Central Asian chiefs of state met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in China’s historic city of Xian on Thursday to sign promises of “enduring” friendship, clearing the way for a summit likely to culminate in a regional deal with Beijing.
The bilateral meetings set the setting for a group meeting of the six leaders on Friday, where Xi will give a “important” address, according to China’s foreign ministry. In addition, a “important” political document will be signed.
Across the city of Xian, from where the ancient Silk Road linked imperial China with civilizations to its west over a millennium ago, banners, billboards and even taxi signs were set up to promote the summit.
China is intensifying its economic and political engagement with the former Soviet states as Russia channels what remaining resources it has into the war in Ukraine. Some Central Asian states are increasingly stand up to Moscow, with Kazakhstan not recognizing Russian-controlled regions in eastern Ukraine to Tajikistan demanding more “respect” from the Kremlin.
The first head of state to arrive in Xian was President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan – China’s largest trading partner in Central Asia. When Tokayev met Xi on Wednesday, the Chinese leader greeted him warmly and wished him a happy 70th birthday.
“We have a common goal – to intensify bilateral relations,” Tokayev told Xi.
“We are also united by the desire to strengthen regional and international security and cooperation.”
After their meeting, Xi and Tokayev jointly declared that the two countries shall build an “enduring friendship” and share “weal and woe”.
They also agreed to ensure the safe and stable operation of the Kazakh section of the China-Central Asia natural gas pipeline, and also deepen oil and uranium cooperation.
On the summit’s sidelines, state-owned Chinese energy giant Sinopec and Kazakhstan’s KayMunayGaz agreed key terms for a potential investment in a polyethylene project in Western Kazakhstan’s Atryau region.
Russian President Vladimir Putin Putin called the Kazakh president on Wednesday and affirmed the ties of their countries, according to Tass news agency.
Putin was not in China, with Russia not part of the China-plus-Central Asia format.