Mukhtar Tileuberdi: “Despite the pandemic, the foundations of Kazakhstan’s foreign policy remain unchanged”

The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly had a huge impact on the daily life of Kazakhs. As a global event, it could not but affect the sphere of international relations.

Mukhtar Tileuberdi

In this regard, the Kazakhstanskaya Pravda newspaper asked the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, Mukhtar Tileuberdi, about the results of the work of diplomats in 2020 – a year difficult for the whole world.

With the newspaper’s permission, we bring to the attention of our readers the translation of the interview.

– 2020 was in many ways unique in the modern history of Kazakhstan and all humankind. How did the Foreign Ministry work in the current conditions and what is its specific contribution to the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, and its social and economic consequences?

– I agree. 2020 was indeed a very difficult year for all countries. The crisis caused by the pandemic has affected almost every sphere of human life, showed how interdependent nations are today and how vulnerable we are, despite the modern level of development of medicine. I believe that this year was also one of the most difficult for Kazakhstan’s diplomacy.

The coronavirus has made adjustments to the work of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: the main emphasis was placed on helping our citizens who found themselves outside the country under the conditions of nationwide lockdowns, on adapting mechanisms for implementing foreign policy in crisis conditions and on holding international events online.

Using the capabilities of our diplomatic missions abroad, we made every effort to ensure a coordinating role in this important issue for the nation. The operational unit at the MFA for assisting Kazakh citizens abroad and our foreign missions provided substantive assistance to the return of over 33,000 of our citizens to Kazakhstan, and the organization of 385 repatriation flights, as well as the transportation of 28 Kazakh citizens to their homeland for health reasons, together with the Ministry of Health.

The Foreign Ministry also assisted many foreigners in ensuring their legal stay on the territory of our country or in their return to their homeland.

It can be said that in 2020 practical diplomacy, focused on the actual needs of citizens, came to the fore, which became a natural continuation of the policy of the “listening state”.

– Over the past year, the declared friendly relations between the countries of the world passed an unprecedented test of strength. The pandemic has shown that one cannot cope in these difficult conditions alone. Who lent us a helping hand and who did we help?

– The pandemic has brought with it a new reality. If you remember at the very beginning, countries were at a loss and could not decide how to respond to the pandemic in order to prevent it from spreading on their territory. The natural reaction of many states was the closure of borders and the adoption of strict lockdown measures, which, by the way, did not prevent the dissemination of the virus. Only then did everyone begin to realize that overcoming the problems that arose is possible through joint efforts and mutual assistance.

In this pandemic, the very notions of international solidarity, cooperation and mutual assistance have acquired concrete meaning and filled with content.

Many countries found themselves in a difficult situation, and the humanitarian assistance provided was very useful, allowing them to survive the initial shock, catch their breath and accumulate the necessary reserves to fight this threat.

Kazakhstan did not stand aside either. During this difficult period, one of the priority areas of the Foreign Ministry’s activities was the direction and attraction of foreign humanitarian aid, including medicines and personal protective equipment.

Our country was one of the first to send medical humanitarian aid to Wuhan. Food and medical assistance was provided to Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Hungary and Italy.

In turn, we accepted humanitarian assistance to fight the pandemic from countries in Europe, North America, Asia, Australia, the Middle East and the CIS. I would also like to note the arrival of significant groups of medics from Russia and China, who provided important practical assistance to their Kazakh colleagues in the fight against Covid-19.

Taking this opportunity, I express my sincere gratitude to all our foreign partners for the substantive international solidarity with the people of Kazakhstan in the common fight against the pandemic.

– Has the global lockdown influenced international activity overall, and Kazakh foreign policy in particular? In this regard, what are the prospects for the implementation of the new Foreign Policy Concept of the Republic of Kazakhstan for 2020-2030?

– The global lockdown and quarantine measures have led to certain difficulties for the work of diplomats. Many international events were postponed until the epidemiological situation improved, but most of them went online. The so-called “digital communication” began to actively develop, which allowed continuing work to promote the interests of our country.

At the same time, despite the pandemic, the foundations of Kazakhstan’s foreign policy remain unchanged: we continue to pursue a constructive, balanced and multi-vector foreign policy with an emphasis on firmly promoting and defending national interests in the international arena.

Indeed, 2020 had a special meaning for us as President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev approved a new Foreign Policy Concept of Kazakhstan for 2020 – 2030. For the first time, the horizon of foreign policy planning has been extended to a decade with adaptation to constantly changing external conditions. The document is a public one and is aimed at ensuring stable positions and forming a positive image of the state in the global community with further integration into the system of regional and international trade and economic relations. As part of its implementation, it is planned to consolidate the foreign policy foundations of national sovereignty, strengthen national security, develop friendly and equal relations with other states, create conditions and prerequisites for the further expansion of economic cooperation, as well as strengthen the legal protection of citizens of Kazakhstan abroad.

Overall, I believe that the implementation of the Concept will bring concrete benefits to the country, domestic business and every citizen.

