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China’s “soft power” in Uzbekistan: Beijing turning into major partner

Rafik Sayfullin. Photo: fergana.info

President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev is to pay an official visit to China on May 11-13. Besides high-level meetings in Beijing, he will attend One Belt, One Road Summit 2017. The Uzbek leader will discuss economic and security issues with Chairman of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping.

Uzbekistan’s rapidly growing economy, favorable geographical location in the center of the region, modern transport communications, reliable investment promotion strategy seem an attractive cooperation opportunity for Chinese business circles. During the recent years, China has become one of Uzbekistan’s key economic partners, a big investor and an active part to structural reform and economic modernization programs in Uzbekistan. In an interview with EADaily, Rafik Sayfullin, an expert from Uzbekistan, Doctor of Historical Sciences, speaks about President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s visit to Beijing.

What issues will be discussed at the upcoming high-level meetings? What is interesting to Uzbekistan?

The answer is quite evident, I think, and this is linked with the recent-years developed practice of partnership between Uzbekistan and China. The topics for discussion are unchangeable. These are prospects of cooperation in the field of trade and investments, as well as cultural and humanitarian ties.

Official statements by Uzbekistan contain certain optimism with the upcoming visit and the new horizons it may open for the bilateral relationships. It is evidently a vague and broad wording, but back away from standard diplomatic speeches, new stimuli for development of the Uzbek-Chinese relations are anticipated. Here are some circumstances that should be taken into account.

First, President Mirziyoyev’s visit to China is actually completing the first stage of his foreign policy activity manifested during the visits to neighboring Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan and traditional reliable partner and ally Russia. By his visit to China, the Uzbek leader confirms the succession in foreign policy strategy of the country’s leadership as well as his readiness and ability to implement tasks in prior foreign policy directions (first of all, neighbors in Central Asia, Russia and China).

Second, the upcoming visit of President Mirziyoyev will be on sidelines of the summit dedicated to the implementation of The Silk Road Economic Belt idea and will be assessed within the trends that are regarded as new continental initiatives.

Third, Shavkat Mirziyoyev with his activity on the post of the president impresses with his aspiration to “shake” and certainly reform the government system in Uzbekistan, reduce red tape and corruption. All this is naturally welcomed and supported by the politically active part of Uzbekistan’s population. However, this process needs to be confirmed at the international level, which the Uzbek leader manifested during his first visits. I am sure the visit to China will become a powerful stimulus for consolidation inside the country and self-reliance of the new Uzbek leadership in foreign policy.

Uzbekistan’s expectations from the upcoming visit are quite evident too. Uzbekistan develops bilateral cooperation with China and seeks to use all the advantages of such cooperation to develop not only the transport infrastructures that ensure implementation of programs within The Silk Road Economic Belt. Uzbekistan considers its unconditional support to and participation in The Silk Road Economic Belt idea as a broad opportunity for new projects to develop real sector of the national economy.

In his election campaign and afterwards, the president of Uzbekistan define eight priority directions of economic development that will help increase the share of industrial produce in economy drastically as early as in 2020. The practice of previous years showed that China is not just ready to support implementation of such tasks. It is able to achieve specific results together with Uzbek partners.

Uzbekistan plans to use not only Chinese investments, but also the investment tools of the organizations China has a leading part in. I am speaking about the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB, $100 billion in assets) and The Silk Road Fund ($40 billion). Uzbekistan anticipates China’s support to raise investments on preferential terms and new credit lines to fund the development of basic economy sectors.

What projects does China take an interest in in Uzbekistan?

Promotion of all the projects fitting into The Silk Road Economic Belt idea will benefit to China. Noteworthy that in the relations with Uzbekistan, China protects its interests and strives to take into account the interests and requests of the Uzbek side at the same time. All this creates favorable background to boost cooperation and not only. Development of cooperation, especially aspiration for new horizons, is a process wherein the sides have to overcome also differences that emerge from time to time.

For instance, China seeks to create a free trade area, including Central Asia, while Uzbekistan is keen to promote its goods with high VAT in the Chinese market and the markets of other countries along The Silk Road Economic Belt. However, all these issues are on agenda of talks and discussions and there is general favorable political background in the relations of the two states. This becomes evident especially in such issues as threats to stability and security in the region that may question many economic cooperation projects. Uzbekistan and China perceive these threats adequately taking either same or similar stances on such issues.

May Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s visit to China turn as successful for investment promotion as his latest visit to Russia did?

One can speak of this only after the results of the upcoming visit and the arrangements made during it. Reportedly, more than two dozens of documents are to be signed, including commercial contracts and agreements between economic entities. Perhaps it is not that important if the results of the visit will be comparable with those achieved during the visit to Moscow. It is essential that China understands the importance of Uzbekistan as the key country in the region, which is necessary for China’s long-term and multi-dimensional strategy within The Silk Road Economic Belt in the Middle and Near East. For Uzbekistan China is evidently becoming a key partner in Asia and the interests in the bilateral relations are turning common. In this sense, one can say for sure that the upcoming visit will be a success.

How would you describe the relations between Beijing and Tashkent?

They are trouble-free, though it is not so correct wording, perhaps. In contemporary history, both the countries are so far gaining experience in development of bilateral relations. It is important to China that Uzbekistan’s leadership remains committed to the traditions established during the recent years. Uzbekistan cares not so much for being recognized as a partner with equal rights as for understanding the scales of the tasks and goals that are set by the Uzbek leadership and can be implemented with tangible support of China.

Yet, there is something even more important. Uzbekistan and China have no fundamental differences (military and political, ideological or religious) especially when it comes to the values established in both the states. The emerging technical issues can be settled efficiently through talks and differences in values can be easily overcome through an inter-civilization dialogue. Basing on my own experience of communication of Chinese colleagues, I can say that the so-called “soft power” used in the development of Uzbekistan-China relations is based on the major principle: respect and better understanding of each other. If this principle further dominates, the relations of the two countries will keep developing.

EADaily Central Asian Bureau

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