In a major speech given at Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for building a New Silk Road as an “economic belt” of development. President Xi was on the second leg of his trip to the Central Asian countries, having visited Turkmenistan prior to the G20 meeting. He will continue on to Uzbekistan and to Kyrgyzstan, where he will attend a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) heads of state.
President Xi began his speech by referring to the visit 2,000 years ago of an envoy from the Han Dynasty, Zhang Qian, who helped established the first relations with Central Asia, opening the door to the Silk Road. Xi noted that his own town lay at the beginning of that Silk Road. “Looking back on that epoch,” Xi said, “I can hear the camel bells echoing in the mountains and see the whisps of smoke rising from the desert.” Since the two missions of Zhang Qian to Central Asia, “the region has witnessed a steady stream of travelers, scholars, artisans, caravans an envoys between East and West,” Xi said. “These exchanges and the mutual learning exchanged have made possible and contributed to human civilization.”
President Xi then related a story of a Chinese composer, who found himself in Almaty, the old Kazakh capital, in 1941. “He was very sick when he arrived and found himself in a desperate condition,” Xi said. He was taken in and cared for by a well-known Kazakh composer. The Chinese composer then went on to compose at the beginning of the Great Patriotic War some of his greatest works, “The Liberation of the Nation,” “Sacred War,” and “Red All Over The River” which were very popular during the war. He also wrote a symphony honoring one of Kazakhstan’s most famous hero. “Peoples along the Silk Road have written a beautiful chapter in human progress. This is the inspiration we have drawn from the ancient Silk Road. And the relations between China and Central Asia have existed over these 2,000 years.”
Now is “a golden opportunity for development,” Xi urged. We must “build a region of harmony.” “We need to pass on our friendship from generation to generation.” President Xi said that China has a policy of respect for all nations. It did not wish to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. It did not strive for hegemony nor did it want to create a new sphere of influence. The countries of the region should support each other with regard to their core interests. “China and the Central Asian Countries are at a crucial stage. We need a broader vision for cooperation.” The Eurasian region contained a number of organizations for cooperation, the SCO, the Eurasian Economic Community, and others, but the individual efforts had to be brought together. “The SCO and the EAEC [East Asian Economic Caucus] should work together, creating a greater economic space.” He continued, “We must expand the development of Eurasia, creating an economic belt along the Silk Road.”
Xi outlined five steps were needed to push this vision forward: 1) Step up policy communication and consultation; 2) Improve transport connectivity connecting the Pacific with the Baltic Sea; 3) Work toward unimpeded trade. 4) Enhance monetary cooperation. Here he referred to the RMB swap agreements China has worked out with Russia regarding their trade. Relying on the local currencies could shield them from financial turbulence; 5) Increase understanding between our peoples.
President Xi said that in relation to the last point, China would be offering over the next ten years 30,000 scholarships to the youth of the SCO countries for them to study in China. He underlined the importance of the youth in this Silk Road development. Using the metaphor of a famous Kazakh poet, Abai Kunanbayev, Xi described the world as an ocean and our times like the wind. “The waves in the front are the elder brother, and the waves in the back are the younger brother pushing the front winds forward.”