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China Expands Influence in Central Asia with Disaster Relief Initiative

China and the five states of Central Asia are creating a mechanism to improve responses to natural disasters. 

The heads of emergency-response agencies for all six nations signed a cooperation agreement following a meeting in the western Chinese city of Urumqi. The pact establishes a working group to mitigate risks and develop more efficient natural disaster response plans.

“This mechanism will serve as a new platform for deepening mutually beneficial and practical cooperation among the six countries,” the Business Kazakhstan outlet quoted a statement by China’s Ministry of Emergency Management (MEM) as saying. “China is willing to strengthen communication and coordination with the five Central Asian countries in the field of emergency management to contribute to building a closer China-Central Asia community with a shared future.”

There also may be an anti-terror/security element contained in the proposal. Wang Manda, an MEM representative, indicated that the agreement envisions the holding of joint emergency-response exercises to address potential “accidents” involving oil and natural gas pipelines.

“Over the past year, as part of the China-Central Asia emergency management cooperation, the Chinese side has held a number of events, including forums of high-level think tanks on emergency management, workshops on improving industrial safety, and exchanges of experience in the field of preventing security risks,” a report published by the official Chinese news agency Xinhua stated.

Tajikistan’s top disaster-management official, Rustam Nazarzoda, lauded the agreement, saying it will “help deepen integration processes and expand cooperation in the field of disaster risk reduction,” according to the country’s official Khovar news agency.

A World Bank report issued in late 2023 noted that Central Asia is a region “highly exposed to natural hazards, especially floods, earthquakes and landslides.”

The report added that “the annual average population affected by floods in these countries reaches almost 1 million, while the annual average population affected by earthquakes is almost 2 million. In the last 20 years, these disasters have caused losses in excess of US$ 1.5bn.”

Earlier this year, flooding across Central Asia displaced tens of thousands of citizens and caused extensive property damage.