Competitive coalition-building was on full display last week when China hosted the China-Central Asia Summit in Xi’an, a meeting that coincided with the Group of Seven leaders’ summit in Hiroshima, Japan. The “C+C5” – China plus the presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan – met for the first time in person since the summit began during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. Each of the Central Asian states is a key potential ally for Beijing in forums like the United Nations.
The countries are also fertile ground for China-financed infrastructure. With Xi’an the geographic origin of the ancient Silk Road and Kazakhstan the 2013 launch site of the modern Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the summit focused on building regional and bilateral ties through expanding infrastructure links. It also had a security aspect, aiming to portray China as a guardian of regional stability in a geopolitically significant area and to win approval for China’s approach to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
While all are connected by diverse and expanding infrastructure linkages, the Central Asian countries cooperate differently with China, as reflected in the summit’s outcomes. The agreed activities of bilateral cooperation range from trade and business support to finance, military cooperation, facilitation of tourist travel etc. Both Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan set up or expanded on a “New-era Comprehensive Strategic Partnership” with China, which seems to be an expression of even deeper ties, such as “rendering mutual support on issues concerning each other’s core interests.”
This shows how China is vying to bring such regional allies into its economic fold, while at the G7 Summit, the liberal democracies joined forces on several China-related agenda points. This included the concept of “de-risking,” recently promoted in Europe and the US – building supply chain resilience to limit the threat of economic coercion.
The final G7 communique included some strong language on China. For example, the leaders agreed to establish a joint platform to watch, potentially deter and respond to China’s economic coercion, such as “malicious practices” of “illegitimate influence” on global supply chains. Just ahead of the G7 meeting, China published a report on a related topic: "US Coercive Diplomacy and its Harms." It claimed that the “US is the actual instigator of coercive diplomacy.” The report proves that China not only opposes the G7 but is proactively developing a counter agenda.
In China’s usual harsh reaction to the G7, the Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that the group is “hindering international peace, undermining regional stability and curbing other countries’ development.” Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong uttered "strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition" over several G7 statements, such as those on Taiwan and China’s economic coercion.
MERICS analysis: “Results of the G7 Summit and the China-Central Asia Summit show that competitive coalition building is in full swing,” says MERICS Analyst Barbara Pongratz. “The China-Central Asia summit, which is the first of three meetings of this constellation this year, is a clear signal that China is serious about tying the region even closer to it. This makes it more likely these countries will join forces with China, for example, on votes on UN resolutions. Outcomes of the G7 meeting show that the bloc is aligning even closer on issues related to China.”
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