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Astana 2017: contents and projects of the next International Exhibition

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On 24 and 25 February Astana hosted the second Meeting of International Participants of “Future Energy” EXPO which will take place in the capital city of the Central Asian republic from 10 June to 10 September 2017.

The conference gathered around 300 delegates from over 100 countries and representatives of international organization and business. The meeting was the occasion to sign many agreements for participation to EXPO and to discuss financial, technical and logistic issues, in order to create an exchange of information between the organizers and the participants. Now, more than 70 countries and 40 organizations officially confirmed their adhesion to the 2017 Exhibition.

Towards EXPO: the concept behind it

“Future Energy” wants to put on the international political agenda environmental and energy issues. The main theme will be developed through the analysis of three challenges related to energy. The first is the environmental challenge, related to the policies of protection and to the reduction of CO2 emissions. The second one takes into consideration economic implications about energy, especially its rational and efficient use. The third challenge is the social aspect related to energy, which is thought as the broadening of the right of access to the resources, in order to extend the possibilities of development and modernization.

A recurring concept behind EXPO 2017 is the building of a platform of debate and interaction among countries and the sharing of different experiences. A formative purpose, which will be one of the main keys of the Exhibition, beyond recreational and architectural aspects.

Answering to our question on what kind of message Astana sends to the world, Vicente Gonzalez Loscertales told IsAG: «Among top priorities there are the prevention of climate change, the protection of environment and a new definition of sustainability. When Kazakhstan – which is one of the most important oil&gas producers – chooses this theme, at the same time takes world leadership in the field of new sources of energy, despite its economy depends by hydrocarbons. This is a strong message».

In response to our question on the relation between the idea of “Future Energy” and the past and present of Kazakhstan on energy themes, the EXPO Commissioner Rapil Zhoshybayev reminded the whole work done by his country in environmental and energy issues. He also spoke about the commitment for nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation, and the recent establishment of the Low-Enriched Uranium (LEU) Bank in 2015. Zhoshybayev explained: «All these initiatives are contributing to the realization of a peaceful climate for what concerns the theme of energy and in Astana EXPO 2017 new technological opportunities will be shown to the entire world».

Initiatives, legacy and aspirations

Given standard dispositions of the International Bureau of the Exhibition – the area of EXPO will cover 25 hectares, while entire site will cover much more, around 173.4 hectars. Beyond exhibition buildings, the area will have spaces for housing and the necessary infrastructures.

At the centre of the exhibition area there will be the Kazakh pavillion, the “Museum of the Future”, an 80 meters sphere and the symbol of the event. The surrounding area will be completed by international participants and thematic pavillions. One of these structures will be dedicated to the exhibition of “best practices” in the field of energy and environmental sustainability, selected by a special international commission. Moreover, organizers included other four thematic pavillions, called “World of Energy”, “Energy for Life”, “Energy for All” and “My Future Energy”. Their aim is to develop in depth different fields, ranging from efficient use of energy, innovations in transport and urban planning to “social” and economic aspects related to this issue.

In the wake of what happened in the most successful examples of great events, Astana is already elaborating a strategy for the “legacy”, in order to maintain and develop the material and immaterial achievements of EXPO.

A first proposal is the institution of the Astana International Financial Center, which should open since January 1 2018 in some of the Exhibition buildings. The aim is to attract investment flows from abroad thanks to the provision of a special tax and judicial regime for operators. The immaterial legacy of EXPO, instead, is represented by the idea of President Nursultan Nazarbayev of a Center for the development of “green technologies” and support for investment projects under the aegis of United Nations.

In this way, Kazakhstan wants to make of Astana one of the main political and financial Central Asian cities, and raise the attractiveness of the capital even in the tourist sector.

Astana 2017 from a geopolitical perspective

Speaking at the end of the Meeting, Vicente Gonzalez Loscertales said that EXPO 2017 is on a «good truck» and that the importance of this Exhibition is given by the fact that this edition, compared to that of Milan, takes a «strong geopolitical value». This statement can be taken into account because of various reasons.

First of all, it must be considered the high relevance of the main theme. In this particular phase of the global economy, energy assume a great role in shaping the economies of developed countries and energy producers ones. Equally important is the attention to new sources of energy and environmental protection.

A second aspect derives not only by the theme but from the host country itself: it’s the first time for a Central Asia state and CIS member. The “Kazakh option” marks also the growing relevance of a region that wants to be perceived as a bridge between Europe and Asia.

The choice of an energy-rich country, more than a contradiction, can mean the recognition of the necessary evolvement towards a new kind of economic development. Kazakhstan is committed to the implementation of Green Bridge and Atom Projects initiatives at international level and the promotion of renewable resources at home, even if EXPO must not be considered as a definitive result but rather a strengthening of these policies.

With this candidacy, Kazakhstan obtained another political and diplomatic victory. EXPO probably is the most significant international event hosted in this country since its independence. Moreover, another political aspect is that Kazakhstan has been able to present itself as a dynamic and reliable player on the international scene, despite clear difficulties and critical aspects are still present and could represent a potential negative factor for the future development and stability of the country.

