The Central Asian Orogenic Belt (c. 1000–250 Ma) formed by accretion of island arcs, ophiolites, oceanic islands, seamounts, accretionary wedges, oceanic plateaux and microcontinents in a manner comparable with that of circum-Pacific Mesozoic–Cenozoic accretionary orogens. Palaeomagnetic and palaeofloral data indicate that early accretion (Vendian–Ordovician) took place when Baltica and Siberia were separated by a wide ocean. Island arcs and Precambrian microcontinents accreted to the active margins of the two continents or amalgamated in an oceanic setting (as in Kazakhstan) by roll-back and collision, forming a huge accretionary collage. The Palaeo-Asian Ocean closed in the Permian with formation of the Solonker suture. We evaluate contrasting tectonic models for the evolution of the orogenic belt. Current information provides little support for the main tenets of the one- or three-arc Kipchak model; current data suggest that an archipelago-type (Indonesian) model is more viable. Some diagnostic features of ridge–trench interaction are present in the Central Asian orogen (e.g. granites, adakites, boninites, near-trench magmatism, Alaskan-type mafic–ultramafic complexes, high-temperature metamorphic belts that prograde rapidly from low-grade belts, rhyolitic ash-fall tuffs). They offer a promising perspective for future investigations.