Close examination of relevant Chinese-Uzbekistani documents for the past years exposed a curious pattern of repetitive enunciation of strong mutual political trust that exists between the two countries. Entire bilateral documents and reports in official news agencies are permeated with this phrase (Api.uz, June 7, 2010; Ut.uz, Oct 20, 2011; Uz.china-embassy.org, undated—mid-2000s; Fmprc.gov.cn, June 10–13, 2010, July 23, 2011, Aug 22, 2011; News.xinhuanet.com, Oct. 26, 2011; Eng.chinamil.com.cn, April 23; English.qstheory.cn, June 6; Uza.uz, June 8, July 28). The continued joint repetition of this crucial adage reflects Uzbekistan’s existing foreign and domestic policy needs. This constant reaffirming of mutual political trust shows that Beijing, unlike other outside powers acting in the region, has learned well how to conduct business with Tashkent. China, in Uzbekistan’s eyes, is almost a perfect match for working on agreed benchmarks bilaterally and within trusted multilateral forums.
In local media accounts of bilateral relations, Sino-Uzbek collaboration is characterized as “strong political trust and win-win cooperation and support for each other on major issues concerning respective core interests” (News.xinhuanet.com, June 6). President Hu Jintao has explicitly called his Uzbekistani counterpart, President Islam Karimov, a “close friend of China” and his “long-standing/old friend” (Uza.uz, April 19, 2011). Hu also has emphasized that “[China] will always be a trustworthy friend and reliable partner of Uzbekistan” and considers Uzbekistan “a time-tested friend and important partner” (Uza.uz, June 8, 10). Vice Premier HuiLiangyu, during his visit to Tashkent on September 13, said “both countries valued their relationship and regarded each other as good partners and sincere brothers,” noting “the establishment of a bilateral strategic partnership met the interests of the peoples of both countries” (China Daily, September 13).
Likewise, Xinhua reported that Uzbekistan’s First Deputy Prime Minister RustamAzimov, in a meeting with Chinese State Councilor MengJianzhu—both are chairmen of the China-Uzbekistan inter-governmental cooperation committee—acknowledged that “China is an intimate friend and partner of Uzbekistan” (Xinhua, April 19, 2011). In a recent interview, Chinese Ambassador to Uzbekistan Zhang Xiao informed the Uzbekistani media that the inter-governmental cooperation committee kick-started its work in October 2011 on six key areas: 1) trade and economy, 2) energy, 3) transport, 4) science and technology, 5) humanitarian and 6) security issues (Uza.uz, July 28). Since last fall, the finance, parliamentary and defense establishments of China and Uzbekistan exchanged a number of high-level visits to both Beijing and Tashkent. It is especially notable that Uzbekistan’s inter-parliamentary relations are most active with China, since Tashkent traditionally avoids any supra-national body that could violate its sovereignty.
Out of their bilateral relationship, China and Uzbekistan receive 1) political support and understanding, expressed as non-interference in each other’s internal affairs; 2) financial incentives, investment and know-how from the Chinese side, and Uzbekistan’s readiness to open its energy market for mutual socio-economic development; 3) openness and readiness to share top-notch expertise in defense and security cooperation; 4) a mutual understanding not to resort to moves that may harm each other’s regional security position; 5) and, of course, mutual political respect, honor and dignity.
On the first issue, both sides share common positions on China’s “three Ts”—Taiwan, Tibet and East Turkestan (a Uighur separatist name for Xinjiang Province)—as well as the “three evils” of terrorism, extremism and separatism, all while advocating the principle of non-interference in each other’s domestic affairs. Tashkent trusts that Beijing accepts Uzbekistan’s right to independently decide the path of its state development and the country’s socio-political reforms. At the same time, Beijing’s non-imposing line, openness, and good will are suitable for Tashkent. In their diplomatic messages to Tashkent, Chinese leaders frequently cite favorable socio-economic statistics for Uzbekistan, expressing China’s full support and appreciation of the Central Asian republic’s evolutionary reforms toward a socially-oriented market economy. To illustrate, Barack Obama’s 60-word and Vladimir Putin’s 90-word congratulatory messages were indeed rather dry next to Hu Jintao’s 260-word-long message of congratulations sent to Tashkent on the occasion of the 21st anniversary of Uzbekistan’s Independence Day (Pv.uz, August 30–31).
This mutual Sino-Uzbek amicability dates back to the events in Andijan in May 2005—a crucial moment that brought the two nations closer. President Karimov traveled to Beijing following its aftermath. Prior to his visit, Karimov proclaimed that “Uzbekistan will never depend on anyone,” thus envisaging self-sufficiency and independence in both its foreign and domestic policy. China’s response was guided by the principle enshrined in the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China that says: “China consistently opposes imperialism, hegemony and colonialism, works to strengthen unity with the people of other countries, supports the oppressed nations and the developing countries in their just struggle to win and preserve national independence and develop their national economies” (Fmprc.gov.cn, February 25, 2003; Zhou Yihuang, China’s Diplomacy, 2005, p. 6, Cicc.org.cn). Thus, China stood in support of “a beleaguered and developing nation”in a very delicate and pivotal moment in latter’s contemporary history, managing to gain Tashkent’s lasting allegiance.
It is important to understand that China is a master of performing diplomatic curtsies. As both countries celebrate their anniversary of diplomatic relations on January 2, Beijing is able to use this annual occasion to influence anew the Sino-Uzbek bilateral agenda at the start of every coming year. Hence, China was one of the few countries in the world that sent its diplomatic communication acknowledging the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations not through the usual diplomatic channels but by dispatching a special envoy to Tashkent, thus automatically raising the profile of the relationship for both countries. In addition, China and Uzbekistan have both held Culture Days for the other country several times since 2004. Most importantly for shaping public opinion, the official state media covers these events widely. The next (Chinese) Culture Day is scheduled this October in Uzbekistan. (Xinhua, June 14, 2004; Russian.people.com.cn, July 31, 2006; Uza.uz, July 5, 2011).