by Xinhua writers Yang Yijun, Luo Jun, Li Jianmin
TASHKENT, June 22 (Xinhua) -- In a two-day state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping, China and Uzbekistan, two important nations along the ancient Silk Road, agreed to upgrade their bilateral relationship to a "comprehensive strategic partnership," vowing to deepen ties in various fields.
Following three-hour-long talks in Tashkent on Wednesday, Xi and his Uzbek counterpart, Islam Karimov, signed a joint statement to elevate China-Uzbekistan relations to a "comprehensive strategic partnership."
The upgrade was based on the "unprecedented high standard of China-Uzbekistan high-level interaction, political mutual trust and win-win cooperation" they have scored since establishing a strategic partnership in 2012, said the document.
In the joint statement, both sides outlined the cooperation plan for their new partnership in such areas as political mutual trust and support, the China-proposed Silk Road Economic Belt initiative, national and regional security, cultural and people-to-people exchanges, and collaboration on international affairs.
"The upgrade set a new significant milestone in China-Uzbekistan relations," Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Li Huilai told a press briefing later Wednesday, noting it "opened a new page in the history of bilateral ties."
The two sides decided to continue to strengthen mutual support on issues concerning their core interests such as territory, sovereignty and security, render strong support to each other in their choices of development paths, and enhance communication and coordination on major international and regional issues.
They also vowed to resolutely crack down on "the three evil forces" of terrorism, separatism and extremism, and actively cooperate on cyber security, drug control and combating cross-border organized crimes.
"To strengthen all-round cooperation between us is in keeping with the trend of the times and serves the fundamental interests of both countries and peoples," Xi said in an address to the Uzbek Parliament on Wednesday afternoon.
He called on both sides to "think creatively to explore the full potential of our cooperation, so that it will have new models and richer contents."
BELT AND ROAD
Addressing the parliament, the Chinese president highlighted the role of Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries in the construction of the Belt and Road Initiative.
The initiative, proposed by Xi in 2013, refers to the building of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road. It is aimed at building a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient trade routes.
China would like to invite Uzbekistan and other countries to seize the historic opportunity to jointly pursue greater progress of the Belt and Road Initiative in both breadth and depth, stressed Xi, noting the Silk Road has witnessed the peaceful and harmonious interactions between Chinese and Uzbeks for over 2,000 years.
China has been Uzbekistan's second largest trading partner and biggest source of investment for three years in a row.
Yismat, a scholar at the Tashkent State Institute of Oriental Studies, said that the Belt and Road Initiative has opened up many opportunities for Uzbekistan and that early harvests are expected on some projects.
During the visit, both sides agreed to push for the implementation of previously agreed projects and strengthen win-win cooperation in wide-ranging fields such as high-tech, trade, investment, energy, transportation, agriculture and finance.
On Wednesday afternoon, Xi and Karimov hailed the inauguration of the 19.2-km Qamchiq Tunnel, which is part of the Angren-Pap railway line that connects Tashkent and Namangan. Built by the China Railway Tunnel Group, the tunnel goes through Qurama Mountains and is the longest of its kind in Central Asia.
"It is a major outcome of the Belt and Road Initiative that China and Uzbekistan are jointly promoting, and also a new link in the friendship and cooperation of both peoples," Xi said.
In his address at the parliament, the Chinese president called for building a "green, healthy, intelligent and peaceful" Silk Road.
He pledged to uphold the principles of wide consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits in the construction of the Belt and Road Initiative.
The initiative's primary planning and layout have completed and it is now stepping into the stage of taking roots and intensive cultivation for sustained development, according to the Chinese president.
The first stop of Xi's Uzbekistan visit was the famous historical and cultural city of Bukhara, which he called a "shinning pearl on the ancient Silk Road."
On Tuesday, Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan, accompanied by Uzbek Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev, took a detailed tour of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in central-southern Uzbekistan with great interest.
After asking detailed questions on the history and traditions of Bukhara, the Chinese president said the tour gave him profound understanding of the deep-rooted historical connections between China and Uzbekistan.
Qodir Djuraev, a member of the Uzbek Parliament, told Xinhua after Xi's speech on Wednesday that he is impressed by Xi's extensive knowledge of, and respect for, the Uzbek culture.
In the speech, Xi said that Uzbekistan has a rich and proud cultural heritage. "This land has produced a galaxy of eminent scholars of world renown," he said, adding the precious jewels of Uzbek culture continue to exude wisdom and truth now as ever.
Xi's visit to Bukhara showed his "true respect" for the country's history and culture, Karimov said, calling Xi and the Chinese people "true friends" of the Uzbek people.
In recent years, China and Uzbekistan have maintained close cultural and people-to-people exchanges. Uzbekistan opened the first Confucius Institute in Central Asia in Tashkent in 2005, and a second such institute was established in 2014 in Samarkand, a historical city Xi visited during his first state visit to Uzbekistan in 2013.
Accompanied by Karimov's wife Tatyana Karimova, Peng paid a visit to the Confucius Institute in Tashkent on Wednesday, encouraging the institute to cultivate more talents for promoting bilateral friendship.
In Tashkent, Xi will also attend a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization on June 23-24.
Uzbekistan is the third and final stop of Xi's three-nation tour, which has taken him to Serbia and Poland. Enditem
(Xinhua reporter Hao Weiwei also contributed to the story)