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Sino-Russian neighborhood policy: Kazakhstan – Euroasian heart of gold

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] Q [/yt_dropcap] uite untill recently Kazakhstan was commonly identified as an impervious, legendary and fascinating place, one of passionate, bloody dusks whose natural beauty, combined with the landscape diversity, made it the most seductive country in Central Asia. Today, though these features still distinguish it, it is placed in the new global scenario with a fully renewed guise which makes it the jewel in the area’s crown.

Over 20 years it actually managed to endow itself with its own structure and identity, doubtlessly more incisively and further reachingly than other ex USSR countries. This data may be even more appreciated if one considers its population, made up of only 17 million inhavitants, is subdivided into as many as 130 different religious confessions, which the state authorities were wisely able to harmonize, fleeing any attempt to ethnically-religiously characterize the Country. State modernization was also the fruit of smart economic choices, whose strategy did not stop on exclusively exploiting the huge energy resources available, but focussed on encouraging ambitious development projects based on the public – private partnership and attracting foreign investors tempted by the the privileged geographical position placing it near the greatest markets in Russia, China and India.

This geographical peculiarity makes Kazakhstan a transcontinental State and also a potential logistic platform for exchange between Europe and Asia and, in particular, in this moment which is recording an epochal change in geo-political, geo-economic scenarios which the greatest powers involved are also responding to via creating and planning great infrastructural works. In fact there is no doubt that in the emerging context, continental infrastructures form an essential moment for upturn, as they can influence both the technological modernization processes and foreign policy stability. As well as broadening works in the Suez Canals and Panama, which have surely stressed the role played by maritime links, one must in no way ignore the importance of the land ones, which see the Asian continent as one of the main characters.

Indeed, Asia – “pivot of the century”, which prof. Bajrektarevic describes as the place where “demographic-migratory pressures are huge, regional demands are high, and expectations are brewing” is the continent most interested in and involved by projects to create roads, tunnels and rail, infrastructures that should cross it from one strip to another. For example, China, which is playing a major role in this process, has for some years now got down to business, creating several strategic infrastructural projects that are useful in accompanying, protecting and raising the Country’s expansive capacities. This surely includes the great land and sea “New Silk Way” project, devised by Peking with the principal aim of moving China closer to the rest of the Euro-Asian continental mass, as well as developing the inland zones remaining behind the coastal strip. There can be no doubt that the full completion of this project will have weighty geo-political repercussions, if one just considers it focuses on linking Europe and Asia under an infrastructural, economic profile, and at the same time going against US replacing on the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean.

In this new picture, Kazakhstan, already identifying itself as as “bridge” and joining land between the economies of Europe and Asia, finds itself back in the heart of a new East-West efficiency logistic axis represented by the current surge of motorway, Railroad and pipeline constructions. This looks to new, ambitious business opportunities, some of them already grasped by Italian firms (like Salini Impregilo and Todini), already busy creating one of these international transit corridors, while others could be profiled following the passing of the new Nurly Zhol state development programme, “The Walk Toward the Future”.

This programme, which aims to modernize the infrastructure and internal transport apparatus, also in view of the Expo to be held in the very modern Astana in 2017, intends to encurage foreign investments in transport / logistic and industrial / energy sectors so as to make the Country more efficient and in step with the interconnection processes developing both on a global level and in the “Euro-Asian” strip. The Expo event is bound to contribute to giving gloss to the capital representing the perfect synthesis of modernizing processes launched in the last two decades as well as the last in the utopian cities chronologically.

Astana, bearing the signature of Japanese architect Kisko Kurokava with collaboration from artists and intellectuals, was devised to represent, despite its distinctive Winter temperatures, the perfect city of the future model and celebrate the growing power of Kazakhstan. A revolutionary city that expresses the vision of its its planner, man dominating nature, and also embodies environmental sustainability principles, breaking with traditional city structures. Astana was indeed planned and created in sectors, putting the zones in a row starting from the industrial one, located around the station so as to exploit transport possibilities, following with residential areas, with parks and gardens, with the government’s administrative ones and the diplomats’ zone. As well as Astana, Kazakhstan also dares on the maritime transport megastructures, suggesting a “Euro-Asian channel” so that its ships, starting from the Caspian Sea, can reach the Black Sea and from there, via the Bosphorus, the Mediterranean.

Should this proposal become reality, it could turn the Country, thanks mainly to its geographical position and its constructive big neghbours, into the great “Euro-Asia” logistic platform, a great centre to shift products and services and attract investments located in the golden “heart of the world”.

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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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Central Asia

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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Central Asia

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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