BEIJING, Sept. 19, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — At first glance, the streets of Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan, look more like a typical Central Asian city. There are not many high rises. Most of the street signs are in Uzbek or Russian, though some newer restaurants also carried English names.
However, a closer look shows that the city, and the country as a whole, is full of vitality. Construction sites for high rise buildings were ubiquitous. By a river, construction for an office building was underway. Outside the construction site, one sign reads: Dream City. On the street nearby parked a brand new black car. On the back of the car, it says: Build your dream. The car is produced by Chinese carmaker BYD. In fact, while older cars on the streets of Tashkent and other major Uzbek cities are Chevrolets, the newer ones are BYD cars.
Such a sight captures a country on the rapid economic development. Under President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s vision for a “New Uzbekistan,” the country has in recent years undertaken a slew of reforms and opening-up. The Uzbek economy is rising sharply, despite the COVID-19 pandemic and a severe global economic downturn. As part of the “New Uzbekistan” development plan, Uzbekistan is seeking to strengthen cooperation with China.
In May, on the sidelines of the first China-Central Asia Summit in Xi’an, Northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, China and Uzbekistan issued a joint statement, aiming to enhance bilateral ties and cooperation in a wide range of areas. Focusing on the bright future of the two countries and the realization of common prosperity, the two sides will comprehensively enhance the level of practical cooperation in various fields, and continue to enrich the connotation of China–Uzbekistan comprehensive strategic partnership in the new era. The two sides agreed to accelerate the development of digital trade, promote further measures to increase bilateral trade volume, explore new growth points for trade cooperation between the two countries, and promote the balanced development of bilateral trade, according to the joint statement.
Just a year earlier, in September 2022, China and Uzbekistan also issued a joint statement, in which they agreed to actively push forward the synergy between the Belt and Road Initiative and the development strategy of “New Uzbekistan” for 2022-2026.
With such close ties on the national level, many Chinese visitors and businesses have flocked to Uzbekistan in recent years. “On average, there are two or three Chinese business delegations visiting Tashkent every day that I know of,” Zuhriddin, who speaks fluent Chinese and help organize such trips, told the Global Times. “There are definitely more Chinese here, either to visit or to do business here.
According to available data, in 2021, more than 1,800 Chinese companies were operating in Uzbekistan, and that number jumped to more than 2,000 by August 2022, media reports revealed. The increasing Chinese presence in Uzbekistan was also visible in major Uzbek cities such as Tashkent and Samarkand, the bustling culture and commerce hub of the country. At dinner time, at a restaurant in the capital city, most guests were Chinese. In Samarkand, many Chinese tourists and business delegations pack out local tourist spots and hotels. BYD has also announced plans for building a local factory in Uzbekistan, according to Zuhriddin.
Vladimir Norov, former secretary general of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and former foreign minister of Uzbekistan, said that China has become the biggest partner for Uzbekistan both in terms of trade and investment, and thanks to the two countries’ deep, historical bonds since the ancient Silk Road, there is a vast potential for cooperation yet to be tapped. “The digital economy is one of the areas where Central Asian countries can benefit from China, which has made such great achievements in areas such as e-commerce, internet of things and industrial internet,” Norov told the Global Times in an interview.
Under the “New Uzbekistan” vision, the country is seeking to bolster its economy by reducing reliance on traditional sectors such as energy and cotton and focusing more on areas such as manufacturing and services. Tourism, for example, has become a top priority for the Uzbek government, as the country holds many advantages in attracting foreign visitors, particularly those from China, thanks to its rich history and crucial role in the ancient Silk Road, which known in Uzbekistan as the “Great Silk Road.” Aziz Abduhakimov, Uzbekistan’s minister of cultural heritage who is in charge of tourism, said that Uzbekistan is taking a series of measures, including relaxed visa policies, increased flights and restoration of historical sites to attract more Chinese tourists to the country.
Tourism is just one area where Uzbekistan is seeking to cooperate with China. Investment is another crucial area. In Termez, the Uzbek city that borders Afghanistan, construction for the Termez international trade zone was underway. As facilities are near ready for use, the company behind the project, Surkhon, is actively seeking investments from China, with executives of the company recently traveling to China as part of a business delegation organized by the Uzbek government. “We hope that Chinese companies can come here to join us and doing investment projects here,” Laziz, an investment project manager at Surkhon, told the Global Times. Specifically, Laziz said, the company is hoping that Chinese companies can bring new technologies, green energy and manufacturing projects to the zone, which offers a slew of incentives for such investments, including special tax and tariff arrangements and easy logistics that connect to Afghanistan and other countries in the region.
As Uzbekistan seeks to develop its industrial sector, Chinese investments and experience could play a huge role, and Uzbekistan could also play an important role in China’s efforts to boost trade, Norov said. China has supported industrialization across many countries and regions, including Africa and Latin America, that could be a “great advantage of cooperation with China,” he said. More than just investments and technologies, Uzbekistan also has huge demand for Chinese products. “I always said if China looks to boost its trade, it should first of all look at neighboring countries for growing its trade,” Norov said, noting that Uzbekistan can not only consume many Chinese products but could also play a vital role in connecting Chinese products with Central Asian and European markets.