15.09.2022, 18:40

Global Times: Xi kicks off 1st foreign trip since pandemic, ushers in new 'golden' era of ties with Kazakhstan

BEIJING, Sept. 15, 2022 /PRNewswire/ -- Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday kicked off his first trip abroad since the COVID-19 pandemic, during which he is scheduled to attend the 22nd meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and pay state visits to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The first stop took him to Kazakhstan on Wednesday, underscoring that he highly values the bilateral relations with the Central Asian country and indicating such visit will inject new growth momentum for the country, Chinese officials and experts said.

Xi first arrived at Nur-sultan on Wednesday afternoon for a state visit to Kazakhstan before landing in Samarkand in the evening to pay a state visit to Uzbekistan and attend the SCO summit.

Experts believed that as China's permanent comprehensive strategic partner, Kazakhstan, the Chinese president's first stop in his ongoing foreign trip, is considered as a bridge connecting China with Central Asia and Europe, as it's also where the Chinese president first proposed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and on the first stop of the BRI's westward routes from China, bringing tremendous benefits for the region and the world.

Kazakhstan has been striking a balance between China and Russia in terms of political influence, and serving as a bridge for major powers also sets a good example for other Central Asian countries. Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Central Asia are in a very important position in China's overall diplomacy, as all five Central Asian states are China's strategic partners, and among them, China-Kazakhstan partnership has reached one of the highest levels, experts said.

When the Chinese president arrived at the Nursultan Nazarbayev International Airport on Wednesday afternoon, he was warmly welcomed by Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, and a group of senior officials including Kazakh Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mukhtar Tileuberdi and Nur-Sultan Mayor Altai Kulginov.

Xi was later awarded by Tokayev with the "Order of the Golden Eagle" — the highest honor to recognize outstanding people who have made significant contributions to Kazakhstan including foreign heads of state promoting Kazakhstan's friendly relations with other countries.

During a meeting between Xi and Tokayev, the Chinese top leader said this is his first foreign visit since the COVID-19 pandemic, and choosing Kazakhstan as the first stop demonstrates the high level and uniqueness of China-Kazakhstan ties.

Kazakhstan is a major country in Central Asia and Eurasian region with important influence, Xi said, reiterating that the Chinese government attaches great importance to China-Kazakhstan ties and always supports Kazakhstan in maintaining national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Xi also called on the two countries to promote high-quality Belt and Road development, expand cooperation in such areas as trade, the economy and interconnectivity, and explore cooperation in new fields including big data, digital finance and green energy.

Tokayev said that Xi's visit, the Chinese president's first foreign trip since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, fully demonstrated the two countries' high-level mutual trust and will surely become a new milestone in the history of Kazakhstan-China relations.

As next year marks the 10th anniversary of Xi's proposing the Belt and Road Initiative in Kazakhstan, Tokayev said his country will continue to support and participate in the joint building of the Belt and Road.

After their meeting, the two leaders signed a joint statement commemorating the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

The two governments also signed a number of cooperative documents in areas such as finance and the media, and decided to set up consulates general in Xi'an and Aktobe.

A model

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Kazakhstan. Standing at a new historical starting point of China-Kazakhstan relations, President Xi's visit will surely draw a new blueprint, inject new momentum to the bilateral relations, opening up a new chapter and another golden thirty years of bilateral relations, Zhang Xiao, Chinese Ambassador to Kazakhstan said in a recent interview with media.

The bilateral relations have withstood a changing international situation, and the two countries firmly support each other on issues concerning their core interests, making important contribution to the regional and world peace and stability, Zhang noted. In recent years, under the strategic guidance of the two heads of state, the political mutual trust between the two countries has been continuously strengthened, and the two countries will continue to consolidate the political foundation of bilateral relations and create favorable conditions for bilateral cooperation in various fields, he said.

Almost a decade ago, Xi visited Kazakhstan, making a significant proposal that China and Central Asian countries build an "economic belt along the Silk Road", a trans-Eurasian project spanning from the Pacific Ocean to the Baltic Sea, during a speech at Nazarbayev University in Astana, now known Nur-sultan. He also visited the Central Asian country in 2015 and in 2017 to boost the bilateral ties and regional cooperation through the Belt and Road Initiative.

