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Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies

under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan

Address of the President to the people of Kazakhstan

Third Modernization of Kazakhstan

"Only those nations who manage to set the future goals and proceed resolutely facing the challenges,

instead of sitting on the hedge and waiting, are the winners."

Uzbekistan pragmatizes its foreign policy

Interview of the KazISS Deputy Director Sanat Kushkumbayev to “Information-Analytical Centre” in Uzbekistan

 

Uzbekistan attracts the attention of experts of Russia, Kazakhstan and Central Asia who discuss vigorously the political and economic reforms implemented there, the new policy of openness, the rapprochement with the neighboring countries, and the schedule of the official visits of the newly elected Uzbek president. Deputy Director of the Institute for Strategic Studies under the President of Kazakhstan Sanat Kushkumbaev speaks about the new political course of Uzbekistan towards Kazakhstan:

 

- As Uzbekistan has had new President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the relations between Uzbekistan and the other countries of the region are expected to improve and disagreements to be resolved. Wouldn’t it be rather premature to make such assumption?

 

This is a very attractive idea. However, I would say, that the relations are becoming more pragmatic. Moreover, and this is important, there is a considerable demand our countries for such a pragmatism that is understood as neighborliness and good partnership. In today's world, competition rivalry or, even feud are rather counterproductive.

 

Uzbekistan's foreign policy is being optimized. Due to the changes in the leadership in Tashkent, the external contacts have intensified, the message of the new leadership of Uzbekistan is about constructive relations with the neighbors, better trade and economic cooperation, resolution of the issues related to the border, water and energy problems, and, finally productive cooperation within the region.

 

At the same time, one should not expect Uzbekistan to join any multilateral organization that would give considerable powers to supranational bodies. The new Uzbek leadership continues the foreign policy course and maintains cooperation with the neighboring countries focusing on the specific issues in accordance with the national interest. When some initiatives bear bilateral or multilateral benefits, Uzbekistan participates willingly and does not refuse to cooperate

 

The recent visit of Uzbek President to Kazakhstan demonstrated this new pragmatic approach. It was a successful visit as a number of business proposals we made, the agreements and projects concluded, and businessmen from the both sides participated in the negotiations.

 

The real changes for the better will be obvious for everyone when average Uzbek or Kazakh tourist or business crossing the border sees the improvements. Of course, it will not happen immediately after the President's visit, it will take time.

 

How do you assess the overall economic and political reforms in Uzbekistan? Is it possible to speak about liberalization of the Uzbek economy and politics?

 

I would use the term "liberalization" with caution; I would prefer the word "change". Not all current reforms in Uzbekistan can be viewed as liberalization. In general, Tashkent prefers to take its time implementing the reforms.

 

The reforms including anti-corruption activities, support for entrepreneurship, small and medium-sized businesses shall not be necessarily viewed as liberalization. The 2017 is declared the "Year of Dialogue with the People and Human Interest" in Uzbekistan. The point is in removing unnecessary barriers that hamper economic activities of entrepreneurs and ordinary Uzbeks. Yet again, pragmatism would be a better word, to describe the domestic policy Uzbekistan. Some individual spheres of economy are being optimized. Since Shavkat Mirziyoyev assumed the office, a number of laws have been adopted and government regulations issued. All these have led to rather positive outcomes.

 

Establishment of communication platforms between the authorities and people is a good example of the current changes. I believe that this success may be credited to Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov who previously supervised the telecommunications industry. Virtual reception rooms of the government agencies are open online; much better dialogue has been established between the authorities and ordinary people. Some changes in the executive in various regions of Uzbekistan have been, among other things, prompted by the discussions in the social networks. Mirziyoyev directly stated that performance of the local authorities would be scrutinized, anyone may be sacked because of the poor feedback received through the virtual reception rooms.

 

- Some say that Kazakhstan watches the "awakening" and “open” Uzbekistan with concern because the economic success of the neighbor may result in Kazakhstan’s losing its leadership positions in the region in terms of attractiveness for the foreign investors.

 

I would not share alarmism about an "awakening" regional giant who is threatening us. This is rather stereotypical way of thinking. Moreover, it shows insecurity, a kind of inferiority complex. I personally think that Minister of National Economy Timur Suleimenov was complimentary towards Uzbekistan.

