President Xi Jinping on Saturday proposed that China and Central Asian countries build an "economic belt along the Silk Road", a trans-Eurasian project spanning from the Pacific Ocean to the Baltic Sea.
Xi made the official suggestion for the first time during a speech on China's Central Asia strategy at Nazarbayev University in Astana, Kazakhstan.
The proposed economic belt is inhabited by "close to 3 billion people and represents the biggest market in the world with unparalleled potential", Xi said. Observers said the policy speech outlined the new Chinese leadership's diplomatic priority of accelerating comprehensive cooperation with the inland region that is home to China's strategic partners.
Xi is on the second leg of his first Central Asia tour - a sequence of state visits to Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan from Sept 3 to 13. "A nearby neighbour is better than a distant relative," Xi said.
He underscored the more than two millennia of exchanges between China and Central Asia. The two sides are witnessing a "golden opportunity" for deeper cooperation, Xi said.
To create the new economic belt, Xi suggested China and Central Asian countries accelerate policy communication, improve road connectivity, promote unimpeded trade, enhance monetary circulation and enhance understanding.
Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Central Asian studies scholar Sun Zhuangzhi said the integration of transportation links propelled by the "new Silk Road" will "revitalize" the region's inland civilizations.
"Cooperation across the continent is expanding and deepening in scope - from the realms of traditional energy and mineral resources to the thriving collaboration in technologies, investment, finance and services," Sun said.