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Xi says China, Central Asia must “fully unleash” potential.

Xi Jinping urged China and Central Asia on Friday to “fully unleash” their potential for trade, economic, and infrastructure cooperation. As he concluded a historic summit with leaders from the strategically vital region.

This week, the Chinese leader will host the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan at a summit in Xi’an, in northern China — a meeting described by Beijing as having “milestone” significance.

Beijing reports that trade with Central Asia reached $70 billion in 2022 and grew 22% annually in the first quarter of 2023.

The region is also a vital link in China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative infrastructure initiative.

Xi says China, Central Asia must "fully unleash" potential.

In a state media account, Xi exhorted regional leaders to “fully unleash the potential of traditional cooperation. In economy, trade, industrial capacity, energy, and transport.”

“New growth drivers… including finance, agriculture, poverty reduction, low carbon, health, and digital innovation” were also stressed.

“China and Central Asian countries should deepen their strategic mutual trust. And consistently provide clear and strong support for each other on matters of core interests.”

Beijing wants to resume collaboration with former Soviet states through Belt and Road, Xi’s geopolitical ambition.

On Friday, Xi said the region and China must “take the lead” and “deepen strategic mutual trust.”

To “maintain an everlasting friendship,” the Chinese leader announced a second meeting in Kazakhstan in 2025.

Separatism, terrorism, and extremism are referred to by Beijing as the “three evils” in the region. And he emphasized the necessity of expanding security cooperation to combat these threats.

“The six countries should resolutely oppose external interference in the internal affairs of regional countries and attempts to instigate ‘color revolutions’,” Xi said, referring to a disturbance in former Soviet states that Moscow and others allege is supported by the West.

Expanding influence

Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine has given China a greater role in Central Asia, prompting many in the region to reevaluate their long-standing ties with Russia and seek economic, diplomatic, and strategic assurances elsewhere.

“Russia’s military involvement in Ukraine has led to the imposition of sanctions by the West, which has weakened Russia’s power and led to a relative decline in its influence in Central Asia,” Lu Gang, director of the East China Normal University’s Centre for Central Asian Studies, told AFP.

“This result has led Central Asian countries to place a greater emphasis on economic cooperation and political support from China,” said Lu.

Xi’s global statesmanship is on display at this week’s meeting.

Zhiqun Zhu, a professor of international relations and political science at Bucknell University, told AFP. “Xi will position himself as a leader who can promote global development and peace.”

Zhu said the summit and G7 meeting in Hiroshima will likely focus on “pushing back China’s growing global influence.”

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