Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA): what’s in the name?

If the territory of all 26 member states was painted on the world map in one colour, it would cover the space from the Pacific Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea and from the Indian Ocean to the northern seas. This is the CICA region: one-fourth of the planet’s landmass, whose peoples are united by a desire to ensure their common security and stability and protect the world for the joint development of national cultures, economies and a common bright future. This desire is based on the enormous potential inherent in the diligence, enterprise and openness of the peoples of Asia and the richness of their natural resources. This potential has been realised for 25 years for the prosperity of all corners of the Asian continent through the equitable cooperation of countries that differ in size, population, religion, culture, economic development and political order.

photo by Djem

Gong Jianwei

On Oct. 5 this year we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the CICA process. It all began with the initiative President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev put forward at the 47th Session of the UN General Assembly in 1992, which gave way to a new understanding of security based on principles of mutual trust and cooperation. Thus, interstate relations were transferred to a new level of equal partnership. A model of regional cooperation was proposed, the innovation of which was the priority of the indivisibility of security, joint initiative and mutually beneficial interaction of small and large states. The interests of sustainable development of all peoples were put at the forefront.

During this period CICA gained a foothold as a platform for trustful dialogue, mutual understanding and equal partnership between member states and became an important mechanism of the modern system of interstate relations, contributing to the maintenance of security and stability in the region. Here we will try to briefly outline the main points of what has been done so far.

The leader of Kazakhstan proposed starting with simple and practical steps to establish a regional structure of security. A delicate approach and the correct identification of the key parameters of the interaction of the countries concerned contributed to the evolution of a new and effective institution in the field of Asian security. Painstaking efforts that began with meetings at the level of representatives of foreign affairs offices of Kazakhstan and the 15 countries that supported the new idea have borne fruit. The tireless work of diplomats led to the first meeting of the ministers of foreign affairs of CICA member states in Almaty in September 1999 to adopt the Declaration of Principles Guiding Relations between CICA member states. This laid the foundation for the subsequent institutional development of the CICA process. It is important that it emphasises that “the diversity of national characteristics, traditions, cultures and values of Asian states is not a divisive, but valuable mutually enriching factor of their relations.”

Here I would like to note the following. We often hear figurative expressions like  “speak the same language” and “family of peoples.” Within the CICA, from the very beginning, the diplomats sought, found and developed this new language of equality and mutually beneficial cooperation with partners from other countries of the conference. Now, meetings and events at all levels use this language of mutual understanding and respect. This atmosphere of confidence must not be overlooked as a factor contributing to an increase in the number of member states. The new members do not shyly listen to what is happening, but immediately actively join the work of the “family,” making their suggestions and ideas, which we will talk about below.

In June 2002, Almaty, warm and smothered in verdure, hospitably received the participants of the first Summit of Heads of State and Government of 16 CICA countries, which marked the formal birth of the conference as a multilateral forum for deepening cooperation for peace, security and stability in the region. The Almaty Act, adopted as its outcome, clearly showed the intention of the member states to find an acceptable platform for creating a viable security structure in Asia, in spite of the existing disagreements. It also declared the determination of the states to form a common and indivisible security space in Asia, where “military-political aspects, confidence-building measures, economic and environmental problems, humanitarian and cultural cooperation” should be involved. A sign of the political perspicacity of President Nazarbayev and the pride of Kazakhstan’s diplomacy was that some countries embroiled in very tense relations became signatories of this document. The summit also adopted a Declaration on Eliminating Terrorism and Promoting Dialogue among Civilisations.

CICA logoIn 2004, the CICA Catalogue of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) was elaborated as a basic document for practical activity defined in five dimensions: military and political issues, the fight against new challenges and threats, economy, the environment, and human issues. This document was one of a kind. Countries agreed to choose confidence-building measures acceptable to them and implement them on a gradual and voluntary basis. A cooperative approach for the implementation of CICA CBMs was adopted in 2007. I would like to note that now 14 countries are coordinators/co-coordinators of confidence-building measures in different areas.

Regarding CICA’s organisation, an important milestone was the establishment in 2006 of its Secretariat, the executive body of the forum intended for administrative assistance to the chairing country and member states in the implementation of confidence-building measures. The staff of the Secretariat consists of diplomats sent by countries on secondment, as well as administrative and technical personnel. The Secretariat contributed to the launch of work on all five dimensions of CICA and the development of mechanisms for creating and implementing plans. The Secretariat’s website contains information on daily activities and recent developments in CICA.