 

The fact is that Uzbekistan is a large country with capacious market, high competition, large labor force of relatively high productivity, and favorable climatic conditions. All this makes Uzbekistan attractive but do not pose any threats to Kazakhstan. On the contrary, if Uzbekistan develops more dynamically, the impact on its neighbors, including Kazakhstan, will be positive.

 

A healthy competition will benefit the Central Asian region. It is important, however, that it does not turn into rivalry. There are many areas in which we could establish joint ventures. There were a number of agreements concluded thereon during Mirziyoyev's recent visit to Astana. For example, the climate in northern Kazakhstan enables us to grow high quality wheat that is impossible to grow in Uzbekistan. In turn, Kazakhstan cannot be very productive in terms of fruits and vegetables, or cotton for that matter. We shall leave that for Uzbekistan.

 

There are good opportunities for cooperation in a number of industries. For example, the “GM Uzbekistan” automobile plant in the Ferghana Valley is the largest in Uzbekistan and the whole region. The plant in Taldykorgan that produces accumulators and one in Shymkent making tires may be integrated into one production chain with the “GM Uzbekistan”. If the batteries and tires produced in Kazakhstan are in demand in Uzbek auto industry, this will make our cooperation mutually beneficial.

 

Uzbekistan has achieved great success in production of spare parts and components and is gradually increasing the local content. Today, the Kazakh and Uzbek parties reached the agreement on joint assembly production of Ravon cars. The EEU is an important factor as Uzbekistan, not being a member, has much more difficulties penetrating into the markets of the EEU countries. Kazakhstan within the EEU could play its positive role in this regard.

 

How beneficial is it for Kazakhstan and the other EEU countries to have cheap cars made in Uzbekistan on their markets?

 

If it is about having joint ventures in Kazakhstan, then it is obviously mutually beneficial. In the meantime, Kazakhstan's automobile industry is rather small; the assembly plants in Kostanai and Ust-Kamenogorsk do not meet the domestic demand. Moreover, it is about more expensive cars. However, we need to take into account the interests of the domestic consumer: if there is a demand for inexpensive cars, why not to import them from Uzbekistan. This is a win-win situation; while importing Uzbek cars, we, in turn, may get some concessions in the mutual trade.

 

Some experts consider a new geopolitical axis "Tashkent - Astana". What do you think about it?

 

I think it would be premature to talk about such an "axis". Today Tashkent and Astana should make their economic relations as pragmatic as possible and resolve some other issues.

 

We have some positive experience gained in the previous years. It is important now to build the capacity, to strengthen it and improve. Only then, one may think about some common strategic goals. One thing I am sure of, the atmosphere in Central Asia will largely depend on the quality of the relations between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. These are the two largest states in the region and their key role is obvious. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan share the longest border in Central Asia and it should become a line of mutual attraction.

 

In this respect, the emphasis made on our common history, geography and culture, is quite appropriate. In the case of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, it is important to remind about our huge role in maintaining of the stability, security and economic well-being of the whole Central Asia.

 

If in the future such as axis in the region is to be built, I think it shall expand towards the other Central Asian countries.

 

What is your opinion about the moves of the new leadership of Uzbekistan to overcome the water issues with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan? Tajikistan has revived the Rogun HPP project and is looking for investors. How do you think Tashkent will respond?

 

I believe that this issue can be resolved although it will be not easy. Uzbekistan makes it clear that it is ready to reach a compromise through negotiations. The question is how to maintain the balance of the interests; the access to the water resources to the "lower" countries and meeting the energy demand in the "upper" ones. In my opinion, a compromise is very likely.

 

The Uzbek President has paid his first visit to Moscow. What do you think about the relations of Uzbekistan and Russia?

 

 

This visit to Moscow is important and symbolic. Uzbekistan has chosen the optimal strategy; the first visit was paid to Turkmenistan, then to Kazakhstan and, finally, to Russia. In May, the official visit of the Uzbek President is planned to China. These moves show the continuity in Uzbekistan's foreign policy that has been of equidistance from the world power centers. Uzbekistan's policy of non-engagement in any multilateral structures that have supranational bodies remains. As for the visit to Russia, given its economic and geopolitical potential for Uzbekistan, is difficult to overestimate.

 

This first visit of the Uzbek leader will largely determine the pace of the relations between the two countries. The personal factor, however, shall not be overestimated. This is about the relations between Uzbekistan and Russia as they are mutually interested in each other. However, it is very important when the mutual interest is reinforced by the effective personal contacts of the two presidents as it will undoubtedly strengthen the positive impact of the agreements reached by the two parties.