Central Asia offered Nordic Synergy experience

Victoria Panfilova, columnist of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, specially for Vestnik Kavkaza
Central Asia offered Nordic Synergy experience

The second consultative summit of the Central Asian leaders, known as Navruz, will be held in Tashkent in late April, Uzbekistan's Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdulaziz Kamilov said during the international conference themed 'Interconnectivity in Central Asia: Challenges and New Opportunities'. The proposals and ideas expressed by experts from 36 countries during the forum to expand regional cooperation will be taken into account in the elaboration of the agenda for the upcoming meeting of the presidents.

The results of the first two years of active regional cooperation were summed up and options for a future long-term strategy for the development of regional cooperation were discussed at the meeting in Tashkent, which was a logical continuation of the Conference on Central Asia held in Samarkand in November 2017. "The exchange of views that took place during the conference confirmed that enhanced interaction in Central Asia is an objective, stable and irreversible trend, based on a firm political choice of all countries in the region and having deep historical background," Kamilov said, summing up the forum results. According to the minister, the principled choice of all Central Asian countries to further enhance mutually beneficial regional cooperation is confirmed.

The development of trade is becoming the main driver of relations between the republics. In particular, Uzbekistan's trade turnover with its neighbors increased by more than 50% in 2018. Kazakhstan has more modest statistics - its trade with the Central Asian countries increased to 20.2%. At the same time, according to the Deputy Director of Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Sanat Kushkumbayev, the main trading partner of Kazakhstan among the Central Asian states is Kazakhstan. A decline in trade volumes with such traditional partners as Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan was recorded: by 8.2% with Ashgabat, by 5% - with Bishkek. "The Central Asian countries continue to expand economic cooperation both within the region and abroad. However, multidirectional processes of economic development, foreign economic diversity, as well as an increased competition of external players for influence in the region hinder the formation of a stable structure of multilateral relations," Kushkumbayev noted.

The expert also noted that the financial systems of the Central Asian countries (except for Kazakhstan) are not sufficiently integrated into global financial markets. The underdevelopment of financial markets affects the possibilities of advancing economic growth in the region and further determines the increasing dependence on foreign sources of financing. The launch of the financial hub Astana International Financial Center can be an incentive for the development of the Central Asian countries' stock market and a tool to attract investments. "The development of transit-transport potential remains a promising area of cooperation. Moreover, the joint construction and modernization of transport and transit infrastructure within the framework of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative will only increase the effect," Kushkumbayev believes.

The implementation of large infrastructure projects with participation of Afghanistan in such areas as energy and transport, as well as cooperation in the humanitarian sphere are becoming one of the factors favourable to the regional cooperation. The solution of security problems and the fight against terrorism and extremism in Afghanistan can also be implemented through economic and humanitarian cooperation of countries in the region.

Deputy Director of the Center for Strategic Studies under the President of Tajikistan Parviz Muhammadzoda drew attention to his country's water and energy potential. "The use of Tajikistan’s hydropower potential will ensure the lion’s share of the region’s consumption of ecologically clean energy. According to international estimates, Tajikistan is the world's sixth electricity generator from renewable energy sources. After commissioning new capacities, including the Rogun hydropower plant, it could rank second or third. It can become Tajikistan's contribution to solving one of the main global problems - reducing the concentration of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere," the Tajik expert said. According to him, the prospects for the development of regional integration and security in Central Asia, as well as the possibility of attracting investments in the development of hydropower will largely depend on further activity in regulating regional problems of Central Asia in the water and energy sector. In the long term, a comprehensive achievement of the goals will contribute to the rational and efficient use of a water and energy potential, which is one of the most important areas in which the regional countries' economy could grow.

The Afghan issue was also on the agenda. Chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute (the U.S.) Frederick Starr noted that it is very important that the countries treat Afghanistan as an integral part of the region, not as a problem neighbor. A number of investment projects in the transport, energy, and humanitarian sectors are being jointly implemented. He was supported by director of the NYU Center on International Cooperation (the U.S.) Barnett Rubin: "Afghanistan needs assistance to support its economy, which is impossible without "interconnectedness" and regional cooperation. I think that the achievement of progress in the Afghan peaceful settlement will further strengthen Uzbekistan's role." Foreign experts offered to use the experience of regional cooperation models - ASEAN, the Nordic Council, the European Union and apply them in the Central Asian environment.

Ambassador of Sweden to Uzbekistan Ingrid Tersman spoke about the integration experience of the northern countries, which began in 1950 in the fields of economy, transport, education, science and democracy. Nordic Synergy provides added value for countries and peoples. It is carried out in the form of intergovernmental cooperation. The parliamentary council holds a meeting each year where ministers of all countries of the alliance are asked questions. It is called the 'Question Hour'. This is a very difficult time for each of the ministers," the ambassador noted. At the same time, each country is independent in this cooperation. For example, three countries of the alliance are members of NATO - Denmark, Norway and Iceland. But Norway and Iceland are not members of the European Union.

There is a free movement of goods, services and citizens inside the alliance. This means that citizens of the Nordic countries can travel without passport to any other Nordic country. They can also work in any country of the region and receive social protection. Nordic Synergy has the support of the citizens of the alliance. And such support has no analogues in the world. One of the reasons for the support of the population is that in the alliance includes 700 independent organizations working at the national, interregional level, including business, sports organizations, trade unions. An Internet network managing 'Nordic cooperation' has also been created. We want to be a strong "Nordic voice" not only in a European context, but also in an international format. An interesting experience has been gained in the diplomatic sphere - the y have a common building. That is, diplomats of the Nordic Synergy countries are located under the same roof in other countries of the world."

Director of the Center for Post-Soviet Studies at the Institute of International Studies of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations Stanislav Chernyavsky urged not to impose alien models on countries of the region. He recalled that  there are such integration associations as the Eurasian Economic Union, the CSTO, the SCO in Central Asia. "Russia is a member of the Eurasian region, and Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan owe it the calm situation on their northern borders, as well as the employment of tens of thousands of their citizens, which work in Russia and send money to their relatives," the expert stressed. Chernyavsky noted that Russia welcomes the Uzbek leadership's activities, aimed at strengthening stability and cooperation in the region. "We consider the regional rapprochement policy implemented in Central Asia as a historically determined necessity, not a process imposed by anyone from outside," the Russian expert said.

Associate policy analyst for the RAND Corporation (the U.S.) Jason Campbell believes that the conference is important not only for the Central Asian countries, but also for the global community, as it can observe the process of regional interaction in such areas as trade, transport and security. Ongoing effort may attract more attention due to high impact. Uzbekistan plays an important role in regional policy, and it will only increase. The countries interested in resolving the Afghan issue see potential in Uzbekistan’s initiatives to achieve stability in Afghanistan in the medium and long term.

Abdulaziz Kamilov emphasized that the process of rapprochement in Central Asia is not directed against anyone’s interests. On the contrary, investment in cooperation contributes to the development of a prosperous region, and therefore a reliable and predictable international partner.