Last August, Mr. Akhmetzhan Yessimov, a man with a great economic and diplomatic experience and former Akim (Mayor) of Almaty, appointed Chairman of Astana EXPO-2017 by the President of Kazakhstan. For the energy rich Central Asian country, EXPO-2017 is more than just an exhibition. It is an event that will put Kazakhstan in the international spotlight throughout the whole of 2017. Mr. Yessimov explained in an exclusive interview with Modern Diplomacy, his personal vision on Expo 2017 and the ways Astana Expo will improve the public image of Kazakhstan.
What is your personal vision on Expo 2017 and how will this important event affect the infrastructural development in Astana?
Kazakhstan is the first country of Central Asia accepting the exhibition with a century of history. Holding of EXPO in Astana will give an impulse for development of upper levels of economy – science and knowledge-intensive industries. For Kazakhstan holding of EXPO is primarily economic and infrastructure project.
All progressive ideas and innovations in the field of new energy from the planet will be concentrated at the same venue in Astana. We expect a great number of participants as the theme “Energy of the Future” combines two the most pressing challenges for mankind, ecology and traditional power relief actions in global economy.
Presently 51 countries including France, Germany, the Great Britain, China, Japan, and India confirmed their participation in the exhibition. We expect more than a hundred. The most densely populated regions of Southeast Asia with great number of “tourist mobile” residents showed interest to EXPO-2017. Eleven international organizations, including the World Bank, UNDP, UNESCO, IAEA and others confirmed their participation.
Great interest to EXPO in Astana is shown by the innovative companies of the USA Silicon Valley as Google Earth, Stanford Global Thermostat, Obscura Digital, and Planet Labs. Holding of EXPO will be included into a triad of events, historically important for Kazakhstan, along with the 25th anniversary of Independence of the Republic of Kazakhstan and the 20th anniversary of the capital of Astana. Due to existing hydrocarbon dependence in the world, shift to alternative energy sources is inevitable. Developed and developing countries equally need “green” technologies. We are for universal development of alternative energy sources. EXPO will acquaint the world with more flexible, economic and effective power sources, against the background of negative processes currently proceeding in power field.
At the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly Nursultan Nazarbayev, the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan suggested to make the country a world hub for distribution of green technologies after closure of the World Fair EXPO-2017. EXPO on the theme “Energy of the Future” in Astana will entirely support the initiative of the UN “Sustainable Energy for All”. Healthy global ecological environment is essential for mankind. EXPO-2017 in Astana will bring up a concern of climate change and reduction of environmental emissions.
The exhibition will move up the sphere of rendering services to the international quality standards. We prepare complex infrastructure optimization for the exhibition – land and air transport systems as well as all city services will be ready to accept a large stream of guests. Our objective is not only to pay back invested funds, but also to create perspective infrastructure which will be useful for the city and the country after the exhibition. One cannot write off image-based benefits for further promotion of Kazakhstan initiatives in the world.
In what ways will Astana Expo improve the public image of Kazakhstan? How do you plan to promote Expo2017 and attract participants and visitors around the world?
Kazakhstan, the ninth country in the world with variety of natural landscapes has enormous tourist potential. When 2011 Asian Winter Games took place in Almaty I was Akim of the City, and I am familiar with details of administrative work at outstanding events. After Aziada a stream of foreign tourists increased several-fold, for example, to Shymbulak, a ski resort. I can tell with confidence that we have a developed tourism cluster in large cities belt. In 2016 we will enter an active phase of attraction of member countries to the exhibition.
The exhibition will accept 2.5 million people and over 5 million visits.The effect from visiting EXPO-2017 will replicate on expansion of tourist opportunities of the regions of Kazakhstan.
We have already signed contracts with the largest world international tour operators, including Indian Skyway International Travels, STIC Travel Group, and Chinese CITS, and we are also intended to work with German TUI Group and others.Guests will be able not only to visit the exhibition, but also to see all tourist variety of Kazakhstan.We will provide tour packages as “EXPO + Burabay”, “EXPO + Baykonyr”, “EXPO + Alakol”, “EXPO + Charyn”, “EXPO + Karkaralinsk” and others. We have presented the program “Recommended by EXPO-2017” which would provide the tourists only with the best goods and services during their stay in Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan EXPO-2015 pavilion in Milan was among the top three of the most visited ones and was ready to accept the millionth visitor. Pavilion of Kazakhstan in Milan was quintessence of national traditions and modern achievements of the country.
How important is the sustainable energy policy and its promotion for the Astana Expo 2017 and for the international recognition of Kazakhstan itself?
Kazakhstan possesses serious raw materials and energy resources.At the end of the last century the Republic joined the world leaders in oil export. Despite advantages, in long-term prospects it is not the most favourable scenario for development of economy. Dependence on hydrocarbons will result in gradual stagnation of economy.Substantial adherence to prices for oil and gas, negative consequences from fluctuations in the raw market have already collapsed economies of a series of countries.The perspective to shift to alternative energy sources is particularly acute around the world.
