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Current state and prospects for the development of Uzbek-Chinese relations of comprehensive strategic partnership

Today, one of Uzbekistan’s key strategic partners is China, and our multifaceted cooperation with it makes an important contribution to promoting the reforms underway in our country, modernizing the economy and improving the well-being of the population. Political dialogue and interaction with China in the international arena have become one of the priorities of Uzbekistan’s foreign policy and foreign economic activity – writes Zilola Yunusova

Uzbekistan and China are continuously strengthening political mutual trust and developing bilateral relations on the basis of equality, mutual respect and consideration of interests.

The developed legal framework of relations plays an important role in this. For more than 30 years after the establishment of diplomatic relations, the two countries have concluded 113 interstate and intergovernmental agreements, including the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between the Republic of Uzbekistan and the People’s Republic of China signed in September 2013.

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Strategic partnership relations between our countries, established in June 2012, were brought in September 2022 to the level of “comprehensive strategic partnership in a new era”, which reflects the mutual aspiration of the sides to fill bilateral interaction with new content in accordance with the requirement of time.

The dynamic advancement of the strategic partnership is ensured by regular dialogue at the highest level. In 2016-2023 alone, more than 10 meetings and telephone talks between the leaders of the two countries took place. Filling the bilateral partnership with important practical content has been facilitated, above all, by the exchange visits of H.E. President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Sh.M. Mirziyoyev to China and H.E. President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping to our country.

Political dialogue and practical interaction between the countries has also been strengthened by active inter-parliamentary exchange, regular meetings of the Intergovernmental Committee on Cooperation and political consultations between foreign ministries.

Uzbekistan and China share similar positions on important issues on the international and regional agenda, and maintain close ties and interaction within the UN, SCO and other multilateral platforms. Uzbekistan and China have provided mutual support to each other in the elections to the UN Human Rights Council for 2021-2023. Within the framework of the UN, Beijing supported resolutions initiated by the President of Uzbekistan on ensuring international cooperation for sustainable development in the Central Asian region, education and religious tolerance, tourism development in Central Asia, declaring the Aral Sea region a zone of environmental innovation and technology, the role of parliaments in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, and others.

The format of relations between Central Asian countries and China, which in recent years has been elevated to the level of heads of state, is becoming a promising area of international interaction. The successful holding of the summit of leaders of the region and China in Xian in May 2023 gave a new impetus to both regional cooperation and the promotion of important joint projects between Uzbekistan and China.

Active interaction between the two countries in promoting China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative has also become a testament to the high level of strategic partnership. Uzbekistan was among the first to support this megaproject aimed at strengthening international transport interconnectivity, developing broad trade, investment and humanitarian exchange. In 2017 and 2019 President Sh. Mirziyoyev took part in the first two Belt and Road forums for international cooperation, having put forward important initiatives to jointly build the Silk Road Economic Belt.

Currently, Uzbekistan and China have established diversified economic interaction. The volume of mutual trade has amounted to $8.9 billion. China has been one of Uzbekistan’s largest trade partners for many years, accounting for 18% of the country’s foreign trade.

Joint investment projects cover oil and gas, textile, telecommunications, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and construction materials. At the same time, with the advancement of economic reforms in our country, the list of potential areas of cooperation has expanded.

In 2017-2022, the total volume of absorbed Chinese investments amounted to $10.9 billion. In 2008-2022, $246.3 million of grant funds from the PRC Government were attracted for the implementation of 51 projects.

During the Uzbek-Chinese business forum and fair held in Xian on May 18-19, 210 investment agreements and trade contracts totaling $26.5 billion were signed. Since 2017, Chinese conglomerate Jinsheng Group has invested in a textile factory in Uzbekistan, 95% of its products are exported abroad. Xin Zhong Yuan Ceramics launched a $150 million ceramics production line in Uzbekistan.

Joint strategic projects such as China-Central Asia gas pipeline, Kungrad soda plant and Dehkanabad potash fertilizer plant, modernization of Angren thermal power plant, etc. are being successfully implemented. The Peng Sheng industrial park with Chinese investment is being expanded on the basis of a branch of the free economic zone “Jizzak” in Syrdarya region, which concentrates the largest investment projects of private Chinese capital in Uzbekistan in the non-resource sector.