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Central Asia

Kazakh court case tests Chinese power

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A Kazakh court is set to put to the test China’s ability to impose its will and strongarm Muslim nations into remaining silent about its brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims in the north-western province of Xinjiang.

The court will hear an appeal by a former worker in one of Xinjiang’s multiple re-education camps against the rejection of her request for asylum. The appeal illustrates the political quagmire faced by Central Asian nations and Turkey given their ethnic, cultural and linguistic ties to China’s estimated 11 million Turkic Muslims that include 1.5 million people of Kazakh descent.

It also highlights China’s risky bet on being able to leverage its economic power to ensure the Muslim world’s silence about what amounts to the most concerted effort in recent history to reshape Muslim religious practice.

Up to one million Turkic Muslims have, according to the United Nations, been detained in a network of re-education camps in which they are being forced to accept the superiority of Chinese Communist Party beliefs and the leadership of President Xi Jinping above the precepts of Islam.

Beyond the camps, Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang, a strategic minerals-rich province bordering on eight Central and South Asian nations that China has turned into a 21st century Orwellian surveillance state, are forced to refrain from religious practice and custom in public.

After denying the existing of the camps for the longest period of time, China last month felt obliged to acknowledge them and give them legal cover.

Authorities in Xinjiang amended their anti-extremism regulations “to allow local governments to set up institutions to provide people affected by extremist thoughts with vocational skills training and psychological counselling.” China asserts that the crackdown is intended to counter extremism, separatism and terrorism.

China’s acknowledgement was designed to counter the UN report, threats of US sanctions against officials and companies involved in the Xinjiang crackdown, and revelations by 41-year-old Sayragul Sauytbay, a Chinese national of Kazakh descent.

Ms. Sauytbay testified in an open Kazakh court that she had been employed in a Chinese re-education camp for Kazakhs only that had 2,500 inmates. She said she was aware of two more such camps reserved for Kazakhs.

Ms. Sauytbay was standing trial for entering Kazakhstan illegally after having been detained at China’s request.

She told the court that she had escaped to Kazakhstan after being advised by Chinese authorities that she would never be allowed to join her family because of her knowledge of the camps. Ms. Sauytbay was given a six-month suspended sentence and released from prison to join her recently naturalized husband and children.

Since then, Ms. Sauytbay’s application for asylum has been rejected and she has until the end of October to leave Kazakhstan. She hopes that an appeal court will reverse the rejection.

Ms. Sauytbay’s case puts the Kazakh government between a rock and a hard place and is but one of a string of recent cracks in the Muslim wall of silence.

Kazakh authorities have to balance a desire to kowtow to Chinese demands with a growing anti-Chinese sentiment that demands that the government stand up for its nationals as well as Chinese nationals of Kazakh descent.

Ms. Sauytbay’s revelations that ethnic Kazakhs were also targeted in the Chinese crackdown sparked angry denunciations in Kazakhstan’s parliament.

“There should be talks taking place with the Chinese delegates. Every delegation that goes there should be bringing this topic up… The key issue is that of the human rights of ethnic Kazakhs in any country of the world being respected,” said Kunaysh Sultanov, a member of parliament and former deputy prime minister and ambassador to China.

In a further crack, Malaysia this week released 11 Uyghurs who were detained after having escaped detention in Thailand.

The Uyghurs were allowed to leave the country for Turkey. The move, coming in the wake of a decision by Germany and Sweden to suspend deportations of Uyghurs to China, puts on the spot countries like Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, where Uyghurs risk extradition.

Malaysia’s release of the Uyghurs occurred days before Anwar Ibrahim took the first hurdle in becoming the country’s next prime minister by this weekend winning a parliamentary by election.

Mr. Ibrahim last month became the Muslim world’s most prominent politician to speak out about the crackdown in Xinjiang.

Earlier, Rais Hussin, a supreme council member of Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) party and head of its Policy and Strategy Bureau, cautioned that “that geographical proximity cannot be taken advantage by China to ride roughshod over everything that Malaysia holds dear, such as Islam, democracy, freedom of worship and deep respect for every country’s sovereignty… On its mistreatment of Muslims in Xinjiang almost en masse, Malaysia must speak up, and defend the most basic human rights of all.”

Pakistan’s Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony minister, Noorul Haq Qadri, was forced to raise the issue of Turkic Muslims with Chinese ambassador Yao Xing under pressure from Pakistanis whose spouses and relatives had been detained in the Xinjiang crackdown.

Ms. Sauytbay’s appeal for asylum is likely to refocus public opinion in Kazakhstan and other Central Asian nations on the plight of their Turkic brethren.

She will not be deported, we will not allow it,” said Ms. Sauytbay’s lawyer, Abzal Kuspanov.

Mr. Kuspanov’s defense of Ms. Sauytbay is about far more than the fate of a former Chinese re-education camp employee. It will serve as a barometer of China’s ability to impose its will. If China succeeds, it will raise the question at what price. The answer to that is likely to only become apparent over time.