In the economic sphere, attention is focused on the promotion of small and medium-sized businesses, trade, infrastructure development and transport corridors, telecommunications, the expansion of opportunities in agriculture and other directions. The rapid pace of introduction of innovative technologies, especially those created in the countries of the region, helps in implementing CICA tasks in these areas. The five business forums held in support of small and medium-sized businesses facilitated the establishment of direct links and dialogue between representatives of commercial organisations and executive bodies of the CICA countries. Based on their results, it was decided to establish the CICA Business Council, tasked with establishing contacts, signing contracts between the business circles of the countries, further implementing joint projects and expanding trade, financial and investment flows. This successful experience prompted the idea of organising a Specialised Business Forum. Such a forum, dedicated to problems and solutions in the export of consumer goods in the CICA region, was held in Moscow on Oct. 12 this year.

It is no secret that the most pressing problem in the Asian region continues to be the cultivation of narcotic plants. Everyone knows that proceeds from the drug business are used to sponsor terrorism, corruption, human trafficking, weapons purchases and other illegal and destructive trades. World experience has shown that simply burning fields of illegal crops is not effective. It is necessary to replace narcotic plants with agricultural crops to provide the rural population of those countries with work, food and income. So the branches of the fight against the drug threat and provision of economic security are intertwined. Now, China has proposed an action plan for the coming years intended to transform and modernise agricultural work. The plan guarantees employment and profitability, and should increase the competitiveness of the agricultural sector in the region and the rational allocation of resources. Thailand has become a coordinator for sustainable development and is holding courses on this issue in October.

Over the years, dozens of events have been held in all five dimensions, including business forums, military exercises, seminars and festivals. Hundreds of specialists of various profiles were given the opportunity to exchange experience, methods and technologies, whether it be in  the fight against drug trafficking, developing the agro-industrial sector, supporting small and medium-sized businesses, understanding and managing migration, cooperating between law enforcement agencies, and understanding and facing new challenges. Events have also grown more targeted, directed at specific requests of member states. For example, teachers and lecturers at seminars on the fight against the drug threat are representing CICA countries; thus, participants study material based on real situations in the region.

In the Secretariat databases of contact persons, national coordinators, including departments, are being created. This is an important detail. After all, individuals can leave departments, but departments retain responsibility for implementing action plans.

It should be noted that for a more complete study of issues of the greatest interest for all countries, CICA periodically conducts scientific and practical conferences and seminars with the participation of member states’ analysts and experts. From the outset, the conference has used every opportunity to ensure continued effective action. A nongovernmental forum was established to facilitate civil communication between CICA member states, to popularise CICA’s goals and objectives and to increase the influence of the forum in the field of security.

Since then, several meetings have taken place, during which prominent scientists, politicians – including former leaders of nations – experts, representatives of the media elite and public organisations were given the opportunity to discuss a wide range of issues of peace, security and stability in Asia. A deep exchange of views on these and other issues led to very constructive proposals that are used in the current activities of the CICA.

It should be noted that political cooperation and cooperation in the field of security continues successfully. Negotiations among member states on the development of the CICA Action Plan for the implementation of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy are continuing. In recent years, Kazakhstan, as a coordinator in the military-political dimension, held seminars and lectures for military experts, diplomats and military attaches of CICA countries and organised visits to a number of military facilities and exhibitions. A very interesting seminar was held in Kazakhstan – participants visited the Baikonur space port for a rocket launch. This was a unique and informative addition to the rest of the seminar, held in Astana.

Climate change, including disruptions caused by human economic activity, requires new solutions. The need for cooperation in this area is also evident in all Asian countries. A regional approach based on the fair consideration of the interests of all parties involved is required to address issues of using trans-boundary water resources and combating desertification. Mongolia coordinates this activity.

Last month, member states adopted the concept paper for implementation of CBMs in the area of sustainable development, presented by Thailand as a coordinator. Its essence is to study alternative approaches to sustainable development already underway and exchange its experience and best practices for the successful implementation of the UN Agenda for the period until 2030. Goals will also be supported through the development of a network of cooperation between CICA member states.

CICA member states support China’s Belt and Road initiative, which fits perfectly into the ideology of the conference, as it represents a vision for integration projects in Eurasia. This initiative is a step forward in this direction in creating infrastructure and developing trade, finance and relationships between people.