Thus, in this park, the Chinese company “ZTE” has built the first line for the production of smartphones in Central Asia, as well as the joint venture of Peng Sheng and Almalyk Mining and Metallurgical Plant has opened a plant AWP, which produces about 2 million valves and mixers per year using domestic raw materials.

Uzbekistan’s course to boost industrial and agricultural production, transition to a green economy, digital and innovative development, as well as the progress achieved in regional policy and foreign economic diplomacy have opened new opportunities for expanding areas of Uzbek-Chinese cooperation.

First, China is an important partner for Uzbekistan in the development of green economy, including the development of alternative sources of energy generation and the purchase of modern equipment for this purpose.

This year in June, an agreement was reached with the Chinese company China Energy on the construction of solar photovoltaic power plants (PVPP) with a total capacity of 1 GW in Kashkadarya and Bukhara regions.

A project to build a wind farm with 111 wind turbines is being implemented by Masdar (UAE) in Navoi region. The first wind generator with a capacity of 4.7 MW is installed from the Chinese company Goldwind. An agreement on cooperation with a consortium of Chinese companies Huaneng Renewables Corporation and Poly Technologies on construction of solar photovoltaic stations with a total capacity of 2000 MW is being implemented in Jizzakh and Tashkent regions.

Negotiations are underway with Chinese IT giant Huawei on the possibility of localizing the production of equipment for solar stations. According to Chen Jiakai, director of Huawei in Uzbekistan, the company already has experience in implementation and participation in projects on introduction of photovoltaics and energy storage technology for large power plants for production purposes in commercial and industrial sectors, as well as household solar power plants on the territory of Uzbekistan.

Secondly, transportation and logistics remains a traditional and perspective area of interaction. China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which stimulates the development of transport and other infrastructure, has provided good opportunities to diversify the transportation network and enter new export markets.

In 2016, during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Uzbekistan, a jointly built 19-kilometer tunnel on the Angren-Pap railroad connecting the central regions of the country with the Fergana Valley was put into exploitation. Multimodal cargo transportation via the Tashkent-Andijan-Osh-Irkeshtam-Kashgar highway is being intensified. Work is currently under way on a trilateral basis on the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railroad construction project. The realization of this project will have a positive impact on the economic development of the republic and will be an important link in the formation of the China-Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor – one of the key corridors of the “Belt and Road”.

Third, the exchange of experience in socio-economic development is becoming an important area of bilateral cooperation. In his speech at the summit of Central Asian and Chinese leaders in Xian in May this year, Uzbek President Sh. Mirziyoyev noted the active use of advanced Chinese experience in addressing the central task of raising living standards and effectively combating poverty.

Experts note that for more than 40 years of China’s policy of reforms and openness, more than 800 million people have been lifted out of poverty, and its overall level has fallen from 97.5% in 1978 to 0.6% by the end of 2019. China’s achievements in this area have provided 70% of the achieved global poverty reduction.

Today, Uzbekistan prioritizes the adoption of effective and efficient measures to bring this work to a new level. In this regard, since 2020 systemic measures to improve the socio-economic situation of the population have been developed, some of them taking into account the Chinese experience. As a result of their implementation 1 million people were lifted out of poverty in 2022. The obligation of the state to reduce poverty is enshrined in the updated Constitution adopted as a result of the referendum in April of this year.

Currently, based on the Chinese experience of poverty reduction in rural and environmentally disadvantaged areas, a separate anti-poverty program is planned in one of the districts of each province of Uzbekistan. With the participation of Chinese experts, 18 targeted socio-economic projects have already been prepared to reduce poverty in 14 districts of Uzbekistan.

As Chinese President Xi Jinping noted in his article for his visit to Uzbekistan in September 2022, “the two-thousand-year history of friendly exchanges and 30-year practice of mutually beneficial cooperation show that the strengthening of comprehensive cooperation meets the trends of the times and the fundamental interests of the two countries and peoples. Standing at the crossroads of the past and the future, we are full of expectations and confidence in the future of China-Uzbekistan relations”.

In general, political and diplomatic interaction, trade, economic and investment ties between the two states have acquired a dynamic character. Uzbekistan and China view each other as reliable partners, are interested in strengthening comprehensive strategic partnership and bringing mutually beneficial cooperation to a new level for the benefit of the peoples of our countries.

Zilola Yunusova is Head of Department of the Center for International Relations Studies under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan

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