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Why the upcoming Congress of the Leaders of World is so vital for peace and prosperity

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev

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Religion has been, and remains, an immense spiritual force for good in our world. The shared values which underpin all world’s major faiths have positively moulded how we treat each other. Religious beliefs give direction, comfort and hope to billions of people.

Religious communities appear to have enormous potential for addressing today’s social problems. Faith groups across the globe are prominent in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless and caring for the vulnerable.  Our world would be poorer without the impact of religion on our lives.

Throughout history, religion has also been exploited to sow divisions. Instead of bringing people together and encouraging them to behaving decently toward each other, it has been abused to fuel suspicions and hatred, spread confusion about the true essence of religion. We are facing the problem of ignoring what religions have in common and exaggerating and distorting the difference between, and at times within, faiths.

The abuse of religion continues and is undermining hopes for peace and progress. In recent years, many thousands have died and millions more had to flee their homes in conflicts, in which religion has been used to justify discrimination and violence. Countering these dangerous distortions is one of the challenges that religious leaders should address.

There is no single answer. Yet at the heart of the solution is dialogue between religions to foster understanding and respect. This is an overarching aim of the Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions which is to be held for the sixth time in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana this month (October.)

The Congress was initiated by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev amid the growing religious tensions and extremism following the 9/11 terrorist attack in the United States. He believed it was critical that the opportunity be provided for religious leaders to work together to prevent religion being used to divide us.

His vision has struck a chord across the world. The Congress, which takes place every three years since 2003 has engaged prominent religious leaders and politicians from different countries around most pressing issues. By 2015, the number of delegations attending had increased from 23 to 80. High-profile attendees included then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, King Abdullah of Jordan and President of Finland Sauli Niinistö. Discussions centred on the role of religion in promoting development and measures to reduce appeal of violent extremism among young people.

The Sixth Congress, which takes place on October 10-11, will build on this efforts. Its focus is on how religious leaders can work together to play their full part in creating a secure world and prevent faith being abused to set people against each other.

Located at a crossroads of different civilizations, Kazakhstan has placed greater importance on promoting religious harmony and mutual respect. Our country’s history and geography have combined to create a society in which people of many different backgrounds and faiths live within single boundaries. Religious freedom has become a precious asset of our nation, which allows diverse beliefs to peacefully coexist and helps us to negotiate any concerns in a constructive spirit.

Such a mixture could have been, as it has been the case in other countries, a worrying source of tension and conflict. Despite negative expectations such diversity has been turned into a strength in our society where citizens are equally respected and are able to make their full contribution to the common welfare.

As a matter of fact, while Kazakhstan’s population may be largely Muslim, followers of all traditional faiths live in harmony with each other, are free to worship and enjoy equal rights guaranteed by the constitution. It is a source not only of national pride but has also been an indispensable platform for our stability and prosperity at home and growing influence abroad.

In this turbulent world, dialogue and mutual respect has never been more important. Nor has it been more critical to provide the forum where religious and political leaders can work together to prevent any distortion of faith for violent ends. The upcoming Congress is so vital for peace and prosperity.

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Reforms Can Accelerate Economic Diversification in Kazakhstan

MD Staff

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Kazakhstan’s future growth depends on reforms that provide a level playing field for the private sector and support economic diversification, according to a new Asian Development Bank (ADB) Country Diagnostic Study launched today.

The study, Kazakhstan: Accelerating Economic Diversification, identifies the most binding constraints to growth and provides in-depth analysis of structural reforms that will bring the country to its growth potential. The report finds that consistent and successful reform efforts can add an average of 1.2 percentage points per year to Kazakhstan’s gross domestic product.

“Kazakhstan needs to accelerate structural reforms to support the country’s economic diversification,” said ADB Country Director for Kazakhstan Mr. Giovanni Capannelli. “These reforms include improving the country’s business climate, enhancing competitiveness, and increasing private sector participation in the economy.”

Kazakhstan’s economy has transformed since its independence in 1991, mainly due to a surge in oil and gas exports. While the country achieved middle-income status in 2006, the downturn of oil and other commodity prices in 2014 exposed the country’s vulnerability to external shocks and constrained government revenues.

Future growth will depend on identifying sectors in which Kazakhstan has a strong growth potential, according to the study. These include food processing, basic metals, and chemicals. In agriculture, redirecting subsidies toward investment in infrastructure, improving access to finance, and promoting innovation can substantially boost productivity. Greater investment in infrastructure is essential to provide a link to unexploited markets, decrease transport costs, and support the production of tradable goods. Transit trade has a large growth potential, while increasing the efficiency of transport infrastructure can generate additional growth from other tradable sectors such as manufacturing, the report said.

ADB began supporting Kazakhstan in 1994 and has since approved over $5 billion in sovereign loans, nonsovereign loans, and guarantees. ADB operations in Kazakhstan are helping open up transport routes, foster private enterprise, address inequalities, promote inclusive growth, and deliver knowledge products and services. ADB also contributes to Kazakhstan’s participation in the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) program.

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