China’s Xi Jinping this week invited the leaders of Central Asia’s ex-Soviet republics to a first-ever joint summit in China to boost Beijing’s influence in Russia’s backyard.
The Chinese president extended the offer to the “first China-Central Asia summit” scheduled for May in similar telegrams sent Monday and Tuesday to leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and released by the recipients.
Reclusive Turkmenistan, China’s main gas supplier, has not yet announced whether it has been invited to the meeting.
The authoritarian republics of Central Asia were part of the Soviet Union and have been dominated by Moscow since the mid-19th century.
But Russia’s influence has been increasingly questioned since the invasion of Ukraine.
Beijing is wooing Moscow’s traditional allies in the region, both politically and economically — the latter through projects like the Mammoth Road, Rail and Port Infrastructure Project, conceived as a modern iteration of the Silk Road through Central Asia and beyond.
Turkey and Western powers are also trying to increase their influence in the strategically located mineral-rich region.
In addition to Xi, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, European Union chief diplomat Charles Michel and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken have also made their way to Central Asian doors in recent months.
Xi also hosted a regional online summit in January 2022 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of China-Central Asia diplomatic ties since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In the four invitations sent out Monday and Tuesday to mark Nowruz, the Persian New Year celebrated in the region, Xi underscored strengthening ties between China and Central Asian regimes.
The letter, published by Tajikistan’s official news agency Khovar, quoted Xi as saying he was “eager to discuss a grand plan to develop ties” between his country and the region.
However, Beijing’s increasing influence is not universally welcomed.
Sections of the population in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, which border China along with Tajikistan, have expressed some concern and disapproval. All have Muslim majorities.
These concerns relate in particular to China’s land acquisition, sovereign debt to Beijing and its brutal treatment of the Muslim Uyghur minority, which is also present in Central Asia.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by TOI.News staff and was published by a syndicated feed.)
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