The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Heads of States Summit, held in Samarkand on September 15-16, 2022, has been on the agenda of the world public opinion. The SCO attracts the attention of the world public opinion in terms of the fact that it is turning into a serious organization uniting the Eurasian states. In fact, it was seen that the relations of the participating countries experienced some important developments at the Samarkand Summit. The summit is especially important in terms of revealing that Russia is not decisive at the summit, but that China and Central Asian countries are leading. In fact, it is known that one of the purposes of President of Russia Vladimir Putin’s participation in the SCO Summit is to meet with President of China, Xi Jinping.
According to Foreign Minister of Russia Sergei Lavrov, Putin-Xi meeting was quite productive. Russia has asked China for support on two issues. These are China’s assistance against Western sanctions and its support in the war Russia is waging in Ukraine. However, after Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, Moscow did not get the support it demanded from Beijing. The results of the Putin-Xi meeting held at this summit will be emerged in the future.
On the first day of the SCO Summit, a Russia-China-Mongolia trilateral meeting was held and the construction of the Power of Siberia 2 Pipeline for the shipment of Russian gas to China through Mongolia was discussed. The implementation of this project is of great importance in terms of the Moscow administration. Because Russia needs to find alternative markets in the field of energy due to its gradually decreasing relations with Europe. Even if the project is implemented under these circumstances, the countries that will benefit the most from it will be China and Mongolia.
By obtaining the status of a transit country, Mongolia will make Moscow and Beijing dependent on it, and will also provide income from the transit of the pipeline. China, on the other hand, will demand gas prices to be implemented on its own interests, as it always does. If China is the only receiver of Russian gas, Moscow’s hand will be weakened and the Kremlin will lose the advantage of bargaining. Thus, Russia will either not sell gas to China or will have to give it at the prices that Beijing wants. Another negative situation for Russia is the uncertainty of the exact start and end dates of the construction, although the construction of the Power of Siberia 2 Pipeline is expected to begin in 2024.
On the other hand, important steps have been taken in terms of China’s regional policy. The leader of China visited Kazakhstan before heading to the summit in Samarkand. This visit shows that China will develop closer relations with Kazakhstan in the near future. During the visit, the President of Kazakhstan, Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, presented the leader of China with the Order of the Golden Eagle and the parties stated that the relations between the two countries would be “like a golden eagle.”
Following the meeting between the President of Uzbekistan Mr. Shavkat Mirziyoyev and the President of China, the two countries signed agreements totalling 15 billion in the fields of trade, economy, investment, financial and technical cooperation. It was stated that trade between the parties increased to a record level of 8 billion dollars in 2021 and increased by more than 30% since the beginning of this year. Moreover, it was noted that the volume of investments made in the economy of Uzbekistan in the last five years exceeded 10 billion dollars.
In addition, a cooperation agreement was signed in Samarkand for the construction of the part of the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan Railway on the territory of Kyrgyzstan. The construction of the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan Railway is seen as an important project related to the transportation sector of Kyrgyzstan and is one of the strategic projects targeted by the Kyrgyz Government in recent years. If the new corridor is implemented, it is expected that this corridor will be the southern branch of the Eurasian Continental Bridge. Thus, access to the Southeast, West Asia and Middle East markets will be provided. This route will enable the delivery of goods from China to Kyrgyzstan, to the countries of Central Asia and the Middle East, including Türkiye, and to the European Union (EU). Thus, Kyrgyzstan will be able to become one of the key transit countries in the context of the Belt-Road Project.
Kyrgyzstan will turn into an important neighbour for Tashkent, as well as for Beijing. This project is also in line with the interests of Uzbekistan.
Another reflection of the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan Railway Project will be in the dimension of Kyrgyz-Uzbek relations. Because the integration of the two countries will become stronger. In this case, Kyrgyzstan, which is located between Uzbekistan and China, will increase its strategic importance. On the other hand, at the Samarkand Summit, China signed three cooperation agreements with Tajikistan:
- Memorandum of Understanding on strengthening investment cooperation in the field of green growth,
- Memorandum of Understanding on strengthening investment cooperation in the field of digital economy,
- Additional protocol on the implementation of the construction project of the main partial sections of the second phase of the Dushanbe-Kulma (China) highway.
As can be understood, the relations between China and the Central Asian countries at the SCO Summit focused more on the steps taken regarding the implementation of the Belt-Road Project through Central Asia, excluding Kazakhstan. China’s investments in the countries of the region and the implementation of infrastructure projects have been on the agenda. The acceleration of China’s relations with Kazakhstan is mostly due to the negative developments in Russia-Kazakhstan relations.
The deterioration of Russian-Kazakh relations is also in China’s interests. Because the Beijing administration is seizing the opportunity to become a more effective actor in the region by developing closer relations with Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan is also accelerating its search for strategic partners to guarantee its own security due to the threat it perceives from Russia.
In this environment, while Kazakhstan is turning to China, there is also a rapprochement in the relations between Uzbekistan and Russia. On September 15, 2022, Putin and Mirziyoyev signed a Declaration on Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in Samarkand. Putin said the following in his statement on the subject:
“This essential document will bring bilateral relations to an entirely new level, which have always been based on the principles of equality and mutual trust, and do not depend on the current global political situation and external pressure.”
Putin also presented Mirziyoyev with the Order of Alexander Nevskiy, Russia’s state award. The Declaration of Comprehensive Strategic Partnership can be seen as an important development in terms of relations on the Moscow-Tashkent line. Uzbekistan, on the one hand, signed important agreements with China, on the other hand, maintained the principle of “policy of balance between great powers” by taking its strategic partnership relationship with Russia to a more advanced level. At the same time, Uzbekistan has also responded to Russia’s quest in the region, and Tashkent has opened up a new area to Moscow at a time when Russian-Kazakh relations are deteriorating.
Consequently, the SCO Samarkand Summit is important in terms of determining the relations of some countries and designing the form of relations that they will develop in the future. The SCO Summit also revealed the rivalries of the member countries over Central Asia. The ambiguous relations between Russia and China have also become more visible at the summit. This summit was fruitful in terms of the countries of the region implementing their national interests. Kyrgyzstan has reached an agreement on the railway project that it has been waiting for many years. Kazakhstan has provided a balance against Russia by attracting China to its side. Russia, on the other hand, directed its relations with Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan and continued its policy of “maintaining the balance of power between countries” in the region.
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