Xi offers Central Asian countries $500 million, announces $70 billion trade target

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Announcement from China comes two days before India’s virtual summit with regional leaders

Two days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on Thursday, hosts India’s first virtual summit with Central Asian leaders, China’s President Xi Jinping offered $500 million in assistance to the region and pledged to ramp up trade.

Mr. Xi on Tuesday chaired his own virtual summit with Central Asian leaders, two days ahead of Mr. Modi hosting a first-of-its-kind virtual summit with the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Mr. Xi’s virtual summit with the same five countries was held “to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations”, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.

The Chinese President pledged to “import more quality goods and agricultural products from countries in the region” and “strive to increase the trade between the two sides to $70 billion by 2030”.

China’s trade with the five countries crossed $40 billion in 2018, roughly 20 times India’s trade with the region that year.

Much of that trade has been driven by Chinese appetite for energy resources, and Mr. Xi on Tuesday flagged “several big projects of strategic importance” including the China-Central Asia natural gas pipeline, the China-Kazakhstan crude oil pipeline, the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan highway, and the China-Tajikistan expressway.

He said the China-Europe Railway Express which runs through Central Asia “has seen rapid growth” since the launch of his Belt and Road Initiative, which was first announced by Mr. Xi during an official visit to Kazakhstan in 2013.

Mr. Xi announced China would “provide a grant assistance of $500 million to Central Asian countries in support of livelihood programs”.

He repeated his backing, already voiced earlier this month, to the embattled Kazakhstan government in the wake of protests there and a crackdown by the authorities, saying China “firmly opposes attempts by external forces to foment colour revolutions in Central Asia, firmly opposes interference in other countries’ internal affairs under the pretext of human rights, and firmly oppose any force that tries to disrupt the tranquil life of the people of our six countries.”

“As a friend and neighbour, China has firmly supported Kazakhstan in its effort to maintain stability and stop violence, and will continue to support and help Kazakhstan to the best of our ability,” he said.

In the virtual summit, Mr. Xi also announced that China would provide 50 million doses of vaccines to the five countries.

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