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Building a Joint Future for ASEM: View from Kazakhstan

Published on 23 Dec 2015

 By Mr Erlan IDRISSOV, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan

From its first days as an independent country, Kazakhstan has been guided by the principle of “economy first and then politics”. Thanks to this principle and the leadership of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, our country has developed its economy very rapidly.

We are now determined to build on this success and, with the adoption of the “Kazakhstan – 2050” strategy, have set a goal of joining the list of the world’s 30 most developed countries. With this strategy and by strengthening cooperation and dialogue with our international partners, we intend to develop our domestic industries, gain modern experience, attract innovations, exchange technologies and develop investment cooperation.

These are challenging times for the world. But Kazakhstan has enough resources to chart its way through the current international economic and political difficulties to continue improving the country’s economy and the well-being of its citizens.

This resilience has been helped by policies to improve the investment climate which has seen Kazakhstan receive over US$100 billion in investment over the last five years.

It is impossible for any country to have a stable economy if it ignores what happens outside its borders. Kazakhstan, from its earliest days, has pursued policies to strengthen security and peace on the basis of international law and to be seen as a trusted partner.

We are an active participant in major international organisations such as the United Nations, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia. We are committed to developing economic partnerships as well as strengthening our international relations.

Deepening economic cooperation is the aim of Kazakhstan’s participation in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) which started on January 1, 2015. The EAEU is focused on building markets, broadening the transport-transit potential, and improving the social-economic environment. All this will be done within the framework of the World Trade Organization of which we became a member in 2015. We believe it will help us to expand our trade with the whole world and open new opportunities for our economy.

Our country is located where Asia and Europe meet. So it was natural for Kazakhstan to join the Asia – Europe Meeting (ASEM) which we did during the ASEM Summit in Milan in 2014.

There are many opportunities for increased cooperation. Our Development Strategy Kazakhstan 2050 and State Program “Nurly Zhol” (Path to the Future), for example, have been put in place to help us achieve the ambition of becoming one of the world’s 30 most developed countries, and include policies designed to improve education and vocational training, energy efficiency technologies, transport and logistics, food security and energy innovations – all of which provide opportunities for new partnerships with ASEM members.

This is particularly the case in the transport and logistics spheres because of Kazakhstan’s position as a bridge between Asia and Europe. A new railroad linking Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran that opens a shortcut to the Persian Gulf has been built, another new rail link connecting Almaty with Lianyungang port in China has been opened and a Western Europe – Western China” road route nears completion. I strongly believe these improved transport links will help to strengthen cooperation with and between the ASEM countries.

The “Western Europe – Western China” road route is an example of the widespread benefits that Kazakhstan’s improved transport infrastructure will bring. At present, the sea journey from China to Europe takes 24 days and the Trans-Siberia rail route 14 days. In contrast, transit on the new “Western Europe – Western China” route will take 10 days from Lianyungang to the borders of European countries.

Global climate change was one of the key topics at the meeting of ASEM Ministers of Foreign Affairs that was recently held in Luxembourg. Tackling this challenge will require all countries to change the way they power their economies. To help identify, develop and share the technologies that will be needed, our capital city, Astana, will host the International Exhibition “EXPO  2017” on the theme of “Future Energy”. I am proud that many foreign countries and global companies have already confirmed their participation at this important event.

Ahead of EXPO 2017, Kazakhstan and ASEF have already held a seminar on “the problems of climate change in Central Asia and the development of the sphere of hydrocarbons” in April 2015. It was the first event that Kazakhstan had conducted with ASEM members and I am sure our cooperation will continue to be fruitful in the future.

The terrible danger that nuclear weapons pose to the world continues to be a major threat to all our safety and security. It is a threat that Kazakhstan knows well from its recent history: as a part of the Soviet Union, our country was the scene of 450 nuclear tests over 40 years and suffered badly. Even before Kazakhstan became formally independent, President Nazarbayev closed the Semipalatinsk nuclear testing site in 1991. Today Kazakhstan continues to work tirelessly in the international arena to end nuclear weapon tests, to halt the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and to champion the cause of nuclear disarmament.

The ATOM project, which stands for “Abolish Testing, Our Mission”, is an important part of this campaign. It is focused on raising awareness of the threat of nuclear weapons on humans and the environment all over the world.

Kazakhstan has also taken steps to help the expansion of peaceful nuclear power without increasing the dangers of the spread of nuclear weapons. Our country has agreed with the International Atomic Energy Agency to host the world’s first Low-Enriched Uranium (LEU) Bank from 2017. It is an important step towards the strengthening of cooperation in the area of atomic energy and in establishing a safer world.

Kazakhstan is proud to have built a society in which people of many faiths and backgrounds live in harmony. In a world in which there are many religious, military and political conflicts, the need for tolerance and understanding is more important than ever. It was to build this understanding and respect that President Nazarbayev established the Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions that is held in our capital Astana every three years.

It is to help heal divisions, foster peace and cooperation, and build prosperity across the world that Kazakhstan is seeking a seat on the United Nations Security Council as a Non-Permanent Member for 2017-2018. I know these goals are also important to ASEM countries, and Kazakhstan looks forward to working to achieve these ambitions in close collaboration and coordination with the member states.

Kazakhstan’s above mentioned initiatives such as EXPO 2017 and the LEU Bank were mentioned in the Chair’s Statement of the ASEM Ministerial Meeting in Luxembourg. It shows that the world community members share the same goals with Kazakhstan in building a better world.

All this leads Kazakhstan to seek forging new humanitarian, socioeconomic and political links within the ASEM. We stand ready to further develop all relevant projects initiated by other members of this distinguished Forum. 

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This article is part of the ASEM 20th Anniversary Book on “20 Years of Asia-Europe Relations”. The publication is a collection of articles by leaders and experts from Asia and Europe on the past, present and future of ASEM. Selected articles from this collection will be compiled and published as a book by the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), which will be distributed at the 11th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM11) Summit in 2016 in Mongolia.