The Chinese President Xi Jinping is in Central Asia on four-nation tour. The historic trip started on September 3 from Turkmenistan and after key meetings in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, he is set to conclude the state visit in Kyrgyzstan where he will also participate in the summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in the capital Bishkek on September 13.
The trip has been seen as a major Chinese effort to deepen existing links with Eurasian countries as a part of broader strategy to build mutually enriching partnerships. In official meetings held so far during the tour, Xi has talked about trade cooperation, promising support for central Asian development and offering advice to these land-locked economies on how to develop rapidly by managing multiple economic and political problems.
In the first leg of the trip, Xi toured Turkmenistan. The high point of the stay was the inauguration with his counterpart Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov in the first phase of the Galkynysh gas field in the south of the country.
This vast gas field project was a collaboration between China and Turkmenistan, and will boost trade and commercial ties. It has proven reserves of up to 6 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, the second largest field in the world.
China and Turkmenistan are already working closely together. Last year their bilateral trade surpassed the 10-billion-dollar mark, making China Turkmenistan's biggest trading partner. Their plan is to increase gas exports to China to 65 billion cubic meters per year by 2020. By then, China will be the biggest consumer of Central Asian gas.
In Kazakhstan, Xi held talks with President Nursultan Nazarbayev to strengthen trade and strategic relations. A number of projects worth about 30 billion dollars each were signed off during his three-day visit, including a major deal that will give China shares in a Kashsgan offshore oil project.
Xi also gave a historic speech at Nazarbayev University and explained his vision for building the Silk Route economic belt. He said that the historic trade highway will link up about three-billion people and open up unparallel commercial and trade opportunities.
On Sunday, the Chinese leader landed in Uzbekistan where the Uzbek President Islam Karimov received him at the airport. The two countries already have close cooperation. Their bilateral trade has registered more than a 50 percent increase in the first half of the year as compared to last year, reaching 2.1 billion dollars.
The Chinese president will wrap up his tour with a state visit to Kyrgyzstan, where he is also scheduled to take part in the regional Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit. China enjoys cordial ties with Kyrgyzstan, spanning over 21 years of relations. The visit will provide an opportunity to enhance cooperation.
Xi's vision of the "Silk Route Economic Belt" is a unique historical reference. Over the centuries, this belt has kept people from diverse cultures, religions and backgrounds in close touch through mutually beneficial commercial activities. Today, as dark forces of extremism, fanaticism and separatism are gnawing at the soul of modern civilization, this silk route belt takes countries back to their historical roots. China can fast-track the development of its western regions, and Central Asia will also receive an economic boost.
The hallmark of the Bishkek stay will be the SCO summit, the regional group which has matured into a strong organization of like-minded nations striving for international and regional peace, prosperity and stability. The organization, which includes China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan was set up in 2001 to replace the loosely built Shanghai Five group. The combined population of its member countries is over 1.5 billion and member states occupy about three-fifths of the Eurasian continent. The SCO has already agreed to fight against terrorism, separatism and extremism. The members also share a common developmental vision.
The real challenge during the 2013 summit is how to tackle jointly security issues like the Syrian crisis which could go out of control and endanger the entire international system. Before Xi embarked upon his Central Asia visit, he attended the important G20 summit in St. Petersburg, where differences over Syria dominated all other issues. The scene at the SCO summit will be different as the key members are against any armed intervention in Syria.
Xi will exchange opinions with his counterparts on key global security and trade matters and try to play the role which his country deserves and has the capability to play.
The writer is a senior Pakistani journalist and columnist.
Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.