In the last decades problems in power field became sources for global crises.New energy is interesting for the countries which are concerned in diversification of economy. Nowadays focus is shifted from obtaining oil and gas dividends to new, more flexible sources of power and income. Ecological aspect is also important. Presently our objective is to reconcile industrial development with requirements of nature conservation.We need to expand utilization of low-carbon technologies with maximum possible methods of recycling.
Kazakhstan is intended to become a world hub for development of green power. New energy has to become a tool to start up economy of the future. EXPO-2017 will give a new direction for development of power field in Kazakhstan and all over the world. Kazakhstan is ready to actively join in this process.
How will you use the buildings and infrastructure after the event has finished?
Post-exhibition integration of EXPO-2017 facilities into city architecture and economy is a difficult but resolvable issue. In this matter we considered organizational errors of some fulfilled exhibitions. Kazakhstan EXPO structures are constructed with due account for all post-exhibition risks and are already designed for future owners. Today I can state that International Financial Center (IFC) will be located at particular part of exhibition territory. The curator of IFC construction is the National Bank of Kazakhstan and Akimat (Administration) of the City of Astana. At the moment the task team is created to work over issues connected with construction of IFC. The International Financial Center will be working according to the principles of English law. Attractive tax conditions, privileges and preferences will be provided for the members of IFC.
I can assure that the territory of the exhibition will be almost completely integrated into the city infrastructure. Astana is a new center, which constantly require various social facilities and in this context exhibition structures will be foremost applied.
Preventing Violent Extremism through Education in Central Asia
The UNESCO Almaty Cluster Office in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and UNESCO Headquarters, in collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), held a Sub-regional workshop on the prevention of violent extremism through education on 13-15 November in Almaty.
UNESCO’s approach to preventing violent extremism through education is related to its work on Global Citizenship Education (GСED). Based on its long-standing commitment to peace and human rights education, the GCED strives to foster respect for all, create a sense of belonging to humanity and help students become responsible and active citizens. Thus, the GCED creates conditions for strengthening students’ commitment to renouncing violence and peace and creating conditions for protection from hatred, discrimination and violent extremism.
The workshop was organized within the framework of the partnership of UNESCO and UNODC on “Education in the spirit of global citizenship in support of the rule of law”. It strengthened the capacity of education stakeholders to implement educational measures and approaches to prevent violent extremism in an effective and appropriate manner. More specifically, the workshop provided a common discussion platform for a clearer understanding of the issues of violent extremism in the Central Asian region, as well as discussed new tools and innovative approaches and drew up a plan for further action to prevent violent extremism through education in Central Asia.
During the workshop, the participants also had a chance to visit the Nazarbayev Intellectual School and Almaty State College of Tourism and Hospitality Industry and observe open classes on global citizenship education and values.
The workshop brought together education stakeholders from all over Central Asia, including representatives from the ministries of education and community development, universities and research institutes, as well as youth organizations and civil society. International experts from France, UNODC, UNESCO as well as other UN agencies and international organizations also took part in the event.
Developing the IT sector will make Central Asia more united and independent
This September marked the second anniversary of the death of Islam Karimov, the former President of Uzbekistan, and the de-facto accession to power of Shavkat Mirziyoyev (who was later officially elected to the presidency in December 2016).
In record-breaking time President Mirziyoyev solved border disputes with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – which had previously been considered unsolvable, significantly strengthened relations with Kazakhstan, conducted sweeping economic reforms, and opened Uzbekistan to foreign investments.
The activity of the new reformist president led to positive changes not only in Uzbekistan itself, but in the region as a whole. The change of power in Uzbekistan – the most highly populated Central Asian country, located right in the middle of the region – marked the beginning of the Central Asian Spring, which, in contrast to the Arab Spring, has been characterized by gradual reforms and, above all, economic liberalization.
In March 2018, for the first time since the beginning of the 2000’s, a summit of the Central Asian countries’ leaders took place in Astana, Kazakhstan. It was attended by presidents of every country in the region (except Turkmenistan which was represented by the Chair of the country’s parliament). This summit, along with a notable strengthening of connections between the two most prominent countries of the region – Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan – laid the ground for talks regarding the creation of a new regional union, the goal of which would be to strengthen the economic independence of the Central Asian region, and later its political independence as well.
The first attempts at economic unification of Central Asian countries date back to the mid-1990’s, and were being undertaken as late as the mid-2000’s. However, each time those attempts were beset with insurmountable obstacles – the position of the late Uzbek president Islam Karimov who basically isolated Uzbekistan from any foreign influence, the border conflicts between Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, and the personal ambitions of the Central Asian countries’ leaders.
It is rather ironic that Uzbekistan – which for а long time halted the process of regional integration – is today, along with Kazakhstan, its primary moving force. Riding the wave of “the Uzbek thaw,” and highlighted against the backdrop of problems associated with the functioning of the Eurasian economic Union, for the first time in many years the conditions for the creation of a regional union are favorable.
For now, the countries of the region are treading very carefully when it comes to this idea. There have been too many unsuccessful attempts at unification in the past, and interstate contradictions are still too strong, as well as the differences in the countries’ approach to issues. Besides, such unification may not be well liked by the “Big Neighbors” of the region – Russia and China – who may put forth efforts to prevent the emergence of a strong and independent regional player.
