CENTRAL ASIA'S PATH TOWARDS HARMONY
The development of comprehensive cooperation relations with the countries of Central Asia and the promotion of the region's profile in the modern system of international relations are among the key priorities of the foreign policy of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
This vision is based on fundamental factors – historical, geographical, cultural, linguistic and religious similarity of the peoples of the region and is aimed at creating legal, economic and organisational conditions for sustainable socio-economic development of Central Asia; free movement of goods, services, capital and labor; improving the living standards of the population and its security and effective fight against external threats.
The special role of Central Asia in the further development of our state is indicated in the Kazakhstan 2050 Strategy. It is adequately reflected in the Foreign Policy Concept of the Republic of Kazakhstan and other strategic documents.
As President Nursultan Nazarbayev noted, “Kazakhstan has always sought close cooperation with its neighbours, especially with the countries of Central Asia, which share a common history, culture, world view and outlook."
Astana considers the economic potential of the region as a common resource which could be used in the most rational and efficient manner only by a collective effort.
Currently, there is a growing desire of the regional states to resolve the issues that are piling up. Today, the countries of Central Asia are united in understanding the need to develop regional cooperation on a wide range of issues – from security to economy.
Over the past two years, interstate and interregional relations have reached a new level of active cooperation; the political will of the regional leaders played a major role in making a breakthrough in five-party relations.
Leaders of the Central Asian states in Astana, July 6, 2018
An important common achievement in the Central Asian vector was the Working Consultative Meeting of the Presidents of Central Asia, which was held on March 15, 2018 in Astana. This was the first meeting in many years in such a format, where the leaders of our countries identified the basic priorities of five-party cooperation and outlined plans for the future.
As a result of the forum, there was agreement to hold such meetings at the highest level on an annual basis on the eve of the Nauryz holiday. Currently, the parties are preparing for the next summit in Tashkent (Uzbekistan).
There was a decision to coordinate efforts to ensure regional stability and security and fight terrorism, religious extremism and drug trafficking.
The sides expressed readiness to intensify trade and economic cooperation, including through the development of interregional and cross-border relations, improvement of conditions for investment cooperation, transition of economies to a new innovative digital platform, optimisation of tariff policy and simplification of administrative procedures in transit traffic.
At the same time, it is important to emphasise that the mechanism of consultations does not have a block orientation or ideas of positioning the region against external players. Central Asian countries are interested in developing cooperation with all partners, including China, Russia, the United States, the European Union and other countries.
In fact, the March summit recognised and supported the point that only close cooperation and interaction of all countries in the region can ensure its political and economic self-sufficiency.
Thus, the Central Asian countries managed to build a solid system of good-neighbourly relations in the region. Our fruitful five-party cooperation has been intensified in almost all areas.
Thus, the five-party meetings of the foreign ministers of Central Asia have become regular. At the meetings within the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly in New York in 2017 and Cholpon-Ata (Kyrgyzstan) in 2018, the ministers adopted joint statements. An important step was the adoption on the initiative of Kazakhstan of the 2018-2019 Programme of Cooperation between the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of the region in November 2017 in Samarkand (Uzbekistan).
The security councils of Central Asia establish regular consultations at the bilateral level. Quite noticeable are the increased contacts in the field of regional security and anti-terrorist activities. Our countries have the same or similar approaches in this area.
Regional states strengthen cooperation at the level of special services and law enforcement agencies in the fight against illegal migration, drug trafficking, organised crime and other challenges and threats. On October 5-7, the Ministers of Internal Affairs of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan successfully held the first meeting in Cholpon-Ata, where the parties agreed to consider the possibility of creating a permanent regional advisory body - the Central Asian Ministerial Meeting for Internal Affairs – designed to coordinate the efforts of the ministries of internal affairs in the fight against trans-regional crime.
Efforts are being coordinated to stabilise the situation in Afghanistan. After being elected to the UN Security Council, Astana began to use the opportunities of this most influential international organisation to promote the interests of all five Central Asian states.
