Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, is hosting a summit in Xi’an for the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The meeting is the first in-person gathering of the heads of state since they established diplomatic relations after the fall of the Soviet Union. The summit is an opportunity for China to expand its influence in Central Asia, a region that has long been regarded as Russia’s sphere of influence. The two-day event is also a play from Beijing to expand its influence in Central Asia, where Russia has long been the dominant great power partner.
China is seeking to craft a profile as a keeper of regional stability, including in a bid to act as a deal broker on the conflict in Ukraine, even as it has given no sign of abandoning its staunch Kremlin ties. For Beijing, the Central Asian states represent key potential allies in forums like the United Nations, fertile ground for China-financed railways, pipelines and transport routes into its borders or toward Europe. The two-day summit in Xi’an will also likely see a push from China for more security cooperation. Beijing holds longstanding concerns about unrest in Central Asia fueling potential militancy in its northwestern region of Xinjiang.
Central Asian leaders may be open to signing on to allowing China more expansive economic access, inroads in the form of physical infrastructure, or technical security support. But they may be hesitant to endorse any specific Chinese proposals on the conflict in Ukraine, beyond general calls for peace or targeted comments about its knock-on effects, analysts say. The West is an important third party they can leverage against China and Russia in small ways.
The summit is a good opportunity for China to win support from these countries on China’s approach in terms of mediating the war between Russia and Ukraine. Their support of China’s initiative would be quite significant, according to Li Mingjiang, an associate professor of international relations at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University. However, Central Asian leaders would be just as keen to have discussions about trade, investment and joint projects with Western players like the European Union.
Keywords: China, Central Asia, Russia, Xi Jinping, summit, diplomacy, economic cooperation, security cooperation, Ukraine, West.
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