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XI'S FIRST POST-COVID FOREIGN TRIP IS TO KAZAKHSTAN. WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR THE REGION?



For his first visits abroad since the COVID-19 pandemic, Chinese President Xi Jinping was in both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and attended the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit.


Such visits not only demonstrate that China attaches great importance to Central Asia and the SCO, but also show how China's cooperation with the two Central Asian countries sets a paragon for Beijing's relations with Central Asian nations in wide-ranging areas such as economic collaboration, fighting terrorism and upholding regional stability and peace.


The first stop took Xi to Kazakhstan, underscoring that he highly values the bilateral relations with the Central Asian country and indicating his visit will inject new growth momentum for the country, Chinese officials and experts said.


Experts believe 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.


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 template 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.


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.

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.


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.


"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," commented Zhao Huirong, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies.


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.


Data revealed in a Xinhua News Agency report showed that China's trade volume with five Central Asian nations had surged by more than 100 times in the 30 years since China established formal diplomatic relations with them.



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.


According to media reports, China and Kazakhstan have set up a logistics terminal in Jiangsu Province's Lianyungang Port, which is Kazakhstan's first exit to the Pacific Ocean. Products from Kazakhstan could be transported to the terminal via China-Europe Railway Express trains and then be shipped to overseas countries by sea. The port is the first project of China and countries involved in the BRI to start operating.


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.

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.


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.


Source - Global Times