"President Xi's first visit abroad since the pandemic highlights the importance he attaches to Kazakhstan and Central Asia, which is also seen as a breakthrough in terms of China's foreign exchanges and diplomacy," Zhao Huirong, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Central Asia could be seen as China's key "strategic partner zone" in the world, she said, as the five Central Asian countries are all China's strategic partners. Among them, Kazakhstan was one of the first to become China's strategic partners, which enjoyed one of the highest-levels of strategic partnership, Zhao said.

In a signed article by Xi titled "Build on the Past to Make Greater Strides in China-Kazakhstan Relations" published Tuesday on the Kazakhstanskaya Pravda newspaper ahead of his state visit, the Chinese top leader described the two countries as being bound together by mountains and rivers and common interests, which are good neighbors, good friends and good partners.

Having stood the test of the changing circumstances and the passage of time, China-Kazakhstan relations have long become rock-solid, Xi said in the article.

Setting our sight beyond the pandemic, China would like to partner with Kazakhstan to remain pioneers in Belt and Road cooperation, Xi stressed.

China would like to deepen law enforcement, security and defense cooperation with Kazakhstan. Guided by the Global Security Initiative, the two countries should act on the concept of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security, and work together to promote the implementation of the Data Security Cooperation Initiative of China+Central Asia, the article said.

We should join hands to combat terrorism, separatism, extremism, drug trafficking and transnational organized crimes, and ensure the security of oil and gas pipelines and other large cooperation projects and their personnel. We should resolutely oppose interference by external forces and work together for lasting peace and long-term stability of our region, Xi said.

The world has been witnessing more uncertainties now including the uncertainties in supply chain and in foreign relations. China's good neighborhood lays a foundation for the country's prosperity, and as a corridor in Central Asia, Kazakhstan stands at a central stage of China's interaction with the Central Asian countries, Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International Affairs at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

"The Central Asian country has been always hoping to serve as a bridge between China and Russia," Wang said, noting that striking such balance between major powers also serves as a good example for other Central Asian countries.

Belt and Road cooperation is a major highlight in China-Kazakhstan cooperation. In 1992, the bilateral trade volume was only $368 million, but it has reached $25.25 billion in 2021, said Zhang, the Chinese envoy to Kazakhstan. From January to July 2022, China-Kazakhstan trade reached $17.67 billion, up 18.9 percent year-on-year, which is expected to hit a record high for the whole year.

The two countries have established a dialogue mechanism for production capacity and investment, and established a special fund for China-Kazakhstan production capacity cooperation, providing strong support for the development of Kazakhstan's energy, industry, transportation and other fields, the Chinese envoy said.

Also, among the Central Asian countries, Kazakhstan plays a fundamental role in the trade between China and the Eurasian region, while serving as an important channel for China to link Eurasian countries as the northern line of the China-Europe freight train service.

"China-Europe freight trains pass through Kazakhstan to Europe, and Kazakhstan has gained a lot of benefits from Belt and Road cooperation, which also helped it achieve its long-standing will of serving as a transportation hub in Eurasia," Zhao said.

Experts said the stability and development of Central Asia is not only the concern of the Central Asian countries, but also the concern of both China and Russia, as the two countries have many consensus and common interests in the region.

The current instability in the international and regional situation directly leads to a greater desire for regional stability, peace and development, so there is more demand for closer and more efficient cooperation, Zhao noted. "As Xi's visit will not only enhance bilateral relations but also boost multilateral cooperation to meet those demand," she said.

Following the state visit to Kazakhstan, Xi arrived in Samarkand on Wednesday evening to pay a state visit to Uzbekistan and attend the SCO summit, a strategically important occasion of gathering of world leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, according to media reports.

While China-Kazakhstan relations serve as an example for China-Central Asia ties, the geopolitical situation in the region has becoming more complex, and experts suggested that China and Central Asian countries should enhance communication and coordination in combating extremist forces.

"To crack down on 'Three Evils', China and Central Asian countries need to enhance security cooperation under the SCO framework including intelligence sharing, staff training, joint exercise in fighting drugs, cross-border organized crimes and preventing the spread of extremist ideas," Zhao said.

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Source: Global Times