ASTANA – In a July 2 interview with Liter daily newspaper, Minister of Foreign Affairs Erlan Idrissov discussedchanges in Kazakhstan’sforeign policy over the past ten years, the current status of relations with major foreign partners and efforts by the government to attract investment including through easing visa regimes.
“The world has changed considerably over the past 10 years;the foreign policy of Kazakhstan now has differentpolitical, economic and socio-cultural objectives. The work of the foreign ministry has become much more complex as responsibility for foreign policy has increased. Kazakhstanis no longera young state with weak institutions. Today,it is a mature stateandserious regional power,” said Idrissov.
He explained that thanks toPresidentNursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s foreign policy has become increasingly active since independence. One example is the voluntary renunciation of nuclear weapons.This decision has alreadyearned Kazakhstan a spot in the history books. Not a single globalnon-proliferation eventgoes by without the President’s participation. A goodexample is the summit in The Hague in March, where the Kazakh President and his colleagues discussed global nuclear security and the situation in Ukraine.
Another initiative put forwardby Kazakhstan’s leader is the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), which was all but dismissed in the early years since it was offered in 1992. Yet, during the CICA summit in Shanghai in May 2014, President Nazarbayev launched a new initiative. He stressed that 22 years of the development of this initiative have brought the countriesmeeting at the summit to a new stage of growth and that now is the time to think about how to transform this forum of cooperation into something structured tentatively called the Organisation for Security and Development in Asia. According to Idrissov, the foreign ministry will actively work to make the President’s proposal a reality.
Idrissov said President Nazarbayev’s initiative regarding integration in Eurasia is also a case in point.
“May 29 witnessed the birth of the Eurasian Economic Union,” he explained. “Some view this union with skepticism, others see a clear interest by certain states. We categorically reject such points of view. In this union, we see a great potential: the logic of life and geography says that the huge landmass, Europe and Asia, must move towards each other. Therein lies the deep sense of the our President’s idea. He firmly believes in the final success and resultfullness of the integration processes in this area. The EEU is but the first harbinger. The process will not end there. [The launch of the union on] January 1, 2015 is but the beginning of a complex, longterm, and, we hope, effective process of integration.”
“Our foreign policy is not only active, but also multi-vectored – this is the most reasonable approach coded in the nomads’ blood and explained by our history and geography,” the foreign minister said. “Geopolitical tolerance is in our genes, and our entire history shows that that was a correct choice: by leaning towards one side we will ultimately infringe upon our own interests.”
According to the minister, thegovernment of Kazakhstan always tries to give an objective assessment of a given situation and is not afraid to be honestin its dialogue withpartners always attempting to bring its vision of a balanced output toany given situation. The well thought-outpoliciesimplemented over the past22 years demonstrate that it is possible to successfully develop fruitful relationships with competing powers.
“Russia is our natural choice in the long-term. Therefore, it is not by coincidence that we have deep relations in many fields;we wish they will stay like that. We do everything we can to assure that such relations become a constant in our lives.”
The minister mentioned his country’s flourishing relationship with China and the two countries’ shared approaches to regional policy and the global issues. In his words,Kazakhstan recognises that China’s role in theworld has increased significantly. Kazakhstan welcomes the fact that China is pursuing apolicy of multi-polarity in international relations. There is dynamic growth in the mutual trade turnover between two countries. In the early 1990s, annual trade with China amounted to several hundredmilliondollars, but today, the countryis almost Kazakhstan’s largest trading partner. Currently, trade with China totalsover $24 billion and the two leaders have set the task to bring the bar up to $40 billion by 2020.
The foreign minister noted that the West, namely the U.S. and Europe, have in a way sponsored technological and political growth in Kazakhstan since its independencde. The countryhasbetteredrelations with many European countries through collective means; the EU is now Kazakhstan’s largest trading partner. There are currentlymorethan 50 billion dollars in trade with Europe annually, which is almost half of Kazakhstan’s external trade turnover; the70 billion dollars of direct private investments from Europe amountto 40percent of all foreign investment made in Kazakhstan. This is a huge figure that showsgreatpotential for further cooperation, the minister said,emphasising that Europe and the United States are seen asstrategic, long-term partnersby Kazakhstan.
“These countries aresources of technological knowledge, international standards, skills, including knowhow on how to survive in a market economy, which is a concept we have not yet fully mastered. Therefore, the state of our relations with these countries allows us great opportunity in building new economic and civil institutions,” he explained.
Idrissov further emphasised the importance of building relations with Latin America. Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile are growing economies that are interested in Kazakhstan’s markets, he explained. They have seen great achievementand hold great advantages in fields such as agriculture and the meat industry.A new type of fuel is taking over in Brazil: 80 percent of cars in Brazil use ethanol, which is a level unheard of in Kazakhstan. Theminister said cooperation withLatin America has impressive horizons.
Another important topic discussed in the interview was the negotiations on visa facilitation. Document reduction and visa pick up simplification are being discussed. Through this, the foreign ministry wants to significantly reduce the problemsfaced by citizenswhile getting a visa.
“Here again is the principle of reciprocity – the ten countries [whose citizens will be able to travel to Kazakhstan visa free from July 15] we chose to include in the pilot project were the ten countries from which we see most of our investments. Thus, we gave an indirect signal to other countries. We are no longer terra incognita on the political map. Interest in our country is growing. However, the steps forward must be mutual. Visa-free travel to Europe is possible, although we will not achieve this goal overnight. But the new visa regime isn’t being done only for Europe. Over the past two years, our citizens have been granted visa-free travel to a number of countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador and South Korea. And we are also actively negotiating with several Asian countries onvisa-free travel.”