China is making a soft-power push in Central Asia, launching initiatives to strengthen cooperation with expert institutions in Uzbekistan and boost cultural exchanges and tourism with Kyrgyzstan.
An Uzbek expert delegation led by Doniyor Kurbanov, head of the Foreign Ministry’s Information and Analytical Center for International Relations, recently toured China, holding talks with representatives of leading Chinese research institutions, including the Academy of International Affairs, Peking University and the Academy of Social Sciences. According to a report published by Review.uz, the visit produced a memorandum of understanding outlining “prospects for further strengthening cooperation in research activities" and "further strengthening relations between leading" Chinese and Uzbek think tanks. The framework for cooperation will include joint research projects and expert exchanges, “taking into account Chinese experience."
Meanwhile, a flurry of high-level meetings between Chinese and Kyrgyz officials aims to expand tourism and cultural exchanges between the two countries. Chinese Culture Minister Hu Heping met July 11 with Kyrgyzstan’s ambassador to the PRC, Aktilek Musayeva, to explore the feasibility of opening cultural centers and take “further steps to strengthen cooperation in the field of art, cinema, etc.,” according to the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry press service. A few days later, the Kyrgyz Ministry of Culture announced that a Chinese tourism expert, identified as Peng Xiaolan, will work as a “voluntary” consultant at the ministry to promote bilateral “cultural and humanitarian ties.” One of Peng’s initial assignments, according to the report, will be to open a Kyrgyz cultural center in China.
Kyrgyzstan and China also are bolstering educational exchanges. Kyrgyz Deputy Energy Minister Taalaibek Tolubayev and the PRC’s envoy to Kyrgyzstan, Du Dewen, were prominent attendees at a ceremony in Bishkek on July 16 for Kyrgyz graduates of the Xi'an Petroleum University of China, the Xinhua news agency reported. Elsewhere, the TASS news agency reported that Kyrgyz students have been accepted into a program run by EastChina NormalUniversity in Shanghai that operates under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
Uzbekistan's ADM Jizzakh plant has reached a deal to start assembling Haval branded vehicles, including M6 compacts and H6 SUVs, designed by the Chinese automaker Great Wall Motors. Haval assembly will replace production of vehicles designed by the Russian automaker AvtoVAZ, “the production of which is now suspended” due to sanctions, according to a report published by Quto, a Russian-language outlet focusing on Eurasia’s auto industry. The Jizzakh-Great Wall partnership eventually wants to launch production of hybrids and electric cars. “For Great Wall, Uzbekistan is expected to become one of the most important drivers of growth,” the Quto report states.
Kazakhstan imported 16,333 Chinese-made vehicles during the first five months of 2023, the Central Asian nation’s First Credit Bureau reported via its Telegram channel. In monetary terms, imports during the period amounted to $291.8 million. In 2022, the value of auto imports for the entire year was reported as $183.9 million.
Kazakhstan is exploring the possibility of expanding wheat exports to China. The Kazakh Agriculture Ministry reported July 13 that Minister Yerbol Karashukeyev met with top officials of COFCO, the largest importer of Kazakh wheat to China. During the meeting, the two sides discussed increasing the annual supply of wheat to the Chinese market “up to 1 million tons.” The meeting occurred at a time when the two countries are haggling over wheat prices. Grain producers from Kazakhstan have suspended wheat exports to PRC due to too low purchase prices, the Kursiv news outlet reported July 17. The report added that so far in July, “23 trains with grain carriers” were supposed to leave for China, but as of the middle of the month, not a single train had crossed the border. “The Chinese side is now giving $240 per ton. But our Kazakh exporters believe that this is a low price, taking into account fluctuations in exchange rates and other factors, and they want at least $245-250,” the Kursiv report quoted Zeinoll Abdumanapov, chairman of the board of the KazGrain National Exporters Association, as saying.
Kyrgyz railway officials report that a memorandum of understanding has been completed among relevant entities in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and China to consolidate efforts to extend a planned intermodal route to Afghanistan. The Kyrgyz statement did not outline any specific measures to implement the plan.
Uzbek Foreign Minister Bakhtiyor Saidov accepted the credentials of China’s new ambassador to the Central Asian nation, Yu Jun, the ministry’s press service reported July 12. “We have achieved many results in our cooperation. More to come. Uzbek-Chinese relations are developing at a high pace, and the existing potential is even higher,” the UzDaily news website quoted Saidov as saying.
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