Political Developments - May 2017

Uzbekistan and China signed around 100 contracts worth a total of US$23 billion during the 5-day visit from 11th-15th May, 2017 of Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to Beijing at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Sectors encompassing energy to oil refining, electricity to agriculture, chemicals to transport and communications were covered. This was Mirziyaev’s first visit to China since his election in December, 2016 after the death of Islam Karimov, who was President of Uzbekistan for more than 25 years.

In addition to Xi Jinping, Uzbek President met China’s Premier Li Keqiang, Chairman of Standing Committee of National People’s Congress Zhang Dejiang and other officials. Main areas of discussion were current state of bilateral relations in trade and investment as also security issues and cooperation in cultural and humanitarian spheres. 

Mirziyoyev and Xi Jinping signed a Joint Declaration and several documents including inter-governmental agreements on technical cooperation, international road transport, financing of projects to improve quality of education in secondary schools, equipping the healthcare sector with modern medical equipment, promoting cooperation between small businesses and private entrepreneurship etc. According to reports, bilateral trade turnover which is expected to reach US$5 billion this year will hit US$10 billion “in the nearest future.” In the energy sector, ten deals worth US$5 billion were signed.

Tashkent seeks technology from China. China is interested in opening up the Uzbek market and in investing mainly in its raw industries. Under Karimov, Uzbekistan’s posture to China was welcoming but wary. Uzbekistan has in recent years drastically increased its natural-gas exports to China, taking advantage of China's investment in Central Asian pipelines and Beijing's efforts to reduce its reliance on Russian gas.

Mirziyoyev said Uzbekistan can learn from China's development experiences, broaden bilateral cooperation in areas including transport infrastructure, energy and mineral resources, water conservancy, equipment, industrial capacity and industrial parks.

UN human rights chief has welcomed a rapprochement with Tashkent and urged Uzbekistan to avoid "repressive policies" in its fight against Islamist radicalization, a growing threat throughout Central Asia. Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein was the first United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit Uzbekistan since the post was created in 1993. Commenting on Mirziyoyev's reform plans, which include an overhaul of the judicial system and measures to tackle religious extremism, Hussein said it was crucial to balance the latter while ensuring individual rights.

Turkey, Russia and Iran, main sponsors of the Syria peace talks in Kazakhstan signed a deal to create “safe zones” inside Syria, in a significant step to ending the conflict. Ankara, chief backer of Syrian opposition, and Moscow and Tehran, which provide military support to Bashar al-Assad’s government agreed to establish four “deconfliction zones” which will be monitored by international troops. However parts of the rebel delegation, which is not a signatory objected to the memorandum which they said “violated the country’s territorial sovereignty.’’ Next round of Talks is scheduled to be held in Astana in mid-July, 2017.

Terrorist forces appear to be on the threshold of Tajikistan, threatening the country’s vital infrastructure and territorial control. According to local observers, it is only a matter of time before Taliban controls a significant part of area in Afghanistan bordering Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Dostum controls most of the land bordering Uzbekistan, while Hekmatyar’s stronghold is in the northwest, bordering Iran and Turkmenistan. The extremist forces’ immediate target is the strategic province of Kunduz, bordering Tajikistan but also close to Uzbekistan.

Presidents of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan attended the Belt Road Forum (BRF) organized by China on 14th-15th May, 2017 in Beijing in which 28 Heads of State/Government along with senior officials of several other countries participated. Turkmenistan and Tajikistan did not attend the Forum. 

On sidelines of BRF, Nazarbayev met several world leaders, including President Vladimir Putin, President of Turkey Erdoğan, President of Belarus Lukashenko, President of Uzbekistan Mirziyoyev, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister of Malaysia Najib Razak and others. Nazarbayev also met UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres who confirmed his participation in the SCO summit. 

President Xi Jinping said that China supports Kazakhstan playing a bigger role in affairs related to international peace and security, and is willing to deepen cooperation under frameworks of United Nations, Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia.

Nazarbayev said Kazakhstan firmly supports the Belt and Road Initiative, and will actively align it with its own Nurly Zhol (Bright Path) initiative. He said that Kazakhstan is willing to deepen cooperation with China in trade, agriculture, mining industry, railway, and technology. Kazakhstan wants to closely cooperate with China on international and regional security and development issues, and promote development of SCO.

OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President Muttonen paid a 3-day visit to Uzbekistan — the first by an OSCE PA president in more than a decade. Muttonen met Uzbek Prime Minister and Foreign Minister among others. President of European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) also visited Uzbekistan for 3 days, signaling renewed reengagement between Uzbekistan and the Bank.

Russian Orthodox Church has criticized Kazakhstan's shift away from Cyrillic script as it will have a negative effect not only on its Russian speakers but Kazakhs themselves. It also did not support Tajikistan's ban on Russian names and surnames. It said that the move away from Russian language, Russian names, from Slavonic alphabet will not lead to broader cultural horizons but will contribute to cultural isolation.

Kazakhstan’s Minister of Religious Affairs and Civil Society, Nurlan Yermekbayev, stated that while the Central Asian nation has kept religious extremism at bay, “no state enjoys absolute protection” against radicalism. He said that today there are no countries in the world which are absolutely safe and guaranteed against religious extremism. Kazakhstan is no exception but, at the same time, Kazakhstan is a very successful, stable and a peaceful country.


May 31, 2017

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About the Author

Ambassador Ashok Sajjanhar

Former Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia; President, Institute of Global Studies and Distinguished Fellow, Ananta Centre

Ambassador Ashok Sajjanhar belongs to the Indian Foreign Service and has acquitted his responsibilities in the diplomatic service for 34 years. He was Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia and has worked in senior diplomatic positions in Indian Embassies/Missions in Washington DC, Brussels, Moscow, Geneva, Tehran, Dhaka and Bangkok and also at Headquarters in India. He negotiated for India in the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations and in negotiations for India-EU, India-ASEAN and India-Thailand Free Trade Agreements.

He contributed significantly to strengthening strategic ties and promoting cultural cooperation between India and USA, EU, Russia and other countries.Ambassador Sajjanhar worked as head of National Foundation for Communal Harmony to promote amity and understanding between different religions, faiths and beliefs. Ambassador Sajjanhar has been decorated by Governments of Kazakhstan and Latvia with their National Awards and by Universal Peace Federation with Title of ''Ambassador of Peace.'' Currently Ambassador Sajjanhar is President of Institute of Global Studies, New Delhi. He writes, travels and speaks extensively on issues relating to international relations, foreign policy and themes of contemporary relevance and significance. He appears widely on TV panel discussions. Ambassador Sajjanhar is interested in reading, music and travelling. His wife Madhu is an economist and an educationist. They have a son and a daughter both of who are accomplished singers. Their son passed out of Yale University and their daughter is pursuing her PhD at University of Minnesota.