Chinese President Xi Jinping (L front) is welcomed by Kazakhstan First Deputy Prime Minister Askar Mamin upon his arrival in Astana, Kazakhstan, June 7, 2017. (Xinhua/Pang Xinglei)
Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Astana Wednesday for a state visit to Kazakhstan and the 17th meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).[Special coverage]
During his stay in the Central Asian country, Xi will also attend the opening ceremony of the Expo 2017 in Astana.
"I am glad to come to the beautiful country of Kazakhstan. I have been deeply impressed by the magnificent Kazakh steppe, vibrant rivers, the racing horses and most of all, the warm-hearted and sincere Kazakh people," Xi said in a written statement released upon his arrival at the airport.
"China and Kazakhstan, friendly neighbors bound by mountains and rivers, have been committed to consolidating our political mutual trust, strengthening cooperation in all areas, and promoting our coordination in international and regional issues since they established diplomatic relations 25 years ago," he noted.
"The booming China-Kazakhstan relationship has brought concrete benefits to the two countries and their peoples," he said. "I look forward to engaging in deep-going exchanges with my old friend, President Nursultan Nazarbayev, and chart the course of our bilateral relations together."
The Chinese president also expressed his readiness to exchange ideas with other top leaders of the SCO members, and wished the Expo 2017 in Astana a full success.
The trip marks Xi's first visit to Central Asia this year. The Chinese leader had visited Kazakhstan twice since taking office, respectively in 2013 and 2015.
"Over the past quarter of a century, our bilateral relations have withstood the test of time and the ever-changing international situation," Xi said in a signed article published earlier Wednesday in the Kazakh newspaper Aikyn Gazeti. "Our two countries are not only good neighbors, but also comprehensive strategic partners."
Xi proposed the Silk Road Economic Belt, part of his Belt and Road Initiative, at the Nazarbayev University on Sept. 7, 2013. The country has since then been committed to aligning its development strategy of "Nurly Zhol," or "Bright Path" in the Kazakh language, with the China-proposed initiative.
"Over the past four years, the Belt and Road Initiative has gradually developed from a proposal to actions, and from a concept to practice," said Xi in the article. "We need to synergize our development strategies in a faster pace."
Xi's presence at the Expo 2017, with the theme "future energy," not only shows China's full support to Kazakhstan, but also the importance China attaches to new energy, said Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Li Huilai on Monday.
The highlight of this year's SCO summit will be the formal accession of India and Pakistan to the SCO and China's assumption of the bloc's presidency upon conclusion of the meeting, according to Sun Zhuangzhi, secretary-general of the SCO Research Center at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
The joining of New Delhi and Islamabad, the first ever expansion of the SCO, will make it an eight-member regional organization that covers three-fifths of the Eurasian continent with nearly half of the world's population.
SCO Secretary-General Rashid Alimov said earlier that the membership of India and Pakistan, both regional heavyweights, will enhance the SCO's role in combating cross-border terrorism and promoting free trade.