Global EditionASIA 中文双语Français
Home / Opinion / Global Views

Meet in the middle

Central Asia offers opportunities for China and the EU to step up their cooperation

By GU WEI | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-06-20 07:54
Share - WeChat

In the context of the prolonged Ukraine crisis and an unstable Middle East, Eurasia is facing rising concerns over supply chain stability and transit security, which is of great significance for the world economy.

Located at the intersection of Europe and Asia, Central Asia has gained increasing attention from the world's major powers. The great powers have been actively participating in Central Asian affairs, and the five Central Asian countries are also diversifying their foreign relations, seeking to strengthen their independence and autonomy by engaging with external forces.

The new situation in Central Asia is not only a manifestation of the competition among great powers, but also offers new opportunities for their cooperation.

Sitting at the two ends of the Eurasian continent, China and the European Union share certain interests and goals in Central Asia, which creates room for their cooperation in the region.

Since the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis, despite the escalating of major power's competition and severe regional challenges, China and the EU have maintained high-level exchanges and strategic communication.

Visits to China by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, as well as the recent reciprocal state visits between the leaders of France and China, indicate there is a consensus on deepening China-EU relations. China and the EU may step up their cooperation in Central Asia, which is situated between the two, and promote their bilateral relations through regional cooperation.

Stability in Central Asia and the region's development are the shared needs of the EU and China. Amid frequent crises in the Eurasian region in recent years, including the Ukraine crisis, Central Asia requires a stable and peaceful environment to promote development. The EU and China, as major neighbors of the region, can contribute to the stability and development of Central Asia.

Central Asia is an integral part in the EU's eastward expansion of its connectivity strategy, the EU's economic cooperation with Asian countries, as well as China's Belt and Road Initiative. Both the EU and China favor stability in Central Asia and are willing to support the development of Central Asian countries, fostering independence and autonomy in the region.

There is a solid foundation for China and the EU to enhance their cooperation in Central Asia.

Central Asia maintains healthy ties with both China and the EU.The EU and China are both important supports for Central Asia's economic growth. The EU is the largest aid donor to Central Asia while China is the main trading partner for the five Central Asian countries and the largest investor for some of them.

Among the major powers, China and the EU were the earliest to upgrade their mechanisms with Central Asia. Since 2022, leaders of China and Central Asian countries have held video meetings, met at their first summit, and launched the secretariat of the China-Central Asia mechanism. The EU has held two meetings with Central Asian leaders and is about to hold its first formal summit.

The establishment of these cooperation mechanisms reflect the high importance China and the EU place on Central Asia.

Moreover, China and the EU have experience and the foundation for conducting third-party market cooperation. In 2015, China and France proposed the concept of "third-party market cooperation "during their cooperation. Subsequently, China and several developed European countries reached a consensus to leverage China's production capacity and developed countries' advanced technologies for cooperation in developing countries. By setting differentiated roles and providing various resources, cooperation projects will be more efficient in promoting the growth of the developing countries. China and the EU's successful experience in developing third-party market cooperation in Southeast Asia can be applied to Central Asia.

Considering the current situation in Central Asia and the interests and needs of all parties, China and the EU should focus on the following areas when cooperating in Central Asia.

First, sanctions and counter-sanctions between Russia and the West, along with the ongoing Ukraine crisis, have severely obstructed logistics and personnel exchanges via Russia.

The EU is proactive in promoting connectivity in Central Asia. The EU has held connectivity meetings and sustainable transport investor forums with Central Asia. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development released its final report on sustainable transport connections between Europe and Central Asia in 2023. The European Investment Bank has signed memorandums of understanding with some Central Asian countries and institutions for cofinancing transport projects.

In September 2023, the China-Central Asia transport ministers' meeting mechanism was established. Freight trains linking China to Europe and Central Asia remain in normal service, and the construction of the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway is progressing.

Leveraging their respective strengths in multimodal transport, China and the EU should work together to establish a stable transport corridor across Eurasia, creating a logistics network to facilitate the green transition.

Second, the EU's "decoupling "from Russian energy has shifted its attention to Central Asian countries, which are rich in resources. Kazakhstan has become the EU's third-largest oil supplier after Norway and the United States. Turkmenistan has signed its first deal to supply natural gas to Hungary, which is also its first-ever commercial agreement to export natural gas to Europe.

Although China and the EU are competing to some extent for the availability of resources in Central Asia, there is still room for cooperation. Oil and gas supply requires infrastructure, an area where China has an advantage. China can engage in third-party market cooperation with the EU in Central Asia, complementing each other's strengths and helping Central Asian countries accelerate infrastructure building so as to increase their total trade volume and improve their resource utilization.

Third, extreme weather, water shortages, desertification and other issues related to natural disasters, climate change, and environmental protection have long troubled Central Asia and are focal points for both the EU and China.

The EU and Central Asian countries have held multiple high-level meetings on environment and water resources, striving to achieve integrated water resource management at the state, regional, and international levels. On May 30, the China-Central Asia emergency management cooperation mechanism was established.

As China and the EU are both advancing their cooperation with Central Asia in these areas, it is suggested to establish a communication mechanism and a new cooperation model among the three parties to build a database, coordinate emergency management mechanisms, and create a regular communication platform for jointly addressing climate change and protecting the environment in the region.

The author is an associate researcher at the Institute of International Relations at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

Contact the editor at

Most Viewed in 24 Hours
Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349