Astana-Berlin Relationship Stronger Than Ever, German Ambassador Says

ASTANA – Kazakhstan’s relationship with Germany has never been better and the Central Asian nation is now considered more of a partner with Germany than it used to, German Ambassador to Kazakhstan Dr. Guido Herz told The Astana Times.

“Twenty years ago, the situation was completely different—at that time, Kazakhstan was a developing country, an underdeveloped country in many respects; Germany was a highly industrialised country. Now we are more at the same level. Kazakhstan is now a … threshold country, an emerging country. Germany still is a highly industrialised country, but now the quality of relations are completely different.”

Ambassador Herz’s comments come more than two years after arriving in the country and after the signing of a raw materials and technologies trade agreement between the two countries.

Though that agreement is proving difficult to implement, the increased parity means new opportunities for cooperation in education and science, especially with Nazarbayev University, which Herz calls a completely new approach for education in Kazakhstan.

As the university expands into technical sciences and earth sciences, areas of German expertise, the possibilities for collaboration are growing—and it is this kind of cooperation that the ambassador has made his goal.

“As I have a perspective of three years here, I must have a modest target,” Herz said. “My modest target is to get on track a serious cooperation between German technical universities and the new Nazarbayev University in the context of the preparation for EXPO 2017 and also in the wake of EXPO 2017, because the expo site will afterward be integrated into a kind of technology park of Nazarbayev University.”

Currently, the two sides are trying to organise a trip by presidents of Kazakhstan-based universities, including Shigeo Katsu, president of Nazarbayev University, to Germany.

Meanwhile, Germany is playing an advisory role in Kazakhstan, particularly in agriculture, education and renewable energy. The European nation is consulting Kazakhstan on improving the efficiency of agricultural production, particularly grain production, and there are ongoing talks about assembling agricultural machines here.

The German Society for International Cooperation is also in Kazakhstan assisting with Kazakhstan’s implementation of a German-style dual vocational education system. “You can’t just transplant the German system of dual education into Kazakhstan, but of course you can advise,” Herz said.

Germany’s involvement in Kazakhstan’s move toward renewable energy is “still in the talking and planning phase,” but there is a role to play for Germany and the German embassy in that effort, said the ambassador. As Germany is a world leader in renewable energy technologies, the ambassador said he expects to be involved in the renewable industry in Kazakhstan as the sector expands. Herz also noted that the German Energy Agency (DENA) is advising Kazakhstan on renewable energies and energy efficiency and that DENA has held presentations and exhibitions on renewable energy and solar power collection devices in Kazakhstan.

“On top of that, the environment ministry is in very close contact with our environment ministry,” Herz said. “So a lot of input is being given. Whether this will mean in the end materialization of sales for German companies, I don’t know,” he said.

Germany was the first major Western country to have signed on to the Green Bridge Partnership Programme, a proposal submitted by Kazakhstan to the UN which aims to help Central Asian states develop green economies through international cooperation, knowledge sharing and other kinds of support. The Green Bridge Partnership Programme embodies Kazakhstan’s push for a greener economy, as well as what the ambassador notes as a very active role in international politics.

“I think Kazakhstan is punching above its weight,” Herz said. “You have geographically a huge territory with vast resources, but in terms of population, Kazakhstan is a small country of about 17 million people. Given its small population, it plays a more than proportional role, in a positive way, in international politics,” said Herz, noting Kazakhstan’s recent chairmanships of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA).

Herz also said the media’s focus on human rights issues ignores Kazakhstan’s history and short span of independence. “I think we should have a certain amount of patience, and I see that they are seriously, seriously trying to improve the situation.”

Herz added that one of the primary areas where the West should be more heavily focusing is on the proven merit of Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev in the area of nuclear disarmament.

“In the entire world, there is one politician who is really credible in terms of nuclear disarmament: that’s Nazarbayev. Because he has acted—he has had nuclear arms and he has given them up, completely.”

Overall, Herz said, it is difficult to know exactly how Kazakhstan will continue to develop, but he said the future could very well present opportunities that have yet to even be considered. “What I do not rule out is that in the medium term, because of the politics of Kazakhstan’s government, that there will be an environment where for some reason, all of a sudden, some kind of industry we are not thinking about at present might crop up. For example, in the field of logistics, or the space testing centre, or something in conjunction with Nazarbayev University and the idea of trying to create a Eurasian Silicon Valley.” Many of the country’s most promising possibilities have nothing to do with classical industrial investment, Herz said.

Herz also stressed the importance of the new Western Europe-Western China Highway. “I think that connection between West China and Western Europe will be of major importance in the years to come.” A new railway connection between Western China and Germany is also going to have a major impact, he predicted.

“These are the things (that may shape the future). We … don’t know what will happen. We don’t have the imagination to devise what kind of dynamic might come of these things.”

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