Recently, Chinese President Xi Jinping chaired the inaugural China-Central Asia Summit in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province.
The Central Asia region (CA)
- It saw the participation of the leaders of China and five Central Asian countries.
- They jointly signed the ‘Xi’an Declaration and issued a blueprint for the future development of China-Central Asia relations.
- The countries focused on the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road cooperation to be a ‘new starting point’.
- In focus also were people-to-people exchanges, a ‘Cultural Silk Road’ programme, and issues of regional terrorism and extremism.
- China: Its interest in the region grew rapidly. Central Asia was a readymade market for cheap exports and gave China overland access to markets in Europe and West Asia.
- The summit is bound to have an important and far-reaching influence on China’s relations with Central Asian countries and carry global significance.
- China is ready to work with all parties to review past experience, chart a blueprint for cooperation, and demonstrate unity, creativity and efficiency, with a view to achieving sound and sustained growth of China-Central Asia relations.
- The approach of Central Asian countries: These former Soviet republics intend to maintain balanced regional and international engagements.
- They have been able to successfully implement a multi-vectored foreign policy that stretches beyond the Russia-China axis.
- Turkmenistan’s foreign policy: The basic parameter of Turkmenistan’s foreign policy since its independence in 1991 has been the country’s official status of ‘neutrality’.
- Turkmenistan will continue the policy of neutrality based on good neighbourliness, equality and mutually beneficial cooperation with all the countries of the world’.
- Uzbekistan: The main priority of its foreign policy is regional security in Central Asia, which includes the precarious environment in Afghanistan.
- Other priority directions cover relations with the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) member-states, Russia, China, the United States, the European Union (EU), Turkey, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Vietnam.
- Kyrgyzstan: Economic and security concerns have been the decisive factor in formulating the foreign policy strategies of Kyrgyzstan in the post-independence era.
- Tajikistan: The foreign policy of Tajikistan is an ‘open doors’ and a peace-seeking policy, indicating the ‘country’s readiness to build friendly relations with all countries and recognize shared interests based on reciprocal respect and equality’.
- The brief overview of the foreign policy trajectories in Central Asia highlights their common characteristics, i.e., multi-vectorism.
- This pragmatic approach certainly pays off, as it provides the benefits of maintaining friendly ties with multiple players, including Russia.
- In this sense, the Central Asian republics could serve as a relevant example for other post-Soviet countries, e.g., Georgia and Moldova.
- Some may view this summit as a testament to an ever-expanding Chinese influence in the region, which poses a challenge to Russia’s ambitions.
- Earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin had held more than 50 meetings (both online and in person) with Central Asian leaders.
Where does India stand in this situation?
- India made its biggest outreach to Central Asia with last year’s summit, but its relationships in the region, including in the SCO, remain security-driven.
- While India has trading ties with these countries, it is hobbled by the absence of a land route to Central Asia, with Pakistan denying it passage and Afghanistan being uncertain territory after the Taliban takeover.
- The Chabahar port in Iran offers an alternative route, but it is not fully developed yet.
- There have been suggestions that India should provide connectivity for people and trade in Central Asia through “air corridors”, as it had done for Afghanistan.
- The world needs a prosperous Central Asia. A dynamic and prospering Central Asia will help people in the region achieve their aspiration for a better life.
- It will also lend a strong impetus to global economic recovery.
- India’s leadership of the SCO this year may provide it with an opportunity to diversify relations with this strategic region.
Mains Practise Question
[Q] Discuss China’s relations with Central Asian countries, and how it affects India’s interests.