Pandemic reportedly slows trade from Central Asia to China

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The future direction reportedly came as the Chinese Communist Party's legislature, the National People's Congress, convened in Beijing on March 5 for a more-than-week-long gathering to unveil a new economic blueprint -- known as the country's 14th five-year plan -- and chart a broad course for China to claim its place as a modern nation and true global power.

The annual summit of Chinese lawmakers laid out broad guidelines that would shape the country's growth model over the next 15 years, according to the article.

Preoccupied with growing China's tech industry amid a deepening rivalry with the United States, it reportedly also provided a platform for Xi to tout the merits of his autocratic style and tightening grip on power at home.

The article notes that while the stagecraft of the conclave focused on China's domestic goals, they remain deeply intertwined with Beijing's global ambitions, particularly the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) -- a blanket term for the multibillion-dollar centerpiece of Xi's foreign policy that builds influence through infrastructure, investment, and closer political ties.

The BRI has reportedly suffered setbacks recently due to concerns in host countries over mounting debts, with many governments -- from Africa to Central Asia -- asking China for debt forgiveness and restructuring. Beijing is also looking to rebuild its credibility, which was hurt over its early handling of COVID-19 in the central city of Wuhan, and navigate growing pressure from Western countries that have begun to push back against Chinese tech and political policies.

In the face of this, Beijing has looked for new opportunities to demonstrate global leadership, providing vaccines and medical equipment to countries across the globe and raising climate-change concerns.

Many experts say Beijing will look to build off its growing "vaccine diplomacy" campaign and use China's recent success in fighting poverty to find new ways to build ties and deepen cooperation around the world.

Despite the growing opportunities, China's flagship project [BRI] is also facing plenty of challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic on the ground.

In addition to debt concerns, closed or partially open borders with China's neighbors in South and Central Asia due to China's strict COVID restrictions remain a point of tension, and have led to massive lines, trade bottlenecks, and ballooning transportation costs.

China's overseas energy lending has likewise dropped to its lowest level since 2008, after the pandemic severely hampered deal-making in developing states, according to Boston University's Global Energy Finance Database, which saw financing for foreign energy projects fall by 43 percent to $4.6 billion in 2020.

Pandemic has reportedly slowed trade from Central Asia to China. Only limited traffic is allowed to pass through China's border post with Kyrgyzstan, something the new government in Bishkek is trying to change as it deals with the economic blows of the pandemic.

Kyrgyz Prime Minister Ulukbek Maripov reportedly met with Du Dewen, China's ambassador to Bishkek, on March 3 to discuss speeding up border crossings and increasing trade, but progress remains uncertain as long as China stays wary of the spread of COVID-19 in Central Asia.

Similarly, traders in Tajikistan are still grappling with border closures as they remain cut off from their main export destination. Many of the merchants complain they are being squeezed out by Chinese competitors.

Preliminary Chinese trade data for 2020 shows that imports to China from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan fell by more than 45 percent compared to 2019.

Trade and relations with neighboring Russia, however, appear to still be a bright spot for Beijing, according to the article. Russian customs figures show that China continues to make up a growing share of its trade as Moscow increasingly finds itself sanctioned and cut off from the West. Political ties between Beijing and Moscow are reportedly also deepening

The article notes that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national-security adviser Jake Sullivan are expected to meet with their Chinese counterparts in Alaska on March 18 for the first meeting between Beijing and the administration of President Joe Biden.

China is also looking to take successful policies at home and build upon them abroad under the banner of the BRI. China was the only major world economy to expand last year and many of its neighbors across Eurasia are hoping Chinese economic growth can help them with a post-pandemic recovery.

Source: Asia-Plus