Xi says China, Central Asia must 'fully unleash' potential

Xi Jinping called on China and Central Asia to "fully unleash" their potential in trade, economic and infrastructure cooperation Friday, as he wrapped up a landmark summit with heads of state from the strategically vital region.

The Chinese leader is hosting the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan at a summit in Xi'an in northern China this week -- a meeting Beijing has said is of "milestone" significance.

Beijing says trade with Central Asia reached $70 billion in 2022 and expanded 22 percent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2023.

The region is also a crucial link in China's trillion-dollar global infrastructure project, the Belt and Road Initiative.

Speaking to regional leaders, Xi said the countries must "fully unleash the potential of traditional cooperation in economy, trade, industrial capacity, energy and transport," according to a state media readout.

He also stressed the need to develop "new growth drivers... such as finance, agriculture, poverty reduction, low carbon, health, and digital innovation".

"China and Central Asian countries should deepen strategic mutual trust, and always offer clear and strong support for each other on issues of core interests."

Belt and Road is a defining geopolitical project for Xi, with Beijing keen to restart cooperation and fill the vacuum left in former Soviet states by Russia's war in Ukraine.

On Friday, Xi said the region and China must "take the lead" in that project and "deepen strategic mutual trust".

Beijing will aim to expand transport links with the region, he said, and work to speed up the expansion of the Central Asia-to-China gas pipeline.

Xi also pledged 26 billion yuan ($3.7 billion) in ...

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