China's Xi Jinping this week invited the leaders of the ex-Soviet republics of Central Aisa to a first joint summit in China, a bid to boost Beijing's influence in Russia's backyard.
The Chinese president extended the offer to the "first China-Central Asia summit", scheduled for May, in similar telegrammes sent on Monday and Tuesday to the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and made public by the recipients.
Reclusive Turkmenistan, the top supplier of gas to China, has not yet announced whether it has been invited to the gathering.
The authoritarian republics of Central Asia were part of the Soviet Union and have been dominated by Moscow since the mid-19th century.
But Russia's influence is being challenged, increasingly since the invasion of Ukraine.
Beijing is courting Moscow's traditional allies in the region, both politically and economically -- the latter via projects such as the mammoth road, rail and port infrastructure scheme designed as a modern iteration of the Silk Road through Central Asia and beyond.
Turkey and Western powers are also seeking to bolster their influence in the strategically located mineral-rich region.
In addition to Xi, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, chief European Union diplomat Charles Michel and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken have all beaten a path to Central Asian doors in recent months.
Xi also hosted an online regional summit in January 2022 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Sino-Central Asian diplomatic relations since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In the four invitations sent out on Monday and Tuesday to mark Nowruz, the Persian New Year, which is celebrated in the region, Xi underlined the strengthening ties between China and the Central Asian regimes.
The missive published by the official Tajik news agency Khovar quotes Xi as saying he is "eager to discuss a grand plan to develop relations" between his country and the region.
However, Beijing's increasing influence is not universally welcomed.
Sections of the population in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, which along with Tajikistan have borders with China, have voiced a degree of concern and opposition. All have Muslim majorities.
These concerns relate particularly to land acquisition by China, government debt owed to Beijing and the latter's brutal treatment of its Muslim Uyghur minority, which is also present in Central Asia.