XI'AN, May 18 (Xinhua) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan hosted a welcome banquet on Thursday evening for guests who gathered in Xi'an, the historical starting point of the ancient Silk Road, to attend the milestone China-Central Asia Summit.
The summit, which runs from Thursday to Friday, is the first in-person gathering among heads of state of China and five Central Asian countries since China established diplomatic ties with them 31 years ago.
From Wednesday to Thursday, Xi met or held talks with Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Turkmen President Serdar Berdimuhamedov.
Japarov and Mirziyoyev were accompanied by their wives on the China trip.
Xi held the banquet for them on Thursday evening in Ziyun Tower, or purple cloud tower in English. Illuminated by red lanterns, the building is located in the Tang Paradise, a complex based on the site of the original relic of an imperial garden dating back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907).
"Since the establishment of diplomatic ties, China and Central Asian countries have gone through an extraordinary journey and made achievements that have impressed the world," Xi said when addressing the banquet.
Despite the changes in international circumstances, China and Central Asian countries have always respected each other, enjoyed good neighborliness, worked in partnership for mutual benefits, and continuously made historic strides in elevating relations, he added.
Xi said China and Central Asian countries have injected positive energy into regional peace and development and made new contributions to the building of a community with a shared future for humanity.
Deepening China-Central Asia cooperation is a strategic choice of the leaders of this generation, which is in line with the prevailing trend of the world and the expectations of the people, he said.
Ziyun Tower is China's largest reconstruction of an architectural relic. It is among a myriad of buildings that exude the architectural style reminiscent of ancient China in Xi'an.
Xi'an, a city founded more than 3,100 years ago, served as the capital for 13 dynasties in Chinese history, including Tang Dynasty, when the city was known as Chang'an.
During its heyday in Tang, the city attracted a significant influx of foreign merchants, envoys, and students. Many of them were from the present-day Central Asian countries.
This is also the place where Chinese envoy Zhang Qian was twice sent to Central Asia on missions of peace and friendship more than 2,100 years ago, starting the Silk Road linking the East and West, Asia and Europe.
Over the past millennia, people in China and Central Asia have created glories of the ancient Silk Road and written a magnificent chapter in the history of exchanges among civilizations, Xi said.
He proposed the idea of building an "economic belt along the Silk Road" in Kazakhstan in 2013, which, combined with the proposal of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, eventually became the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Over the past decade, Central Asian countries have become pioneers in promoting the BRI and have built the region into an example of high-quality BRI development.
Xi said that the China-Central Asia Summit will usher in a new era of China-Central Asia relations.
The banquet was preceded by a welcome ceremony featuring ancient etiquette for greeting guests.
With the vibrant beat of drums, three golden gates of Ziyun Tower opened wide.
"If you have a friend afar who knows your heart, distance cannot keep you two apart." Accompanied by the recitation of the ancient Chinese poem in both Chinese and Russian languages, dancers performed Bayi, an iconic ceremonial dance in ancient China.
After the banquet, Xi, Peng and the guests watched an art performance, which marks the opening of the year of culture and art of the peoples of China and Central Asia as well as the China-Central Asia youth arts festival.
Dancers dressed in terracotta warrior costumes marched to the beat of drums while another group of dancers leaped and spun with the traditional Chinese instrument Pipa in hands to mirror the mural images in Dunhuang, a renowned Silk Road city in northwest China's Gansu Province and home to the UNESCO World Heritage site Mogao Grottoes.
The gala also featured classic songs from the five Central Asian countries.
Central Asian countries are welcome to board the "express train" of China's development, Xi said at the banquet, calling for efforts to jointly strive for even brighter prospects of China-Central Asia cooperation.
Senior Chinese officials Cai Qi, Wang Yi and Qin Gang also attended the events.