Uzbek-Chinese cooperation to deepen further
[Jin Ding/China Daily]
January 2021 marked the 29th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Uzbekistan and the People's Republic of China. It is gratifying to note that in recent years multifaceted cooperation has deepened in virtually all areas including trade, investment, energy and transportation.
Along with this trend, the fact that despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the two countries have not only further strengthened their comprehensive strategic partnership but also identified new areas of interaction allows us to look at the future of Uzbek-Chinese relations with optimism and confidence.
Continuing active political dialogue
Among the key factors for the dynamic development of bilateral cooperation is political dialogue at the highest level.
In May 2017, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev paid his first state visit to China and held fruitful talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, during which the two leaders identified priority areas of cooperation.
The talks between them under the Shanghai Cooperation Organization framework in Qingdao in 2018 gave new impetus to bilateral ties. And the two leaders identified "new points" of further strengthening multifaceted cooperation at their meeting on the sidelines of the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing in 2019.
During their conversation on the phone on May 7 last year, the two leaders, among other things, agreed to cooperate in the fight against the pandemic. Also, a number of intergovernmental-level talks have been held to implement the agreements reached at the highest level, and a favorable environment has been created for the promotion of inter-parliamentary relations between the two sides.
Economic basis of cooperation
The implementation of the agreements reached between the two leaders has further deepened cooperation in trade and investment. Thanks to the joint efforts of the two sides, the impact of the pandemic on Uzbek-Chinese cooperation has been minimal, as a number of positive trends show.
First, for the past three years, China has been Uzbekistan's largest trading partner. Before the pandemic, the annual increase in bilateral trade was 30-40 percent－the growth declined slightly last year due to the pandemic. China is also the largest export market for Uzbekistan; it accounts for 12.8 percent of the country's total foreign trade in 2020. Plus, there has been a qualitative change in bilateral trade, with Uzbekistan exporting more finished products and agricultural goods to China.
Second, bilateral cooperation in investment and modern technologies is deepening, and Chinese investment in Uzbekistan－mainly in sectors such as oil and gas, chemicals, construction materials, pharmaceuticals, agriculture and light industry－is growing at the rate of about 40 percent a year over the past few years.
Uzbekistan and China still have huge potential for expanding cooperation in investment and advanced technologies, especially because President Mirziyoyev has set a foreign investment target of $23 billion for 2021. As a result, Uzbekistan plans to put into operation 226 large industrial and infrastructure projects, build modern facilities for textiles, leather and footwear, food and pharmaceutical industries, and establish power plants.
Connectivity and communications
The pandemic has had a huge impact on the global economy, disrupting regional and global production chains and trade links. Addressing the participants via video link at the opening ceremony of the China International Import Expo in Shanghai in November, Mirziyoyev said Uzbekistan welcomes the new strategic course taken by Xi to stabilize trade, eliminate trade barriers, and strengthen interconnectivity among economies.
In this context, it is important to combine different countries' efforts to strengthen regional and interregional connectivity by forming a network of "dry ports", logistics and wholesale distribution centers under the Belt and Road Initiative framework. An apt example of this is the opening of a new China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan multimodal transport corridor designed to accelerate the building of a railway.
And in line with Mirziyoyev's call to create new transport corridors connecting the railways of Central and South Asia, Uzbekistan will hold a multinational conference titled "Central and South Asia: Regional Connectivity－Challenges and Opportunities" in May 2021.
The deepening of Uzbek-Chinese cooperation has in turn strengthened the bilateral comprehensive strategic partnership, which is reflected in the visits by the leaders of all 14 regions of Uzbekistan to China from 2017 until the outbreak of the pandemic last year. The result of these visits was the inking of agreements to implement more than 150 joint projects, including on export-oriented finished products.
At the same time, agreements were reached with a number of Chinese provinces on cooperation in the fields of education and training, and "smart" agriculture, "smart" technologies, seed production and water management.
New challenges require new solutions. China has succeeded not only in largely containing the pandemic, but also in becoming the only major economy to achieve positive GDP growth in 2020.
As President Mirziyoyev said in his speech in parliament recently, Uzbekistan will pay special attention to healthcare, and continuing the fight against the pandemic will remain one of its most important tasks in 2021.
Uzbekistan also plans to further digitalize medical care including improving communication among specialized centers and their local branches through telemedicine. In fact, Mirziyoyev gave a call in November to boost cooperation with China in telemedicine.
Cooperation in fighting poverty
Another area of cooperation is poverty reduction, especially given China's successful campaign to eliminate absolute poverty by the end of last year. Accordingly, Mirziyoyev told the Uzbek parliament in December that the main goal of economic reform in 2021 will be reducing poverty and improving the well-being of the people.
A comprehensive approach and new methods will be introduced to strengthen the poverty alleviation program including providing people with better social protection, education, affordable healthcare, vocational training, access to clean drinking water, energy and road connectivity.
The two countries' ministries and departments have already established working contacts, and recent years have seen the dynamic development of Uzbek-Chinese cooperation, creating the right condition for further strengthening of the comprehensive strategic partnership.
Next year will be a landmark, for the two countries will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties. And thanks to our joint efforts, the historic occasion will add new vitality to our cooperation and bring more benefits to our countries and peoples.
The author is ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the Republic of Uzbekistan to the People's Republic of China.