Of great interest is CICA’s activity in the human field. Measures have been taken to promote inter-civilisational dialogue, cultural cooperation, the development of democratic processes in the region and more, all with the aim of promoting mutual understanding and interaction between the peoples of CICA countries. Festivals, a cultural exhibition of the countries of the Silk Road and the New Delhi seminar “CICA: Building Bridges across Asia through Tourism” were held, a collection of fairy tales and legends of CICA countries was published and a youth camp was organised.

The CICA Youth Council, set up in 2014, explores and improves national youth policies based on real-world situations and addresses many challenges facing young people in the region. We see how vulnerable young souls are and how easily they can fall under negative alien influences, especially considering the potential of modern communications. Our task today is to build in young generations the desire for peace, goodness, dignity and freedom. The main thrust is acceptance of responsibility based on understanding of true religious, universal and moral values, as well as respect for the experience of their elders. Therefore, the tasks of the CICA Youth Council are very broad and are not limited to the possibility of obtaining education in neighbouring countries. They include the involvement of volunteers in international movements, eco-tourism, agro-tourism, the organisation of scientific and industrial practices, and other activities. Through this, young people from different countries can test their strength and knowledge in different sectors and countries. Youth cooperation is not just part of people’s diplomacy and an important component of interstate relations: It is also a real and universally recognised resource for development.

Since the establishment of CICA, four summits of heads of state and five ministerial meetings have taken place. CICA is actively building external relations and its authority is growing. An increasing number of states are expressing a desire to establish contacts with the conference. It should be noted that CICA countries participate in the work of a number of other regional organisations and forums. To date, memoranda of understanding have been signed with such organisations as the International Organisation for Migration, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan (APK) and more. These links contribute to the specialisation of these structures and prevent the duplication of work.

No process can develop rectilinearly. From time to time, there is a need to impart a new impetus to work. Thus, in addition to the role of ministerial meetings and summits, the importance of rotating the chairmanship should be noted. At the same time, the importance of the experience of previous chairmanships is always taken into account in order to realise the priorities of all participants for the subsequent period. In 2010, for the first time in the history of CICA (17 years after the initiation of the process), the chairmanship was rotated – Kazakhstan handed it to Turkey, one of the most active participants in the forum. As a coordinator in the field of combating new challenges and threats, Turkey stepped up its efforts to address problems related to cross-border crime, drug trafficking, illegal migration and terrorism, without disregarding other dimensions of CICA.

Four years later, China assumed the chairmanship of CICA in May 2014 during the fourth CICA Summit in Shanghai. In his speech, Chinese President Xi Jinping reaffirmed China’s continuity of and commitment to CICA policy. Developing the provisions of the Almaty Act on the indivisibility of comprehensive security in new realities, Asian countries must develop a new concept for success, based on the principles of mutual responsibility, trust and benefit, equality and cooperation. This thesis became central when President Xi Jinping presented the new concept of Asian security, which was widely supported by the leaders of countries participating in the summit. The concept takes into account modern realities and presents the basic principles of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security. Thus, modern security includes economic, cultural, information, environmental and military-political components. All these components form a coherent system in which security must be ensured by an integrated policy and concrete actions to eradicate its threats.

On Sept. 20 of this year, the Chinese chairmanship organised another informal meeting of foreign ministers on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. During the event, the participants adopted a joint statement on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of CICA and noted the main achievements of the forum over a quarter of a century. They also talked about improving practical cooperation in all five dimensions of CICA cooperation, expanding the geography of the forum, developing external relations, creating a mechanism for regular meetings of ambassadors of member states in Astana, strengthening the role of the Secretariat, and transforming the forum into a full-fledged international organisation.

Over 25 years, CICA member states have made significant progress, but they intend to increase the pace of interaction. Currently, concrete short-term cooperation plans are under way. It is important to note that since countries participate in the forum on a voluntary basis, CICA brings concrete benefits to those countries that are actively involved in its activities.

As President Nazarbayev noted, “CICA is a young forum, often going on uncharted paths, and therefore not having ready recipes for all cases. Optimal solutions are developed in the process of dialogue.” Here you can only add that CICA has succeeded, become stronger and is occupying a worthy place in the system of international relations. Aware of their responsibility for the future, all the countries of the conference make a significant contribution to strengthening the climate of trust, mutual understanding and partnership. The integration processes of cooperation in various spheres are gaining momentum: economy, culture, social life, security. Obviously, the forum’s prospects directly depend on the ability of Asian countries to respond collectively and effectively to all challenges and threats of the future.


The author is executive director of the Secretariat of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia.

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