BEIJING, Sept. 16, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — Chinese President Xi Jinping is now paying his first foreign visit since the COVID-19 pandemic to Central Asia, and to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit. This major diplomatic activity has drawn attention around the globe and charmed the key multilateral event in Samarkand with frequent bilateral meetings with the leaders of other SCO members and key partners across the Eurasia continent. 

By Thursday, heads of state and leaders of other countries Xi has already met in his ongoing trip include Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Zhaparov, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, Turkmen President Serdar Berdimuhamedov, Mongolian President Ukhnaa Khurelsukh, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. The regional partners and key members of the SCO expressed support to China-proposed initiatives on global development and security, and reaffirmed support to the one-China principle.

Experts said the reason why China chose Central Asia as the destination of the first foreign visit by its top leader since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic is that China has attached greater importance on or even prioritizes relations with neighbors, developing countries and the multilateral or international organizations like the SCO.

China is paying great efforts via the head-of-state diplomacy to better form a stable and certain international environment to serve not only its own development but also the shared peace and prosperity of the region and the majority of international community, said analysts.

Popularity and charm

During the meeting with Putin, Xi said China is ready to work with Russia in extending strong support to each other on issues concerning their respective core interests. China is also willing to deepen pragmatic cooperation in such areas as trade, agriculture and connectivity, Xi added.

Thursday’s face-to-face in-depth communication between the top leaders of China and Russia – two neighboring major powers and key SCO members with global influence – is not only important to the stable development of the bilateral relations, but also of great benefits to regional peace and stability, experts said.

In 2013, Xi firstly initiated the Silk Road Economic Belt, a part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), during his visit to Kazakhstan. The initiative has already benefited many countries’ development around the globe in the past 10 years. This time, Xi’s key diplomatic activity to Central Asia will also bring new significant long-standing influence to not only the region but also the world, experts said.

Deng Hao, secretary-general of the China Center for SCO Studies, told the Global Times on Thursday that China and Central Asian countries are friendly neighbors and close partners, and the situation of the region will directly affect the stability and development of China’s western territory, adding it’s also significant to China’s energy security and the construction of the Belt and Road. So China choosing this region for the first head-of-state foreign visit since 2020 proves that China attaches great importance to the ties with regional partners, said Deng.

Since the RussiaUkraine conflict and Kazakhstan’s political turmoil earlier this year, regional peace and stability are under threat, and the conflicts between Azerbaijan and Armenia in recent years also increase the risks and concerns to the region, it’s important for China, as a major power with notable national strength and economic capability, to play a greater role in promoting cooperation and boosting interconnectivity to better link East Asia, Central Asia, Europe, the Middle East and South Asia, experts said.

“This is why the Chinese president is so popular among the region and countries from other regions with great interests to seek membership or partnership with the SCO, as the frequent bilateral and multilateral meetings showed the great charm of China’s head-of-state diplomacy,” Deng noted.

Xi has received warm welcomes and hospitality with highest respects in both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. On Wednesday afternoon, Xi received the Order of the Golden Eagle, or “Altyn Qyran” Order, awarded by Kazakh President Tokayev at the Ak Orda Presidential Palace in Nur-Sultan, Xinhua reported. The Order of the Golden Eagle is the highest order Kazakhstan awards individuals in recognition of their significant contribution to Kazakhstan’s national development and friendly external relations.

Tokayev delivered remarks before awarding the order. He noted that Xi’s visit is a tremendous honor to Kazakhstan, according to Xinhua.

Xi put forward the great initiatives including Belt and Road cooperation and the building of a community with a shared future for mankind, and has made outstanding contribution to building a new type of international relations, Tokayev said, adding that the Global Development Initiative and the Global Security Initiative put forward by Xi are of particular strategic significance in resolving risks and challenges faced by today’s world.

On Thursday, Xi received the highest friendship award – Friendship Order – from Uzbek President Mirziyoyev. This is the first time that the order has been awarded since it was set up in March 2020, according to China Central Television.

Mirziyoyev held a grand welcoming ceremony for Xi at the airport on Wednesday evening. Nearly a hundred national flags of China and Uzbekistan were waving in the breeze. The hundred-meter-long carpet was flanked by valiant honor guards, Xinhua reported.

Head-of-state diplomacy

The SCO Summit is an important multilateral international event for the Chinese top leader to attend ahead of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in October and the G20 Summit later this year.

Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International Affairs at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Thursday that the SCO is a new type of an international organization that upholds new ideas and views on security, development and international relations.

The SCO is playing a key role for member states to solve border issues, to jointly counter terrorism, separatism and religious extremism, also known as “three evils,” and to boost economic cooperation and interconnectivity, so it’s a great public good for the international community that China and other founding members contributed to, Wang said.

“At the moment, the world is still facing the threat of the old ideas like the Cold War mentality, the bloc-to-bloc confrontation, and decoupling between major economies, so the SCO is offering a significant alternative to the future international order and the ties between major powers,” Wang said, noting that this is also a key reason why the Chinese top leader has chosen the timing of the SCO Summit to conduct his first foreign visit since 2020.

The face-to-face summit allows leaders of member states to have more direct conversations and a full exchange of views, which is of great significance for the members to reach consensus and take joint actions on major international and regional issues in the context of the current unstable international situation, Deng said.

“Popularity of the Chinese head of state during the trip also proves that many countries have great confidence in China’s development, and they hope China could play a greater role to guide the future of the regional development,” Deng noted.