Kazakhstan and Russia, which are among the founders of the EAEU, will continue to remain the “locomotives” of Eurasian integration, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said at the Munich Security Conference on Friday (15 February).
Tokayev, who was elected last June following the surprising stepping down of his predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev, spoke in a panel dedicated to Central Asia together with the President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani.
According to a transcript obtained by EURACTIV, Tokayev focused on the issue of integration within the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), which includes Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan. Kazakhstan is a founding member of EAEU and diplomats from the region recognise that the initiative came from Nazarbayev, who first suggested the idea in a speech in Moscow in 1994.
Tokayev however insisted that EAEU, in which Russia is by far the largest member, “is an economic project without a political dimension”. “It is a partnership of sovereign nations whose focus is on how to improve the environment for businesses and investment and remove barriers to trade both within member countries and from its outside partners”, he said.
The size of the market within the EAEU is around 182 million consumers, and thanks to its membership, Kazakhstan is able to attract foreign investments from businesses that are looking to enter other EAEU markets, said Tokayev. The population of Kazakhstan is 18 million.
Kazakh diplomats have argued in favour of closer ties between the EU and EAEU. However, the European Commission is much more cautions, saying that such relations remain a long-term goal but depend on “political decisions of EU members” and the implementation of the Minsk peace agreement (for Eastern Ukraine).
Belt and Road
The Kazakhs President also touched upon the China-favoured ‘Belt-and-Road’ initiative, which by the way is another brainchild of Nazarbayev, who first suggested that China and Central Asia cooperate in building a Silk Road Economic belt in 2013, an a speech in the capital of Kazakhstan during the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Five years after the Belt and Road initiative was announced, “it is clear that this initiative has become a major driver for stimulating international cooperation and global economic growth”, Tokayev said.
The Kazakhs President said that over the past five years, the trade turnover between China and Belt and Road countries amounted to more than $5 trillion, while the volume of direct investments of China in foreign countries exceeded $70 billion.
With the participation of Chinese companies, more than 80 trade zones have been established and over 200,000 jobs have been created, Tokayev said. He enumerated some of the large infrastructure projects that had been commissioned in Kazakhstan and other countries in the region: the dry port of Khorgos on the border with China; the port of Aktau on the Caspian Sea; a new railway corridor Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran with a total length of about 900 km, connecting the countries of Central Asia with the Persian Gulf and the port of Bandar Abbas in southern Iran; international transit corridor Western Europe–Western China.
EU and Central Asia
After the Russia-led and the China-led mega-projects, Tokayev also mentioned the EU strategy for Central Asia, adopted in June 2019, which in his words reflects “the modern vision of the interaction of the two regions, including current geopolitical realities, changing needs and new opportunities of the countries of the Central Asian region”.
He mentioned that Kazakhstan became the first Central Asian state to sign a new Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (EPCA) with the EU and its member states, which was recently ratified and has entered into force.
US and Central Asia
Tokayev also mentioned the United States, saying that it was “important for Kazakhstan to successfully implement the C5 + 1 platform aimed at strengthening regional cooperation, developing the economy and protecting the environment”. “C5 + 1” stands for the five former Soviet republics Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan, and the United States.
“It is important to note the role of the United States in ensuring the security of Central Asia. The efforts of the United States and the international coalition to stabilize Afghanistan enables our region to concentrate on economic growth and improving the well-being of its citizens”, Tokayev said.
He mentioned his country’s commitment to helping the processes of domestic reconciliation in Afghanistan, expressing the hope that the “responsible US withdrawal” from this country would not leave a power vacuum.
“Sustainable development in Afghanistan will be enhanced by strengthening economic relations with Central Asia, in a way that the region could “export stability” to this country”, Tokayev said.
Another example of successful cooperation he mentioned was Operation Zhusan, where with the logistical support from the United States, Kazakhstan brought back more than 500 of its citizens, mainly women and children, from Syria.