Uzbekistan: a key strategic partner for China

By Tim Collard
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, June 22, 2016
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On President Xi Jinping's current tour of the western-central sector of the proposed New Silk Road, he has decided not only to make bilateral visits to Serbia and Poland, but also to the Central Asian state of Uzbekistan. President Xi will, of course, be attending the annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent; but his decision to precede the summit with a full-dress bilateral visit sends a signal that China attaches particular importance to relations with Uzbekistan, a staunchly supportive partner of China throughout the quarter-century of the country's existence.

Since Uzbekistan's independence, relations with China have steadily grown. In order to prevent the emergence of a dangerous vacuum in the Central Asian region following the break-up of the Soviet Union, China has made every effort to engage the new countries to her immediate west. Since then, both countries have assumed a rising significance in each other's regional and international objectives. A Declaration of Strategic Partnership was signed in June 2012, and a permanent intergovernmental commission has been put in place to discuss the practical details of the cooperation program.

As the region that is now Uzbekistan was a key link in the original Silk Road linking China with Europe, it's logical that the present nation has been sought out by China to play a similar role in the modern project.

The groundwork for President Xi's current visit was laid down by a preparatory visit by Foreign Minister Wang Yi last month. Minister Wang met Uzbek President Islam Karimov as well as his Uzbek counterpart, confirming President Xi's plans to focus on the particular position of Uzbekistan within the "Belt and Road" program and to deal with SCO issues.

In the last two years China has become Uzbekistan's leading trading partner, with trade figures reaching US$4.7 billion in 2014. This position was taken over by Russia following the rouble's devaluation, which was brought on by the slump in global oil prices. Uzbekistan produces some materials of use to China, such as mineral fertilisers, cotton fibres, non-ferrous metals and, most importantly, natural gas. China, which places great significance on diversifying her supplies of natural gas, has worked hard at establishing pipelines to bring Uzbek gas to the Chinese consumer. The fourth of these pipelines is close to opening up.

However, trade between the two countries so far has been highly asymmetric. Though the amount of Uzbek trade going to China is approaching 20 percent, only a very small proportion of China's foreign trade is with Uzbekistan. Moreover, as regards the total Chinese trade with Central Asia, Uzbekistan still lies well behind Kazakhstan, China's main trade partner in the region. President Xi's visit aims at establishing Uzbekistan as a serious challenger to the larger countries of the region in terms of trade with China.

In the political sphere, Uzbekistan has become one of China's most reliable supporters on global security issues, quite apart from the two nations' cooperation in the SCO forum. As a sufferer from the recent wave of terrorist activity in the Central Asian region, China has worked with Uzbekistan on counter-terrorism, counter-extremism and opposition to the separatism that China fears in the context of her western regions. Additionally, Uzbekistan has consistently expressed full endorsement of a "one-China" policy and opposition to "Taiwan independence." In return, China has expressed support for Uzbek concerns over trans-border river flows; in the water-deprived Central Asian region, rivers are a subject of great anxiety, and the diversion of water resources for hydro-electric projects has the potential to upset the ecological balance, even to the point of creating security problems. China supports Uzbekistan in supporting fair regulation of water resources in the region.

However, China does not want the political aspect of the relationship to become too dominant. Although Uzbekistan's relations with both Russia and the USA include mutual security commitments, China does not want to go down that route. In accordance with the clearly laid-down path of modern Chinese diplomacy, partnerships with other countries are set firmly within the context of economic and developmental cooperation, rather than looking towards political alliances in the security field.

This visit shows that both China and Uzbekistan take their bilateral relationship very seriously. China sees in Uzbekistan a reliable and supportive partner, and wishes to underpin the political relationship with solid and mutually beneficial economic links; Uzbekistan, without prejudice to her existing security commitments, clearly sees China as her key partner in the revival and underpinning of her own economic development and her integration into the regional economic structure.

Tim Collard is a columnist with For more information please visit:

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of

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