Published: 17:21, July 5, 2024
Bonds of friendship
By Xu Wei in Astana, Kazakhstan

Xi’s fruitful visit bolsters China-Kazakhstan mutual support and companionship on path to modernization


President Xi Jinping and Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev have elevated bilateral cooperation to a higher level following talks in Astana, setting out targets to double two-way trade and expand partnerships in energy, connectivity, key minerals, and the digital economy.

Xi, making his fifth visit to Kazakhstan, held talks at the presidential palace in Astana with Tokayev on July 3. 

“Our two sides have set a new goal of doubling bilateral trade as soon as possible, agreeing to continuously deepen cooperation in traditional areas such as economic and trade investment, capacity, connectivity, and energy,” Xi said when jointly meeting the press with Tokayev.

“We will also work together to foster new growth points in key areas such as critical minerals, new energy, technological innovation, aerospace, and the digital economy, aiming to enhance and upgrade practical cooperation between the two nations continuously.”

China and Kazakhstan have witnessed flourishing trade and economic cooperation in recent years. Bilateral trade between the two countries rose 32 percent year-on-year to $41 billion in 2023, making China the largest trading partner of the Central Asian country.

China has also been the largest source of foreign investment for Kazakhstan over the past 15 years, during which the total investment reached $25 billion, with over 4,700 Chinese businesses now operating in the Central Asian country, according to Kazakh authorities.

“We both agree that China and Kazakhstan are at critical stages of their respective development and revitalization, and are fellow travelers on the path to modernization,” Xi told reporters.

“The two sides will continue to uphold their tradition of mutual support, continuously deepen political trust, align their development strategies, and firmly safeguard each other’s core interests, serving as strong and reliable backers for one another.”

During their talks, Xi offered assurances that China always views China-Kazakhstan relations from a strategic and long-term perspective, seeing Kazakhstan as a priority in neighborhood diplomacy and an important partner in Central Asia.

Beijing’s commitment and resolve to maintain and develop China-Kazakhstan relations remain unwavering, regardless of temporary events or international changes, he said, adding that China will always be a reliable and trustworthy neighbor and partner for Kazakhstan.

As for multilateral issues, Xi pledged support for Kazakhstan’s accession to the BRICS cooperation mechanism, so that the nation can play the role of a “middle power” on the international stage and contribute to global governance.

He praised the role of Kazakhstan as the rotating chair of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and expressed hopes for the success of the Astana summit.

Tokayev addressed Xi as his “dear friend”, saying that the visit was a historic event in bilateral relations.

“For us, China is a friendly neighbor, a friend, and a permanent comprehensive strategic partner, built upon on our shared values and our common stance,” he said.

President Xi Jinping and Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev watch as six Kazakh Air Force fighter jets fly overhead, trailing red and yellow smoke to symbolize the Chinese flag, during a welcoming ceremony on July 3, 2024 in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. (PHOTOS / XINHUA)

Kazakhstan is dedicated to continuously enhancing its all-encompassing friendly and mutually beneficial cooperation with China, he said, adding that his country welcomes more Chinese enterprises and will provide all necessary favorable conditions for them.

After their talks, the two heads of state signed a joint statement and witnessed the exchange of dozens of bilateral cooperation documents in fields such as economy and trade, connectivity, aerospace, education, and media.

On July 3, Xi and Tokayev attended a launching ceremony for the China-Europe Trans-Caspian Express, a major connectivity project that spans the Eurasian continent.

They also attended the inauguration ceremony of the cultural centers of the two countries and the Kazakhstan branch of Beijing Language and Culture University.

Sayasat Nurbek, the minister of science and higher education of Kazakhstan, said after the official talks that Kazakhstan wants to become a true economic partner of China.

“We truly believe that China has a very special place, a very special responsibility in the world, given its economic potential, given its innovation potential. So, we are really keen to work with Chinese companies on research and collaboration,” he said.

