“Regional cooperation in Central Eurasia: the experience of Kazakhstan and China”

Speech at the international scientific conference “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of China and Kazakhstan”, organized by the Kazakhstan Center for Chinese Studies in partnership with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the Silk Road Institute of Northwestern University in Beijing, China.

October 26, 2019

Yerlan Shamishev

Dear participants of the conference!

Let me express my great gratitude to our colleagues and friends from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences for the invitation and excellent organization of the conference.
I am convinced that the recent lecture of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Kassymzhomart Tokayev at the Academy has laid an excellent tradition of developing a trusting dialogue and exchange of opinions between scientific experts of our two states. I am sincerely glad that, along with my colleagues, I am one of the first participants in this expert dialogue.

I would also like to take this opportunity to cordially congratulate our Chinese friends on the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. As noted by President K.Tokayev, this historical date is an important milestone on the way to building a middle-class Chinese society “xiaokan”.
The last time I was in China was 12 years ago. Since then, China has made a real breakthrough in its socio-economic development, becoming the second economy in the world.

Now China is in search of its place in the global world. As many political leaders are now saying, the whole world is watching China’s rapid development with admiration. And many countries want to catch the “Chinese wind in their sails”.
The American strategist Henry Kissinger, in my opinion, very correctly characterized the current state of China, emphasizing that the” rise ” of China to the top in the XXI century is the restoration of historical patterns. The only difference is that China has returned both as the heir of an ancient civilization and as a modern great power of the Westphalian model. It combines the heritage of the Middle Kingdom, the fruits of technocratic modernization and the results of the rapid search for national well-being during the twentieth century.

The Chinese “Belt and Road Initiative” in this context is a very convenient formula for Beijing and neutral for the outside world for the foreign policy projection of the current potential of the People’s Republic of China.
Kazakhstan is also developing dynamically, we have made serious progress in reforming the national economy, we are firmly following the strategic course of the country’s development outlined for years to come.
The current success is largely due to the wise and far-sighted policy of the leaders of our states, who have made great personal efforts for regional cooperation.
Each stage of the new “generation” of Chinese leaders was marked by the conclusion of a document on strategic partnership. And this is a serious basis for our effective interstate cooperation.

At the present stage, we are witnessing the formation of a new geopolitical reality in Central Eurasia. There is a growing interest in the region from global players. In fact, several geostrategic concepts appeared simultaneously.
During his visit to Beijing in April this year, within the framework of the second Forum “Belt and Road Initiatives”, the First President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, launched the initiative “Three Dialogues” – Three D. This initiative reflects the strategic vision of Elbasy in building a common platform for continental security, in strengthening political dialogue and trust between East and West, in creating a wide network of partner organizations in the vast space of Central Eurasia.
Specifically, in all three areas, the formation of a new geopolitical reality in Eurasia is impossible without the participation of its key elements – Russia and China. Let me remind you that the idea of the “Three D” includes three dialogues: The first is the global level (between the world centers of power) – Russia, China, the United States and the European Union; the second is the intercontinental level – between the OSCE and the CICA; the third is the economic dialogue – between the EAEU, the EU, the SCO and ASEAN.

The long-term trend of the XXI century to shift the center of world economic activity to Asia serves as a convincing confirmation of the relevance of the concept of “Three Dialogues”.
Over the past 6 years, since the announcement of the global initiative “One Belt, One Road” by Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Astana, the situation in the Central Eurasia region has changed significantly.
The determination of the legal status of the Caspian Sea, as well as the growth of interaction between the Central Asian states, opens up favorable opportunities for regional cooperation and the implementation of joint industry projects.
A special place in these processes is occupied by the “One Belt, One Road” or “Belt and Road Initiative”.
From ancient times to the present day, the countries and peoples lying on the path of the Silk Road have experienced dramatic periods, there have been cultural renaissance and devastating wars, entire ethnic groups and empires have disappeared. But the philosophy of the Silk Road, which brings the continents closer together, is reviving with a new force today.

As Confucius said, ” A person is able to make the way great, but the way makes a person great.” It was the way, the Great Silk Road, that made the peoples of Eurasia great – the caravan trade contributed to the emergence of a culture of relations between settled and nomadic peoples.
Today, politicians and experts see the revival of the Great Silk Road as a new phenomenon of international politics.
First, over the past 3 years, two “One Belt, One Road” Forums have already been held in China with the participation of the heads of dozens of states and governments. This indicates the high interest and demand for this initiative.
The first “One Belt – One Road” Forum, held in Beijing on May 14-15, 2017, became an international presentation of the idea.

The most important thing is that the initiative does not cause antagonism and is generally positively received by virtually the entire world community.
For example, according to the head of European diplomacy, F.Mogherini, the New Silk Road project is one of the most important global infrastructures. It makes it possible to bring the continents closer together, and the Central Asian region is turning from the periphery of global politics into an important resource and geopolitical epicenter.
It is difficult to disagree with this. After all, for Europe, the “Belt and Road Initiative” in fact opens a large window of opportunities to the East. It is also extremely important for the European Union to have a neighborhood of prosperous oases, and not an arc of instability and a source of terrorism, crime and illegal migration.
Scientists from the Institute of Economics of the Russian Academy of Sciences see the” Belt and Road Initiative “as China’s transition from” entry “to” exit ” in its foreign policy strategy. According to Chinese terminology, this means that China has reached the level where it needs not so much to attract capital to itself, but to project its economic potential to the outside world.

