China Announces Leap in Cooperation with Central Asia at Summit in Xian

China Announces Leap in Cooperation with Central Asia at Summit in Xian
Kassym-Jomart Tokayev

The Lede: Leaders of Central Asian countries assembled in Xian, China for a two-day summit to solidify relations with Beijing and to set the stage for future regional cooperation

What We Know:

  • China hosted the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan in the historic city of Xian, where imperial China was linked to civilizations to the west through the ancient Silk Road.
  • Each of the Central Asian leaders—Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Kygyz President Sadyr Japarov, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, Turkmen President Serdar Berdimuhamedow, and Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev— met one-on-one with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday and Thursday, followed by a welcoming ceremony on Thursday evening, and then all together as a group on Friday with various meetings occurring between Central Asian leaders with Chinese officials as well as with each other occurring on the sidelines.
  • China pledged 26 billion yuan ($3.8bn) of financing support and grants for Central Asian development. Moving forward, Xi proposed increased bilateral investment treaties, streamlined customs clearance, science and technology exchange, tourism, agriculture, and security cooperation.
  • China pushed the development of oil and gas resources with the construction of Line D of the China-Central Asia natural gas pipeline and cooperation on other energy sources including nuclear. On the sidelines, China’s Sinopec and Kazakhstan’s KazMunayGaz agreed to terms to build a petrochemical complex in the Atyrau region of Kazakhstan. China also supports the construction of a cross-Caspian Sea international transport corridor along with transport hubs for China-Europe freight trains.
  • Xi emphasized the importance of his newer initiatives including the Global Security Initiative, the Global Development Initiative, and the Global Civilization Initiative announced earlier this year. These initiatives support pillars of Chinese foreign relations that emphasize sovereignty, independence, national dignity, and long-term development in cooperation with Beijing. Xi also mentioned the joint promotion of peace in Afghanistan in bolstering security and fighting terrorism in Central Asia.
  • This China-Central Asia summit coincides with the lead-up to the G-7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan. There, the leading Western nations are expected to discuss the ramifications of China’s rising influence and possible measures to counter it.

The Background: Central Asia is a key link for China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) for important rail networks and access to energy resources. China’s trade with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan reached $70 billion in 2022 and increased 22 percent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2023. The five Central Asian countries in attendance were all former Soviet Republics that have traditionally worked closely with Russia. However, Russia’s influence in the region has waned after the beginning of its war in Ukraine.

Likely Outcomes:

  • Along the lines of China’s BRI and its Global Initiatives, China’s engagement with the Central Asia region will likely strengthen into the foreseeable future as China’s vision presents an alternative to both the heavy interdependence with Russia that has been true in recent decades, as well as the Western-led international rules-based order that this summit seems to directly challenge. This will put Central Asia definitively on the side of China in its competition with the West.
  • While ties between Russia and the former-Soviet Central Asian countries will likely remain warm, China offers attractive opportunities that will tip the balance close to Beijing over Moscow in important areas of cooperation as highlighted in this summit. Getting these Central Asian countries on board with China also puts greater weight on the Chinese proposals to push for negotiations and peace in Russia’s war in Ukraine.
  • At the same time, Western countries will likely move toward more ‘de-risking’ economic ties to China and maintaining geopolitical pressure. With the volatility of this dynamic already creating enormous tension in the Indo-Pacific, as well as in Europe with the link to Russia’s war in Ukraine, there may still be the possibility of outside influences in Central Asia. Xi’s statement on security matters directly mentions color revolutions, which refer to murky U.S.-led interventions, particularly with respect to the post-Soviet sphere.  The region may be another site of political turmoil as a proxy of the U.S.-China rivalry in the future.


“This summit has added new impetus to the development and revitalization of the six countries, and injected strong positive energy into regional peace and stability. We will jointly foster a new paradigm of deeply complementary and high-level win-win cooperation... We should act on the Global Security Initiative, and stand firm against external attempts to interfere in domestic affairs of regional countries or instigate color revolutions.” – Xi Jinping, president of China

“China has been trying to highlight more and more of these groupings and platforms where it is the center point, not the West. It’s part of the wider story that China is spinning, which is that there’s another world order out there.” – Raffaello Pantucci, senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore

“I would say the Ukraine conflict is more an accelerant of pre-existing trends in the region – the largest of which is China pushing out Russia as the largest hegemon in the region. A lot of the regional governments are increasingly skeptical of Russia’s aims in the region and China has made attempts to reassure them over their sovereignty.” – Bradley Jardine, the managing director of the Oxus Society for Central Asian Affairs

“[F]or 30 years, Central Asia has been situated in a complicated geopolitical atmosphere. One of the reasons why regional countries can thrive despite the multiple unstable factors is because China and Russia have cooperated on maintaining safety and stability in the region. China and Russia have a shared interest in this issue.” – Li Yongquan, director of Eurasian research at China’s Development Research Center of the State Council

Good Reads:

China's president unveils development plan as Central Asia Summit concludes (Euronews)

China’s Xi presents development plans for Central Asia (Al Jazeera)

As the U.S. Attends the G7, China Hosts a Summit of Its Own (NYT)

China's Xi unveils grand development plan for Central Asia (Reuters)

Central Asia forges ties with China as Xi touts 'enduring' friendship (Reuters)

How Xi Jinping is challenging G7 dominance with a China-Central Asia summit (Firstpost)