ASTANA – “Astana is a symbol of modern, prosperous Kazakhstan and the flagship of the whole country, representing first of all a victory by the nation’s President, Nursultan Nazarbayev,” Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov said to open the June 5 international conference.
Marking the 20th anniversary of the capital city, the conference, titled Astana: City of Peace, not only focused on Astana’s transformation into a major political, economic and cultural centre in the heart of Eurasia, but also convened discussions on ways to make it a smart, connected city and an innovative hub for finance, trade and transportation.
Welcoming event speakers and participants, among them current and former foreign ministers, parliamentarians, senior officials of international organisations and scholars from across the globe who have personally contributed to Astana’s emergence as a centre of international politics, Akim (Mayor) of Astana Asset Issekeshev briefed them on the city’s achievements.
“In the short span of 20 years, the population of Astana has more than tripled to reach 1 million people, gross regional product increased 190-fold to 5 trillion tenge ($15.6 billion), and annual investment volume to the city’s economy increased 44 times, reaching 885 billion tenge ($2.5 billion),” he said.
“Rapid economic and geographic growth makes the city a model of modern urbanisation, high quality of life and a centre for innovations,” he said.
He also mentioned the 2013 Astana speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping in which Xi announced the New Silk Road Economic Belt programme, calling it “very symbolic,” because “further development of transcontinental transit links belongs among the constant strategic priorities of the capital.”
“Together we executed a huge task: we have built a city and a new generation of Kazakhs grew up there,” he concluded. Now, Astana faces the new ambitious goals of completely adapting to the high standards of world centres of politics and diplomacy.
The first panel discussed the new Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between the European Union and Kazakhstan. “Regional ownership is very important to better design the EU’s approach to the region,” said EU Special Representative for Central Asia Peter Burian.
The EU is carefully reviewing suggestions to be more involved in economic cooperation and bring more investment, including new sources of energy, he said. He believes these will be “fully incorporated in our new strategy.”
Burian also welcomed the new atmosphere of cooperation in Central Asia and praised the collaborative approach Kazakhstan has brought to the United Nations Security Council, particularly on Afghanistan. It showed great leadership, he said, to promote “effective multilateralism as the best way to deal with conflicts,” and helped show how Kazakhstan and the EU are building stronger bonds.
“I was here in 2010 as the Foreign Minister of Italy and was very impressed with the substantial goals Astana has set in the Declaration,” began his speech Special Representative of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for the Transnistrian Settlement Process Franco Frattini as he commended Astana’s contribution as chair of the body in 2010.
“There are some points that are still alive, and some need to be updated; but Astana Declaration no doubt paved the way for making tremendously important progress on a global scale,” he said.
To enhance OSCE instruments, the parties should try to mitigate some tensions, Frattini advised, with the biggest being the growing mutual mistrust between Russia and the West.
To build trust, and indeed to solve many issues facing the global community, the world needs united leaders from West and East, from Russia and the US, who will put aside domestic and electoral issues. He praised China’s Belt and Road initiative as a uniting force.
“When trade and commerce go, armies get back,” resumed Frattini encouraging everyone to use the powerful instruments of dialogue, economic cooperation and trade to prevent the escalation of conflicts.
Deputy head of the Centre for OSCE Research Frank Evers noted that in the OSCE and other organisations, Kazakhstan has played the role of explainer of Asian affairs to Europeans, and of European affairs to Asians – part of the conceptual thinking of a country that sees itself joining the 30 most developed countries in coming decades. According to Evers, three key catchwords associated with Kazakhstan’s 2010 OSCE chairmanship, as well as its role in the world are responsibility, openness and setting Central Asian security accents on the European Security agenda.
Head of the German delegation to the OSCE in 2010 Heiner Horsten said that the Astana Commemorative Declaration “stands as a beacon to this day promoting the vision of a Euro-Asian-Atlantic Security Community from Vancouver to Vladivostok rooted in agreed principals, shared commitments and common goals.”
He stressed that for the first time on the highest level, the document acknowledged that “all commitments undertaken in the field of the human dimension are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating states and do not belong to the internal affairs of the states concerned only.”
The world has not become a safer place since then, and “in comparison to the Cold War era a whole new dimension of threats and challenges has emerged in the form of cyber-attacks and with regard to the so-called transnational threats from terrorism to trafficking in drugs and human beings,” continued German diplomat.
“It is important that the policies be re-focused on principles and guidelines that could help participating states overcome the distrust, tension and open conflict.” Director of the Institute for Strategic and Interregional Studies under the President of Uzbekistan Vladimir Norov commended the enhancement of Kazakh-Uzbek relations in light of a new attitude of cooperation in Central Asia.
“In the last two years, the heads of two states made six mutual visits, met nine times in bilateral and multilateral formats, thanks to which the trade turnover between our countries reached $2 billion,” he said.
Norov suggested that the successful political and economic development of Kazakhstan and its capital city serve the interests of regional neighbours and all of Eurasia. Senior fellow of the Washington, DC-based Atlantic Council Ariel Cohen said that the unique demography and geography of this country testifies to the role Astana and Kazakhstan must play in Eurasia and the world. Nestled between East and West, it is natural for international cooperation to build in Eurasia.
“Kazakhstan serves as a hub in the Belt and Road initiative that is being increasingly criticised in my country, instead of examining how the US can play a role in the initiative, which, if brought to its logical conclusion, would reformat the Eastern hemisphere and Eurasia as we know it,” he concluded.
Other speakers included Former Vice President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Alain Neri, Executive Director of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia Gong Jianwei, former Secretary-General of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Muratbek Imanaliev and ninth Secretary-General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu. Chairman and CEO of Greenstar Global Energy Corporation Ravi Batra presented a congratulatory address from U.S. Representative Elliot Engel on Astana’s anniversary, and President of the International Tax and Investment Centre Daniel Witt presented a congratulatory address on behalf of Mayor of Washington D.C. Muriel Bowser.