In this regard, the formation of international transport corridors in the Eurasian space should be considered as a new and important direction of scientific and expert research and practical ideas. They bring new opportunities for Kazakhstan and the countries of Central Asia that do not have direct access to the world ocean.
Secondly, the interaction of Kazakhstan and China plays a key role. As you know, the First President of Kazakhstan – Elbasy was the first in the international arena to support the initiative of Chinese leader Xi Jinping on the construction of the” Silk Road Economic Belt”, putting forward a New economic policy”Nurly Zhol”.
Participation in the Belt and Road Initiative is relevant not only from the point of view of economic benefits, but also geo-economic security, given the role of transport communications in the military, industrial, technological, food and demographic spheres.

In this context, it should be noted that the “Economic Silk Road” project strengthens the strategic security of the entire Central Asia.
The Nurly Zhol program and the Belt and Road Initiative complement each other very organically. Both projects are aimed at creating conditions for facilitating trade, transit transport and the development of a reliable transport and logistics infrastructure.
Just a few days ago, the Government of Kazakhstan announced a new stage of the Nurly Zhol program for 2020-2025. It is planned to allocate 6.5 trillion tenge (about $ 16 billion) for its implementation. 

Moreover, 60% of investments are Kazakhstan’s own funds, that is, not borrowed, but from the state budget, 26% are financing through public-private partnerships and private investments.
These funds will be used to reconstruct 10 thousand km and repair 11 thousand km of the republican road infrastructure network, repair 27 thousand km of the local network. It is planned to build 16 airfields for the development of small air lines, and to purchase 48 units of vessels, including 6 merchant ships, for the development of water transport. It is planned to build and modernize about 133 bus stations, bus stations and passenger service points.

The implementation of the new state program “Nurly Zhol” will create more than half a million jobs; increase labor productivity by 20%; increase transit revenues by 61% from 2.4 billion rubles. up to $ 4.2 billion per year. All these efforts are expected to give a powerful impetus to the development of domestic and cross-border tourism. Kazakhstan will become a center of strategic communications in a large area of Central Eurasia.
In addition, new opportunities are presented by the Astana International Financial Center, which has prospects of becoming an “entry point and turnover” of investment capital from Europe and Asia to the Eurasian markets, where the Belt and Road projects are being implemented.
Third, Kazakhstan makes a great contribution to strengthening the geostrategic infrastructure in Central Eurasia. As you know, 5 railways and 6 highways lead from China to Europe through our country. Therefore, the territory of Kazakhstan most naturally opens the shortest land access from Asia to Europe.

According to a study by the Eurasian Development Bank, the current through tariff (taking into account subsidies from the PRC) at the level of $ 5,500 per 40-foot container provides the potential for further growth of container traffic to 500 thousand tons of conditional equivalent in 2020, that is, three times in three years. However, in order to attract additional cargo traffic, it is necessary to further develop the transport infrastructure and remove barriers. 

The internal railway networks of the EAEU countries and China, their capacity and carrying capacity fully meet the current needs of international transit along the China — EAEU — EU axis. The accuracy of the movement of container trains reaches 99%, and their routes and schedules are agreed by all participants of transcontinental transportation.
In fact, Kazakhstan has already created three strong points in the Silk Road chain. These are the container terminal on the Yellow Sea of Lianyungan – the border center of Khorgos – and the Caspian port of Aktau. Up to 70% of all land trade exchanges between East and West pass through the territory of Kazakhstan – these are 1,200 trains, out of 1,700 sent from China to Europe.

Kazakhstan has invested more than $ 5 billion in transport infrastructure, which significantly accelerated the growth of continental trade communications. This was an important contribution to the process of Linking the Eurasian integration and the Silk Road.
In the future, it is also planned to create terminal and logistics centers in different districts of the cities: Dostyk, Almaty, Aktau, Astana, Uralsk, Aktobe, etc. The projects are focused on the implementation of the transit potential of Kazakhstan and the development of the Eurasian corridors of the Asia — Pacific region — China — Kazakhstan-Europe.
The implementation of the Nurly Zhol program together with the Silk Road projects will ensure the connection of Kazakhstan’s regions to the intercontinental highways “Western Kazakhstan – Western Europe”,” China-Iran”, the TRACECA corridors.

Thanks to these projects, Kazakhstan is gradually becoming an important Eurasian transport and logistics hub, connecting North and South, West and East, the countries of the European Union, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
In general, the global concept of the Belt and Road Initiative contributes to the fact that the Central Asian region has entered a new orbit of geostrategic positioning. It is no secret that the Silk Road creates new opportunities for the countries of Central Asia to break the “continental blockade”.
Moreover, this is not only transit cargo transportation, ports and terminals. Due to the joint implementation of infrastructure projects, new production facilities and jobs will be created, cross-border trade will grow, as well as tourist flows. The overall investment attractiveness of the region will improve.

According to Russian experts, the potential volume of attracted direct investments in the economies of the EAEU countries within the framework of the SREB and interface initiatives can reach $ 250-300 billion over the next 20 years, and the number of jobs that will be created due to these investments will range from 700 thousand to 1 million people. In other words, there is a huge potential for the development of national economies, which can be realized through joint cooperation.
All this should ultimately contribute to the growth of the economies and well-being of the peoples of Central Eurasia, which means that the level of social tension, radical extremist threats and risks to regional security will also decrease. The formula “economy first-then politics” was successfully tested in Kazakhstan, where a class of “middle-income” society was created while maintaining political stability.

In conclusion, I would like to return to the remark from the lecture of President K.Tokayeva said that ” after two thousand years, the Great Silk Road not only revives its traditions and role to unite the peoples of the Great Steppe and the Celestial State, but also brings them new unlimited opportunities for modernization and economic growth.”
Let me wish the Forum participants further interesting discussions and fruitful work.

Thank you for your attention.

Number of shows: 1177