Djoomart Otorbaev: China's cooperation with Uzbekistan promotes closer ties throughout Central Asia


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Djoomart Otorbaev: China's cooperation with Uzbekistan promotes closer ties throughout Central Asia


Source: CGTN Published: 2024-01-25

On January 23, Uzbekistan's President Shavkat Mirziyoyev arrived in Beijing for a three-day visit. It marks the first exchange between China and Central Asia this year. During his visit, President Mirziyoyev had high-level talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping and attended other bilateral meetings.

During the past two years, both parties have been actively engaged in high-level discussions. In February 2022, President Mirziyoyev visited China, and in September of the same year, President Xi traveled to Uzbekistan for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Samarkand. Moreover, the Uzbek president participated in two visits to China last year – the first was in May, attending the first China-Central Asia summit, and the second was in October, following the third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation.

President Mirziyoyev wrote in his article on the eve of his visit that relations between Uzbekistan and China are at a historic high. The president formulated several vital considerations for developing bilateral ties between the countries. He directly stated the need to take bilateral relations to a 'qualitatively new and higher level.' Among other essential statements is the need to carry out 'joint work to ensure the development of transport and logistics infrastructure,' as well as 'the importance of the role of people-to-people diplomacy in strengthening Uzbek-Chinese friendship is now becoming more evident.'

During the talks between the two leaders, China and Uzbekistan have upgraded their ties to an all-weather comprehensive strategic partnership for a new era, which indicates that there is huge potential ahead in terms of bilateral cooperation.

According to China's General Administration of Customs, two-way trade totaled 98.85 billion yuan ($13.93 billion) last year, up 53.2 percent from 2022. At the same time, China's exports to Uzbekistan increased by 76.8 percent year on year. These are truly remarkable results, but there is a vast unrealized potential for economic cooperation between China and Uzbekistan if the transport infrastructure improves.

Although the countries are geographically close, transporting goods by train from China through Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan takes 45 to 70 days. While the rail transportation system is currently the most practical option, it is not the best choice for high-value or perishable goods. Shipping cargo by air is quite expensive, with costs ranging from $9 to $25 per kilogram.

Therefore, constructing a new railway between China and Uzbekistan through Kyrgyzstan is now being discussed. If the railway is completed, it will considerably reduce the cost and time of cargo transportation, promoting better trade relations and boosting the economies of the countries involved. Instead of many weeks, the transport of goods and passengers between the two countries will be reduced to a few days. Once this section is completed, the railway may be extended to the West, passing through Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, South Caucasian countries, and Türkiye, ultimately reaching Europe. This extension is expected to shorten the distance from China to Türkiye by approximately 900 kilometers.

A China-Europe train leaves Xi'an International Port Station for Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan, April 21, 2023. /CFP

It should be noted that China and Uzbekistan have significant potential for coordinating cooperation with their neighbor Afghanistan. Afghanistan is at a critical juncture of transitioning from chaos to stability, where challenges and opportunities coexist with difficulties and hopes. China supports Chinese companies in cooperating with Afghanistan according to market rules, and in playing a constructive role in helping Afghanistan rebuild its economy and achieve self-generated and sustained development. For example, Afghanistan last year signed a 25-year contract with a subsidiary of the state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) to extract oil from the Amu Darya basin. The deal involves an investment of $150 million in the first year and $540 million over the next three years.

Besides, in October of last year, a delegation from Uzbekistan led by Deputy Prime Minister Jamshid Khojaev visited Kabul for negotiations with Afghanistan's Deputy Prime Minister Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. At the meeting, Uzbekistan proposed a plan to boost its trade volume with Afghanistan from $600 million to $3 billion soon. Additionally, Khojaev mentioned that Uzbekistan aims to ease the visa process for Afghan entrepreneurs and drivers and intends to establish a business center in Termez to support Afghan businesses.

Although Uzbekistan does not border China, the countries' cooperation is crucial for developing the entire Central Asian region. Uzbekistan's unique location, bordering all other Central Asian countries, and its solid political standing towards regional cooperation make it a central figure in strengthening collaboration among all its neighbors. The success of Uzbekistan is pivotal to the fast growth of all its neighboring countries and their economic interaction with China, especially with its northwestern provinces and autonomous regions.

The current visit of the president of Uzbekistan to China is undoubtedly a significant step towards implementing the bilateral and multilateral agreements reached during last year's China-Central Asia Summit. This visit also provides new momentum for expanding and strengthening future cooperation in the whole region of the greater Central Asia.