Before this forum, the People’s Republic of China confirmed its enormous commitment to Central Asia by organising the first China – Central Asia Summit in May 2023 in the city of Xi’an. Chinese President Xi Jinping and Central Asian head of states attended the summit and discussed a new package of investments worth about 3.7 billion dollars and implementing infrastructural projects to support the BRI.
Last week in different Central Asian cities were organised events which celebrated the 10th anniversary of the BRI: in Astana, in 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered a speech at the Nazarbayev University and suggested China and Central Asia to join hands to build a Silk Road economic belt to boost cooperation.
After 10 years, although there is still scepticism over the BRI’s results, we cannot deny that China has made successful strides in promoting itself in Central Asia and reaching strategic agreements with local governments.
The forum served as a pivotal juncture in highlighting both Beijing’s strategic approach to the region and the reciprocal urgency felt by Central Asian nations to fortify their economic ties with the Chinese market.
The event underscored the escalating interdependence between China and Central Asia, underscoring mutual economic objectives and geopolitical concerns. Of particular significance was Central Asian states’ clear determination to harness their strategic geographic positioning, acting as a conduit between China and Europe, thereby enhancing their roles within the BRI.
Although at the moment Moscow and Beijing cooperate in different fields and face the same challenge posed by the United States, the rising collaboration between the People’s Republic of China and Central Asian republics did not get unnoticed among the Russian leadership. Therefore, in the future, the parties, despite they are members of the BRICS and the SCO, might confront each other because of Central Asia.
In a broad geopolitical context, in Central Asia, Beijing should face also the activities and foreign policy of the United States and the European Union members.
As SpecialEurasia stressed in May 2023 when, during the same days, Central Asian representatives attended the first “China-Central Asia” Summit and the second EU-Central Asian Economic Forum, Brussels-Beijing’s rivalry in Central Asia underscores the region’s critical importance.
In this context, the forthcoming United States + Central Asia summit, scheduled for mid-September 2023, will provide information about Washington’s strategy in the region and the US role and serious involvement in contrasting China and Russia in this strategic area.
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