During its presidency of the UN Security Council in January 2018, Kazakhstan initiated substantive and productive discussions on the situation in Afghanistan and measures to strengthen peace, security and development in Central Asia.
Serious progress has been made on the issue of international legal registration of borders with the states of Central Asia. Today, our external borders in the region are the borders of good-neighbourliness and cooperation.
In 2017, the delimitation of the state border with the Republic of Uzbekistan was completed. The signing of the agreement on the State Borders Junction Point of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in Samarkand in November 2017 fully completed the process of delimitation along the entire perimeter of the Kazakh land border.
In December 2017, during the official visit of President of Kyrgyzstan Sooronbay Jeenbekov to Astana, the states signed historical documents - the agreement on the Demarcation of State Borders and the agreement on the Regime of State Borders.
Economic cooperation with the countries of Central Asia, which is the engine of regional cooperation, is developing steadily. Over ten months of the last year, the volume of mutual trade between Kazakhstan and the regional countries increased by 30 percent and amounted to $3.4 billion. At the same time, according to our estimates there is huge potential for further growth in trade, including through the strengthening of private sectors and small and medium-sized businesses in the region.
Interregional and cross-border cooperation is developing dynamically; the number of mutual visits between the regional administrations of our countries is increasing. The states hold large-scale business forums annually and create trading houses and joint ventures. There are already a number of positive examples of effective industrial cooperation between the enterprises of our countries.
In order to establish direct links between business communities, the states established successful business councils held for the first time last year.
Investment cooperation between our countries also has considerable potential. Over the past 13 years, direct investment from Kazakhstan to Central Asia amounted to more than $1.1 billion. The governments of the regional states are constantly working in this direction to find and study promising projects. According to our estimates, there are great opportunities for joint investment in the mining industry, in the field of water and agriculture, engineering, energy, food industry, transport and communications.
The countries increase their transport links and launch new flights and high-speed trains. The development of transit and transport potential has become one of the most priority areas of cooperation. In the future, Central Asia will be able not only to connect the subcontinents, but also to become one of the most important trade hubs in the Eurasian area.
There is a significant increase in the level of cultural and humanitarian cooperation. Cooperation in this dimension is a pillar for building a common atmosphere of trust between our Central Asian peoples.
In March2018, Astana opened the Year of Uzbekistan in Kazakhstan. Such a large-scale event between our countries was carried out for the first time. This year is planned to be the Year of Kazakhstan in Uzbekistan.
In September2018, Cholpon-Ata hosted the third World Nomad Games, which were attended by all countries of Central Asia, and held significant events dedicated to the anniversary of the great writer of Kyrgyzstan Chingiz Aitmatov.
The countries of the region regularly exchange delegations in the fields of culture, sports, tourism and health.
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In general, our region is one of the dynamically developing regions of the world which occupies an important strategic position and has significant human and high aggregate economic potential and natural and industrial resources.
In light of the tasks set by President Nazarbayev in the Kazakhstan 2050 Strategy, we believe that the importance of Central Asia in the foreign policy of our country will consistently increase.
Today, we can already say that there is an emerging basis for the formation of an autonomous region. The countries of Central Asia demonstrate a strong commitment and huge potential in the development of constructive cooperation in all areas on the basis of the principles of good neighbourliness, mutual benefit and respect with regards to mutual interests.
The relations between them have reached the level of a deep strategic partnership with specific vectors in the political, economic, cultural and humanitarian spheres.
Answers to the existing challenges in Central Asia can be found only through further development of cooperation, coordination of joint efforts and continuation of the course towards dialogue both within the region and with external partners.
In this regard, Kazakhstan will continue to take consistent measures to ensure the sustainable development of the region, strengthening its stability and security.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR. Valikhan Turekhanov – Director of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
Turekhanov has been in the diplomatic service since January 1994. He worked in various capacities in the central office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and embassies of Kazakhstan in Russia and Uzbekistan.
He has the rank of Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Envoy of Second class.
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