– In 2020, movement around the world was limited, many events were cancelled or postponed to a later date. The international community has to adapt to new conditions. Even the 75th anniversary session of the UN General Assembly was held online. How do you rate the effectiveness of such online platforms?

– It is a mistake to believe that during the pandemic, international relations went into a “standby mode” and classical diplomacy significantly narrowed its agenda. The crisis revealed “bottlenecks” in international relations and put the most pressing problematic issues on the agenda.

As I mentioned above, diplomatic activity continued adopting a new digital format. In my opinion, online meetings allow you to make urgent decisions quite efficiently.

At the same time, they alone cannot fully replace the traditional format of negotiations, to which, I hope, we will be able to return soon.

Despite this, Kazakhstan has continued to promote its interests on international platforms.

The initiatives of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, voiced during his participation at the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, evoked a positive response in the international community. Let me briefly recall them: the revision of international health regulations, the creation of a network of Regional Centres for Disease Control and Biosafety under the auspices of the UN and the proposed International Agency for Biological Safety.

At the recent Climate Ambition Summit, he outlined new serious commitments of our country towards decarbonizing the economy by 2060.

In September 2020, our country joined the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aimed at abolishing the death penalty. The President signed the Law on its Ratification by Kazakhstan, which confirmed our nation’s adherence to universal values ​​and democratic norms.

I would especially like to note the recognized authority and role of the First President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev in the struggle for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. This is evidenced by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization’s awarding him the status of a “Champion of a Nuclear Test Free World for a Nuclear Weapons Free World.”

Last December, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution initiated by Kazakhstan on international cooperation and coordination of activities in order to rehabilitate the population, restore the environment and economic development of the Semipalatinsk region. The resolution is clear evidence of the recognition by the international community of Kazakhstan’s serious concern about the long-term nature of the consequences of nuclear tests for the life and health of people, especially children and other vulnerable groups.

As part of our efforts to implement another foreign policy initiative of our First President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan assumed the chairmanship for 2020-22 of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia. We are now faced with the task of transforming this dialogue platform into a full-fledged international organization.

– Speaking about our neighbours as the peoples closest to us, we also mean by this complete mutual understanding between our countries. It should be noted that this year was difficult for the region of Eurasia, we saw a number of serious shocks around us. How has our cooperation with the countries of Central Asia, the CIS and the Turkic-speaking countries developed over the past year?

– Central Asia is a strategically important area in Kazakhstan’s foreign policy. Today, an intensive political dialogue has been established between our countries at various levels, and stable economic, cultural and humanitarian ties have been built.

In connection with the pandemic, operational interaction was organized between our countries to provide transit corridors for citizens returning to their homeland, as well as unhindered transit of freight carriers.

In 2020, the high dynamics of political and diplomatic interaction through the Central Asia + multilateral formats with our partners such as Russia, China, USA, EU, Japan, India and the Republic of Korea remained high. These mechanisms provide an excellent opportunity for substantive consideration of topical issues on the regional and international agendas, as well as to develop basic approaches to joint work on common priorities and to exchange views on deepening cooperation.

Kazakhstan traditionally attaches great importance to the development of relations with the Turkic-speaking countries, with which our country shares a common history, related languages ​​and cultures. The past year has become a serious test for all countries of the world, and in these conditions, the Turkic-speaking countries have shown their readiness to join forces in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, holding the Extraordinary Summit of the Turkic Council to counter COVID-19 in April 2020. The heads of states discussed joint measures to combat the pandemic, expand multilateral cooperation in health care and other areas.

Despite the sanitary and epidemiological crisis, interaction within the framework of regional integration associations developed dynamically. The most significant event in the Eurasion Economic Union was the adoption of the Strategic Directions for the Development of Eurasian Economic Integration until 2025; within the Commonwealth of Independent States, a key document of cooperation between the member states for the long term was adopted – an updated version of the Concept for the Further Development of the Commonwealth.

At the same time, we cannot but be concerned about the events that took place last year with our neighbours and partners in the CIS. This confirms once again that the world has been in an era of turbulence. Kazakhstan hopes that our friends will find a worthy solution to the current situation, and we, in turn, are ready to provide maximum assistance in resolving these issues.

 – Not the least role in the foreign policy of Kazakhstan is played by large and influential states such as Russia, China, the United States, and the countries of the European Union. How can you characterize the current state of interaction with them?

– Today, the foreign policy of Kazakhstan, based on expanding multi-vector and strengthening friendly relations, testifies that we are a serious and reliable partner.

Kazakhstan and Russia are traditionally linked by a centuries-old shared history, strong bonds of friendship and good neighbourliness, which serve as a reliable basis for fruitful interaction in a wide range of issues in our bilateral relations.

The achieved level of mutual understanding and respect has become a solid foundation for the consistent strengthening of Kazakh-Russian cooperation. We are not just neighbours, we are strategic partners and allies.

On June 24, 2020, President Tokayev took part in the Victory Parade on the Red Square, dedicated to the 75th anniversary of Victory in the World War Two in Europe. Seven telephone conversations between the presidents of the two countries took place in the last year.

