Li's Tajikistan trip forges closer SCO ties, firm support for free trade

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Sunday wrapped up his first visit to Tajikistan, forging closer ties with regional countries who jointly voiced firm support for free trade and multilateral economic cooperation.

This is expressed in the joint communique of the 17th meeting of the Council of Heads of Government of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member states and during the multilateral and bilateral meetings.

Addressing the SCO meeting on Friday, Li proposed advancing cooperation in six key areas that include trade, industrial capacity cooperation, connectivity and pledged efforts to make the SCO an example of openness, cooperation and common development among regional countries.

TRADE MORE, GAIN MORE

The SCO was established in 2001 by China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, while India and Pakistan joined as full members in 2017. The eight members account for about 20 percent of the global economy and 40 percent of the world's population.

Li said as the SCO trade has kept growing over the past few years, everyone is made a beneficiary of free trade and regional cooperation.

"Past experience shows that development cannot be achieved behind closed doors, and opening up is the right way forward," Li said.

He called on the SCO member countries to firmly support free trade and the rules-based multilateral trading regime and further advance trade and investment liberalization and facilitation.

Prime ministers and representatives at the meeting agreed that the countries in the region particularly need to safeguard multilateralism and free trade under the new circumstances.

They stressed the importance of "consistently strengthening an open, inclusive, transparent, non-discriminatory and rule-based multilateral trading system, as well as preventing any unilateral protectionist measures in trade," the joint communique said.

Meeting Li on the sidelines of the SCO meeting, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Russia is willing to work with China to safeguard multilateralism and free trade. In particular, Medvedev said he expects the Russia-China trade to exceed 100 billion U.S. dollars this year.

The SCO members, Li said, also need to launch feasibility studies on establishing an SCO free trade area, and develop institutional arrangements for closer regional economic cooperation.

Zooming in on agriculture, Li said China hopes to expand imports of high-quality agricultural products from fellow SCO member countries and also hopes that more specialty Chinese agricultural products will be made available for customers in other SCO countries.

"This is good news, as Russia and Central Asian countries are very keen to increase farm exports to China," said Li Ziguo, a researcher at the China Institute of International Studies.

"This demonstrates that the SCO can fight unilateralism and protectionism, not just in words but also in deeds," said the researcher.

BUILDING BELT AND ROAD

In 2013, it was in Kazakhstan where the idea of building a Silk Road Economic Belt was raised. Now in its fifth year, the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has become a popular international public good, delivering broad benefits.

Li said the SCO serves as a key platform for BRI endeavors.

The member countries reaffirming support for the BRI in the joint communique advocated the creation of a broad, open, mutually beneficial and equal partnership in the SCO space.

Li said China is ready to further synergize the BRI with development strategies of fellow SCO members.

For residents in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, the BRI literally means better roads. China is renovating 23 streets there for free, using new materials like rubble mastic asphalt which makes the surface more durable, water-proof and easy to maintain.

"China today is such a great country," said Nurlan Eshenbayev, head of Bishkek's construction management department. "Our relations have been even closer in recent time."

Meanwhile, Chinese companies are working on a light rail transit in Astana, the first of its kind in Kazakhstan. Scheduled to open in 2020, the 22-km line will make life easier for commuters who sometimes need to beat the city's nightmarish traffic.

But more important is transnational road and railway links. At the SCO meeting, the Chinese premier urged more efforts to ensure that roads connecting SCO countries be built on schedule by 2020. Cross-border railway networks should be expanded as well, he said.

"Convenient and efficient transportation networks are critical to the free flow of production factors, cross-border trade and travels," Li said. "It (connectivity) is a priority of the BRI as it will contribute to the interconnected development of the Eurasian continent."

Tajik Prime Minister Kokhir Rasulzoda said his government has taken the cross-border road and railway construction as a focus to participate in joint efforts to build the Belt and Road.

Rasulzoda said this to the press on Saturday after holding talks with Li during the latter's official visit to Tajikistan.

FRIENDSHIP OVER PAMIR MOUNTAINS

It was Li's first visit to Tajikistan. He described the China-Tajikistan friendship as one that has spanned more than a thousand years and leapt over the Pamir Mountains in a signed article published in a mainstream Tajik newspaper.

The Chinese premier took note of the rapid and healthy growth of bilateral ties and cooperation in all areas at the moment when he met with Rasulzoda.

But people on the streets can tell it better. A Chinese-built thermal power station is now supplying stable electricity to the capital city of Dushanbe. Central heating has been restored for more than 700,000 residents.

"Thank God, our apartment has become warm and comfortable this year," said Muyassar Sadykova, who lives in Dushanbe. She said when it was freezing cold before, her family used to keep warm by throwing old shoes to burn in the stove.

"I think what the Chinese have built here for us is nothing but friendship," said Hikmataullo Zoirov, a local engineer at the Dushanbe-2 thermal power station.

President Emomali Rahmon told Li in their meeting that Tajikistan appreciates China's support and assistance to its economic and social development and is willing to enhance cooperation with China in areas of transportation, agriculture, energy and infrastructure construction, among others.

Li said the development prospects of bilateral relations and their cooperation are broad because the economies of the two countries are complementary.

"We want to deepen the cooperation to let the people of the two countries benefit more and the friendship grow even closer," Li said at the joint press conference with Rasulzoda.

Tajikistan is the first leg of Li's Eurasian trip, which will also take him to the Netherlands and Belgium. He will attend the 12th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Summit in Brussels.

Editor: 曹家宁