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China-Central Asia summit: lots of rhetoric, little substance


Xi offers a helping hand in developing Central Asian political parties.

An official photo of the China-Central Asia summit pretty much tells the whole story. Chinese leader Xi Jinping is seen sitting at a massive circular table in a cavernous hall in the historic city of Xian, surrounded by the leaders of the five Central Asian states. Though together, they are not particularly close.

Little of substance was achieved during the May18-19 meeting. The chief outcome was a rehash of hopeful rhetoric about strengthening economic relations. “This summit has added new impetus to the development and revitalization of the six counties, and injected strong positive energy into regional peace and stability,” Xi said during a post-summit news conference. Even before the start of the talks, Xi felt assured that they would be a “complete success,” according to a report distributed by the official Xinhua news agency.

The pre-summit hype predicted that the gathering would take Chinese-Central Asian relations to a higher level, but the talks themselves produced no discernable leap, or even step forward. Xi’s keynote address, with the eye-straining title of “Working Together for a China-Central Asia Community with a Shared Future Featuring Mutual Assistance, Common Development, Universal Security, and Everlasting Friendship,” contained only vague references to new areas of cooperation.

After the meeting, Xi spoke of China and the Central Asian states fostering “a new paradigm” of “win-win cooperation.” What exactly that new paradigm looks like, however, remains anybody’s guess.

Xi used his speech to reiterate a need for regional states to keep a lid on the “three evils” of terrorism, separatism and extremism, adding that China was ready to enhance cooperation with its western neighbors on law enforcement, internal security and defense.

The Chinese leader also rough-sketched a program to tighten cooperation in such fields as heavy industry, agriculture, transportation, as well as educational and cultural exchanges. China is already heavily engaged in these areas via its Belt and Road Initiative.

Xi also pitched an idea to help Central Asian states develop political parties, which, on the surface, seems a bit sketchy, given that China is a one-party state with a highly developed surveillance apparatus designed to keep the population content with the party line.

One of the few nuggets to be sifted from Xi’s address was an announcement that Chinese companies operating in Central Asia would be “encouraged to create more local jobs.” To make that happen, Xi said that China would provide Central Asian states with roughly $3.7 billion in assistance, Xinhua reported.

One of the few other solid takeaways was a decision to turn the China-Central Asia summit into a biennial event. Kazakhstan was tapped to host the next meeting in 2025.


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