Central Asia, a large region of nearly 80 million people, is at a crossroads surrounded by significant opportunities as well as risks.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development projects that the economies of the five Central Asian countries – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan – will grow by at least 5.2 % on average in 2023 and 5.4 % in 2024. This trajectory has been in place for two decades, which is undoubtedly welcome news.
Over the past 20 years, Central Asian countries’ GDP has grown more than sevenfold at an average rate of 6.2%, which is faster than in most developing countries and more than twice as fast as the world as a whole.
The region is also taking full advantage of its transit potential. The total foreign trade turnover of the Central Asian states over the last six years has exceeded $200 billion. Last year, Kazakhstan’s trade turnover broke a historical record, reaching $134.4 billion, exceeding the pre-pandemic level of $97.8 billion in 2019. Mutual trade between Central Asian countries is growing even faster than their total foreign trade.
Despite these positive trends, significant threats and challenges remain.
Uncertainty over global developments in interest rates, inflation, and commodity prices are clouding the long-term outlook for the region. Water and energy supply is an issue that requires constant attention, particularly in view of climate change and its consequences, including droughts and rising temperatures, which can lead to soil degradation and worsening conditions for agriculture and food security.
To ensure that Central Asia makes use of the presented opportunities and successfully navigates the challenges, it is vital to enhance cooperation between all the regional states.
We have taken significant steps in this direction. The fourth consultative meeting of Central Asian leaders in Cholpon-Ata, Kyrgyzstan, in July 2022 was a milestone for regional cooperation.
Speaking at the meeting, President of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, focused on five fundamental tasks – strengthening cooperation in security and diplomacy, eliminating the factors causing instability in the region, developing solid economic cooperation, increasing the region’s transport connectivity and ensuring the rational use of water resources.
Kazakhstan has always backed closer regional cooperation between the Central Asian states. Our country initiated the consultative meetings between the leaders of our region, with the first summit held in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana in 2018.
Yet the world has changed dramatically since then and even in comparison to last year. Globalisation is being paralleled with increased regionalisation. Geopolitical uncertainties have caused mistrust among global powers. New rules and mechanisms of international relations are being proposed, including an updated security architecture. In this context, Asian countries should step up their cooperation to adapt to the new realities and ensure that we do not fall behind.
That is why Kazakhstan is organising the first Central Asian Security and Cooperation Forum, which will be held on July 13-14 in Astana.
The forum will address the future dynamics in Asia, including in the spheres of global and regional politics, economy, human capital, climate change, digital transformation, and governance. It will bring together leading international and Kazakh experts, as well as government and business representatives from around 30 countries.
The forum, held by the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, aims to become a leading domestic platform for dialogue and engagement between prominent thinkers and politicians to discuss the most pressing issues in security and cooperation in Asia.
The Asian region is rapidly becoming a political and geoeconomic centre. Many experts predict that the 21st century will be the century of Asia. It is easy to see why. More than half of the world’s population lives in Asia, while 21 of the 30 largest cities in the world are located in the region. Asia is on track to top 50 percent of global GDP by 2040 and drive 40 percent of the world’s consumption, representing a real shift in the world’s centre of gravity.
As an integral part of the wider Asian region, Central Asia will continue to play a key role in facilitating trade and cooperation not just within Asia, but also between East and West, a role that Kazakhstan has played successfully for some time. It is therefore timely that the theme of this year’s forum is “Central Asia in the Changing World: Agenda for the Future.”
Ultimately, the importance of establishing new relevant dialogue platforms at a time of global upheaval cannot be understated. As such, the Central Asian Security and Cooperation Forum will enhance regional relations involving governments and the competent expert community, which will ensure that our part of the world can grasp the opportunities in front of us.