With China now improving tremendously in its research and innovation, Nurbek said his country is focusing more on research and science cooperation with the Asian powerhouse.

Satkaliyev Almassadam, the Kazakh minister of energy, said the strong progress in Sino-Kazakh relations is based on the unique relationship between the leaders of the two countries.

The agreements signed between the two nations will expedite “the process of integration and the process of cooperation between our countries”, he said, adding: “A lot of new promising projects are now at the stage of consultation and negotiations.”

“We strongly believe that China now has the leading position in renewables and high-tech,” he said, adding that the Belt and Road Initiative has offered unique opportunities and advantages for all countries involved.

The Chinese president was extended a high-level reception throughout his visit, a show of the strong emphasis from Astana toward bilateral ties.

Upon Xi’s arrival at the presidential palace on July 3, he was warmly welcomed by Tokayev, as six Kazakh Air Force fighter jets flew over, trailing red and yellow smoke in a spectacular display to symbolize the Chinese flag.

The welcoming ceremony featured a grand guard of honor and the national anthems of both countries played by a military band.

When Xi arrived at the Astana airport on July 2, Tokayev hosted a welcoming ceremony that involved an honor guard of more than 100 Kazakh children waving flags of the two nations and enthusiastically greeting the Chinese president.

President Xi Jinping and Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev applaud the performance by Kazakh children of Ode to the Motherland, a well-known Chinese patriotic song, during a welcoming ceremony on July 2, 2024 after Xi arrived at the Astana airport for a state visit to the Central Asian country and the SCO summit. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

Over a dozen Kazakh children sang the popular Chinese song Ode to the Motherland in front of Xi and Tokayev, with two of them speaking Mandarin to welcome the Chinese president.

Tokayev, who took office in 2019, has developed a strong personal bond with Xi over the years, with head-of-state diplomacy taking bilateral relations to historic new highs.

The unique and high-level nature of the bilateral relationship was also exemplified in September 2022 when Xi chose Astana as the destination of his first trip overseas since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That trip saw Xi being conferred the Order of the Golden Eagle, the highest honor of Kazakhstan, by Tokayev.

“A genuine great leader,” Tokayev said of the Chinese president while bestowing the order, underscoring the historic role and immense contribution from Xi in consolidating friendship between the two nations and strengthening bilateral ties.

“I treasure this medal deeply, a symbol of the enduring friendship between our peoples. With our combined efforts, I am confident that China-Kazakhstan relations will soar like a golden eagle, reaching new heights and bringing even greater benefits to our nations,” the Chinese president said at the conferring ceremony.

Another quintessential moment of the camaraderie between the two leaders took place in May 2023, when Tokayev was in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, for a state visit and the China-Central Asia Summit.

The visit coincided with the Kazakh leader’s 70th birthday, and after the formal state activities, the two leaders shared a dinner that featured local performances and steaming bowls of Shaanxi longevity noodles, complete with warm birthday wishes.

“On this special occasion, your visit speaks volumes about the strength of our bilateral ties and reaffirms your unique bond with China,” Xi told Tokayev.

Zhao Huirong, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies, said the mutual trust and strong emphasis of both leaders on bilateral relations has kept taking ties to historic high levels.

The interaction between Xi and the Kazakh children mirrored the increasingly robust public support for the strengthening of ties between the two nations, she added.

Mutual visa-exemption arrangements have spurred people-to-people exchanges, and Sino-Kazakh pragmatic cooperation has delivered tangible benefits to the two peoples, she said.

President Tokayev, who is highly knowledgeable about China and speaks fluent Mandarin, has demonstrated a keen interest in and high expectations for China-Kazakhstan cooperation, and he is optimistic about the future prospects of this partnership, Zhao said.

“We have every reason to believe that, led by head-of-state diplomacy, the mutual trust and cooperation between China and Kazakhstan will surge to higher levels and broader scopes, setting an example for ties between China and countries in the region,” she said.

Mo Jingxi in Beijing contributed to this story.