The current political and economic developments in the Central Asian region, the region’s place in world geopolitics is increasingly becoming the subject of discussion by analysts and political scientists, both in the region and far beyond. Releases devoted to the polemic around the Central Asian affairs often appear in the media and on the websites of think-tanks.
Last week, a discussion meeting “Integration processes in Central Asia: a joint economic and security space” was held at the Bishkek-based French Institute for Central Asian studies, reports Kyrgyz portal Borbor.kg
The event was attended by local experts and Institute’s staff.
United “by the interests”, the Central Asian nations can successfully lobby the regional aspirations in the world arena. The region, possessing the richest energy wealth on earth, could take a leading position in the world. Central Asia has significant land resources, proving its agricultural potential, —this point of view was voiced by the expert on business Juma Abdullayev.
“We only need to unite to become a strong region,” he added.
According to orientalist Nurlan Alniyazov, the settlement of the Afghan conflict will accelerate the implementation of transport and communication projects across Central Asia, including the EEU, TAPI, TRACECA, CASA, etc.
Keeping up the views expressed by colleagues, Alniyazov also stressed that “the period of economic transformation is almost completed and it is necessary to take practical steps to build mutually beneficial regional economic integration.”
The hue of dialogue in Bishkek contrasts with the way of discourse, which took place thousands of miles away from the region.
Dr. Elmira Satybaldieva, research fellow at the University of Kent’s Conflict Analysis Research Centre, and Dr. Paul Stronski, senior fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace talked about the role of USA, China and Russia in Central Asia during a Pacific Council on Foreign Policy teleconference. (Pacific Council is a Los-Angeles-based non-commercial organization, which convenes events, teleconferences on various aspects of global politics).
Opinions and arguments voiced by analysts can be summarized as follows:
– Central Asia is a kind of geo-economic and geopolitical space, representing a field of competition between China and Russia, while the USA is the longest economic actor in the region, being always focused on economic investments.
– In the competition between China and Russia, the advantages are on the side of China, as Russian interventions abroad and in Ukraine have provoked nationalism and negative reactions in Central Asia.
– China and Russia continue to be the main actors in the hydrocarbon markets of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. As noted by Satybaldieva, “the presence of all three powers and their contestation for economic dominance takes place primarily in the three resource-rich countries [Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan]. The other two, resource-poor countries, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, are largely ignored.”
– The Eurasian Economic Union initiated by Russia is a counter response to the Beijing initiative of the Belt and Road, and both initiatives go beyond securing energy contracts in Central Asia and have serious social and environmental costs.
– China and Russia share common desire – stability and security in Central Asia. Stronski explained that the former Soviet republics of Central Asia are a buffer zone for Russia from the swath of instability that stretches on the southern outskirts from the Middle East via Afghanistan to Pakistan. China also prefers security in Central Asia for reasons of the geographical proximity of the region.
– Both Stronski and Satybaldieva predict security problems for Russia and China when the United States “pulls entirely out Afghanistan”.
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Russian involvement in Ukraine, Russia-China-US contestation in Central Asia, downward projections on security situation in the region after the US possible exit from Afghanistan, in addition to the mandatory mention of the Belt and Road strategy as an instrument of domination around the world are the standard rhetoric of some pro-western experts.
Nevertheless, the expert community from Central Asia, having insight into the home events and transformations, observes two integration processes, underway in parallel in the Central Asian region. These are internal integration (when the all “five” are trying to get closer with each other, even if in bilateral formats), and external integration into the world political system, economic.
Obviously, northern neighbor Russia and eastern neighbor China are important players in the region. However, proverb says a near neighbor is better than a far-dwelling kinsman.
At the same time, each of the five countries, having accumulated some experience in the world arena, is aware of fact that competition should have a healthy business nature, and resources and economic relations cannot be politicized and mixed into political bargain.
Naturally, Afghanistan always comes to the fore in the matters of security in Central Asia. Here Central Asian countries adhere to approximately similar line of action. Central Asian nations try to engage Afghanistan in regional infrastructural and humanitarian partnership rather than isolate themselves from the troubled neighbor.
Turkmenistan, not getting caught in an endless loop of arguments on security, has agreed with Afghanistan on strategic partnership. The countries improve rail links, build TAPI gas pipeline.
Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan make efforts in building up human capacity through training Afghan youth in their universities. Afghan villages are alight with Turkmen and Uzbek electricity.
Kazakhstan is one of the largest donors to Afghanistan. According to the Kazakh foreign ministry, Kazakhstan’s assistance to Afghanistan has been estimated at near US $ 75 million, Sputnik reported. The donations are spent for the personnel training, delivery of food, clothing, basic necessities and the construction of infrastructure facilities.
In short, Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbors are not only talking about how to set the peace on Afghan soil, but they are also moving the country towards peace and reconstruction through tangible deeds.
Each of the Central Asian countries with 28-year history of independence has already decided on partners and friends, has formulated own vision about the future, has acquired a certain economic potential, has learned how to declare vital interests and all of them sometimes subtly adjust a foreign policy line, becoming uneasy to manipulate. /// nCa, 25 February 2019