Substantial work has been done in the framework of coordinating actions to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus. On December 22, the production of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine began in Kazakhstan, and at the beginning of 2021 a mass rollout of voluntary vaccination is planned.

One of the priority directions of Kazakhstan’s foreign policy is deepening cooperation with China. During the first state visit of the President of Kazakhstan to China in September 2019, a Joint Statement between the two countries was signed, which fixed an agreement on the development of an eternal comprehensive strategic partnership between the two states.

This document defines the directions for the development of political, trade, economic, investment, cultural, and humanitarian ties. Intensive cooperation has been established in the framework of conjugation of Kazakhstan’s new economic policy “Nurly Zhol” (Bright Route) and the Chinese initiative “One Belt, One Road”.

In September, a working visit of the Member of the State Council, Minister of Foreign Affairs of China, Wang Yi, to Kazakhstan took place, during which we discussed issues of enhancing bilateral relations against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Relations between Kazakhstan and the United States are also developing dynamically, as they have reached the level of an expanded strategic partnership. The two states interact on the basis of mutual trust and cooperation in various fields – from trade and investment to culture and education.

Following the official visit of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to our country in February 2020, an agreement was reached to continue political dialogue and further expand trade and economic cooperation. The United States remains among the leading investors in our economy. Over the years of independence, more than $50 billion of direct investments have been attracted to Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan fully engages in interaction with the European Union and considers it as an important tool to promote sustainable development of our country and the region as a whole. A significant event in the European direction for us was the participation of the Head of State in the Munich Security Conference in February and the entry into force of the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between Kazakhstan and the EU on March 1, covering 29 areas of interaction, including issues of international and regional security, infrastructure development, innovation, culture, sports and tourism. The election of the Kazakh diplomat Kairat Abdrakhmanov as the OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities was also an important recognition of the international credentials of Kazakhstan.

– The world economy is going through hard times, there is a recession in many industries. Most countries in the pre-coronavirus period actively competed for foreign investment. What is the current situation in Kazakhstan in terms of attracting foreign capital?

Over the past five years, Kazakhstan has attracted an average of about $20 billion of foreign direct investment (FDI) annually.

Now we are seeing a significant decline in investment activity around the world. Expected profits of the 5,000 largest companies in the world will fall by an average of 40%, which, in turn, will reduce the volume of reinvested income. At the same time, it should be noted that prior to the “perfect storm” of 2020, the distribution of FDI flows around the world in recent years has already experienced a certain stagnation.

According to forecasts of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), a similar decline is expected for global FDI flows in 2020-21.

A similar trend cannot pass Kazakhstan by. For objective reasons, there is a decline in FDI inflows into our economy. At the end of the third quarter of 2020, their gross inflow decreased by 32.2% and amounted to $12.6 billion, a year earlier it was equal to $18.6 billion.

We see that the decline is registered, first of all, in the mining sector of the economy, but at the same time, the manufacturing industries have been mostly “resistant”. In agricultural production there is even a noticeable increase in attracted FDI, which may be associated with the growing importance of the factor of food security in the contemporary world.

Despite the worldwide quarantine measures, the suspension of production and the lockdowns, the Government of Kazakhstan took timely measures to attract new FDI. We managed to prevent the “freezing” of many projects, the implementation of which was started earlier. As a result, we can note the commissioning in 2020 of 25 large investment projects totalling $1.3 billion, which created more than 3,800 new workplaces in Kazakhstan. Among them are significant projects, including the production of cars by the South Korean company Hyundai in Almaty, of technical gases by the German company Linde Group in the Karaganda region and of compound feeds by the Ancil Fund company from the UAE in the Almaty region.

We hope that after overcoming the main consequences of the pandemic, we will be able to recover FDI flows to the Kazakh economy this year.

– In a few days, elections of deputies of the Mazhilis of Parliament of Kazakhstan will take place in the country. What is the role of the Foreign Ministry in organizing the electoral process?

– As you know, one of the main activities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the protection of the interests and rights of our citizens abroad. To ensure their electoral rights, 66 polling stations in 54 foreign countries will be opened on January 10 for the election. We are taking all measures to ensure the organization of the electoral process in accordance with high democratic standards.

The election observation is important for Kazakhstan too. It is expected that international observers from the ODIHR and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the CIS Inter-parliamentary Assembly, the CIS Executive Committee, the CSTO Parliamentary Assembly, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Cooperation Council of Turkic-speaking States, the Parliamentary Assembly of Turkic-speaking countries and representatives of the CEC from a number of countries will take part in the election observation.

– What are the key tasks of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for 2021?

– The main task of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the new year is to assist the national economy in overcoming the crisis. In addition to economic and humanitarian aspects of our diplomacy, it is important to strengthen their public, digital and medical ones.

Of particular importance will be the speed of decisions-making processes, efficiency and adequate use of resources for their implementation.

The global crisis caused by the pandemic has harshly hardened us. Despite this, we will be setting ourselves even more ambitious goals and objectives.

– Thank you for answering our questions.

– Thank you too for your interest in the activities of the Foreign Ministry.

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