The geographic location of Central Asia also provides its opponents with an advantage: each country individually (and the region as a whole) is landlocked, and as a consequence the operation of logistical and energy chains is fully dependent on the goodwill of the “Big Neighbors.” Only fundamental changes to the very structure of the regions’ economy can help overcome this dependence. Such changes are now underway.
Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are striving to abandon the natural resource-dependent model and develop innovations. An example of that is the “Astana Hub” – a financial and technological center which has the capabilities to speed up the technological upgrading not just of Kazakhstan alone, but the entire Central Asian region.
The simultaneous development of an IT ecosystem of innovations in the countries of Central Asia will create new possibilities for regional collaboration, as well as for collaboration of the Central Asian IT sector with global centers of the IT industry.
Central Asia’s old economic model relied on each of the countries having different and separate economic relations with its “Big Neighbors” and – facilitated by those “Big Neighbors” acting as intermediaries – with countries of the West. The new Central Asian model envisions the five countries – Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan – being integrated into a common economic market and having direct connections with Western markets, bypassing the intermediary function of the “Big Neighbors.” As shown through the success of the European Bank’s ‘Investing in Central Asia’ forum which aimed to highlight opportunities for business expansion into the region, Central Asian countries will become integrated into the world ecosystem both in the information and economic realms.
However, in order to implement this plan both the Western business world and the political decision makers have lots of work ahead of them. As the new “IT tiger,” Central Asia may be interesting to the world industry’s giants only as a united region, and they must view it as such already, by extending a certain credibility to the new economic initiatives originating in that region. This means opening regional offices in the local IT clusters and entrusting them first with outsourcing and then with R&D, serving as evangelists of the new economy in contacts with representatives of the Central Asian countries’ governments, and considering the possibilities of investing into local startups jointly with governments. Western policymakers will need to get ready to provide the most favorable environment to the IT industry for any trade and economic relations with countries of the region.
As energy exports are the foundation of economic well-being for the majority of the region’s countries, it places those countries in the position of competitors who are dependent on their neighboring states, above all Russia and China. Developing advanced technologies, attracting Western investments and Western experience, and creating a Central Asian IT market will serve a dual purpose: in reducing the Central Asian countries’ dependence on their neighbors, and in becoming the catalyst for unification processes in the region.
Turkmenistan, the heart of the Silk Road
Over 140 years have passed since Ferdinand von Richthofen, a German geologist, geographer and traveler and the president of the Berlin Geographical Society, coined the term Silk Road. Several more decades had passed before scholars in different countries became seriously interested in this phenomenon of the antique and medieval world and began to study specific routes of caravan trade where Turkmen land had an important place. The Silk Road era, which lasted for more than 15 centuries, has left thousands of monuments and landmarks along the entire route from the Mediterranean to the Far East. Many of them are located on the territory of Turkmenistan.
In the modern era, the legendary route is being restored in a new quality, carrying the idea of revitalizing and strengthening trade, economic, humanitarian, and cultural ties between states and peoples. In his book, “Turkmenistan, the Heart of the Silk Road,” Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, citing facts of national history, ancient tales and legends, as well as events and developments from the country’s modern life, notes that a fundamental role in the evolution and active use of the Silk Road, each of its branches being on the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites, belongs to, among others, the Turkmen people.
Thus, as our state carries out major transport projects of the century, a modern history is being written and the idea of restoring the Silk Road – the heart of which is independent and neutral Turkmenistan – is being revisited.
The Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran transnational railway line that has been put into operation can carry up to 10-12 million tons of cargo and makes it possible to connect to transport infrastructure in the east and south, gaining access to dynamically developing markets. Turkmenistan believes it is essential to focus efforts on ensuring that the opportunities for Central Asian and Caspian states arising in connection with these major transit projects be used to the maximum degree possible.
Convenient and safe international corridors using rail, motor, air, and water transport ensure the sustainable development of the entire region, foster neighborly relations between nations, strengthen cooperation, expand the volumes of trade turnover and help address a number of social issues. As a strategic goal defining the contours of a new, large-scale format of cooperation on the continent, they help create wide-ranging and promising geoeconomic configurations. In this context, it is important to note that an international sea port in the city of Turkmenbashi is due to be put into operation in the very near future.
The state invests heavily in modernizing the material and technical base of the transport sector and improving management through modern technology. High priority is given to developing sea and river transport infrastructure. Active work is under way to improve passenger and cargo transportation, develop ports and port facilities, and streamline state oversight over the safety of shipping and navigation.
Central and South Asia is a space for active international cooperation. Ancient trade routes passed across these territories for centuries, bringing Asia and Europe closer together. At present, countries in these regions play an important role in expanding global economic partnership. The implementation of projects in these areas opens up great prospects for the optimization of transport, energy and cultural ties in the Eurasian space. Therefore, as Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov noted, our region is emerging as a major link in the formation of a new trade and economic partnership model on the continent, which, in turn, opens up opportunities for creating a platform for more wide-ranging cooperation. This is a vivid example of deeply innovative thinking in the global geoeconomic configuration and a vision of strategic perspectives for its development.
First published in our partner International Affairs
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