TASHKENT, Oct. 31 (Xinhua) -- China-Uzbekistan relations have entered the fast lane of development and future prospects for bilateral ties remain gratifying.
China-Uzbekistan relations have been marked by a high level of mutual trust, Chinese Ambassador to Uzbekistan Jiang Yan told Xinhua in an interview ahead of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's official visit to the central Asian country scheduled for early November at the invitation of Uzbek Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov.
The leaders of the two countries have met several times, reached a number of important agreements and set the course for the future direction of bilateral relations, Jiang said.
China is Uzbekistan's largest trading partner, largest source of imports and largest destination of exports. Last year, China-Uzbekistan trade surged 48.4 percent year-on-year, reaching 6.26 billion U.S. dollars.
According to data published by the State Committee of the Republic of Uzbekistan on Statistics, around 1,500 Chinese enterprises are operating in Uzbekistan.
Bilateral cooperation has surged in such areas as oil and gas exploration, pipeline transportation, infrastructure, telecommunications, textile, chemical industry, logistics and agriculture.
Breakthroughs have been made in cross-border railways and highways, which have greatly improved the efficiency of cross-border transportation. The China-Europe Railway Express links many major Chinese cities with Tashkent, while the Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan-China transport corridor has met the need of short-distance cross-border cargo transportation.
Uzbek agricultural products such as cherries and mung beans entered the Chinese market last year and are favored by Chinese consumers. Uzbekistan will participate in the second China International Import Expo in November as a guest country of honor, during which 12 Uzbek enterprises will exhibit their agricultural products.
The two countries have also witnessed closer people-to-people and cultural exchanges. More Uzbek students are studying at the Confucius Institutes in Tashkent and Samarkand, and more are coming to China to study Mandarin. Furthermore, Shanghai University established a center for Uzbek culture studies, while other Chinese universities started to offer Uzbek language courses.
In 2012, a joint international archaeological expedition of Chinese and Uzbek scientists began excavating the ancient settlement of Mingtepa, a "living fossil" of the Silk Road dating back 2,000 years in Uzbekistan's Andijan region.
Last year, Uzbekistan launched its e-tourism visa system and introduced five-day visa-free entry for Chinese tourists, resulting in an uptick in visitors. In September, the country issued a decree to allow Chinese nationals to visit the country for seven days visa-free starting from 2020, becoming the first Central Asian country to grant a visa exemption to Chinese citizens.
China has also introduced multiple measures to simplify visa procedures for Uzbek tourists.
During Aripov's visit to China in August, the two sides formally signed an agreement to provide certain business people from both countries with multiple entry visas for up to six months.
"With joint efforts, China-Uzbekistan cooperation within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative will achieve more results, and our bilateral relations will rise to a new level," said Jiang.