Researchers and political scientists in many countries have been racking their brains for decades trying to come up with an effective formula for regional integration. The main difficulty of the object of their study is that political and economic realities are constantly transforming. In the last few years, due to the turbulence of the geopolitical situation, these processes have only accelerated. This means that the store of theoretical knowledge and practical experience of scientists that has accumulated over the years can suddenly become irrelevant, which will nullify the results of their work.
The Hungarian economist Bela Balassa is recognized as a successful researcher in this direction, who developed the theory of the evolutionary development of integration from its simple forms to more complex ones. The fruit of his efforts still serves as a convenient tool for scientists, especially those studying the structure and formation of the European Union – the largest integration association in the world – to predict the scenario of rapprochement processes between countries through simplification of trade, customs procedures, the formation of common markets and a number of other mechanisms.
For B. Balassa, as for many other researchers in the field of international relations, for a long period the main object of research was the emerging European Union. But in our time, there is no doubt that Central Asia has become a similar phenomenon that attracts the attention of specialists, the processes of rapprochement in which were launched – here experts are unanimous in opinion – thanks to the efforts of the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev. These initiatives reflected historical and modern realities, and therefore were supported in the rest of the countries of the regional “five”.
Return to leading roles
Now, in 2023, it seems self-evident that our fellow citizens can easily travel to Tajikistan in their own cars or on border buses. I don’t want to sit behind the wheel – I flew to Dushanbe by plane. The news that a visit to Kyrgyzstan no longer requires a foreign passport, an internal ID card is sufficient, did not become a sensation either.
It creates a deceptive feeling that it has always been this way. Not at all. There was also a dark streak in relations between neighbors, when instead of an easier border crossing regime, practically inaccessible visas were in use, and instead of bridges of friendship, there were minefields. And even attempts at dialogue on common problems only caused irritation and negativity.
Shavkat Mirziyoyev undertook to change the political situation in Central Asia for the better. In a short period of time by historical standards, the head of Uzbekistan has secured the status of a leading reformer in strengthening regional stability and cooperation in Central Asia. On his initiative, work has been launched and is successfully continuing to eliminate long-term conflicts related to state borders, transport corridors and water use, which contributes to the development of mutually beneficial relations between the countries of the region. As a result, the volume of mutual trade has increased significantly, and the number of joint ventures has increased significantly. This has turned Central Asia into a key center for economic development and transport links between East and West, North and South.
The leaders of the regional “five” countries held a kind of summing up of the results of their joint work during the anniversary consultative meeting in Dushanbe. It is clear that some difficult issues still remain in relations between individual countries. However, even their representatives, who gathered at the negotiating table in the capital of Tajikistan, demonstrated a desire for dialogue and cooperation in the interests of the peoples of their countries and the region as a whole.
More general issues appear on the development agenda of the countries of the region from year to year. In addition, the republics are increasingly demonstrating the similarity of strategic courses. As the publication of the influential association of large businesses in Finland “EastCham Finland” notes, the countries of Central Asia are united by the desire to implement economic reforms aimed at diversifying the economy and a friendly attitude towards entrepreneurs, which not least affects the investment attractiveness of both each of them and collectively .
In recent years alone, the volume of mutual investments between the countries of the region has increased almost sixfold, and the influx of foreign direct investment has increased by 45 percent. As the President of Uzbekistan noted in his speech at the consultative meeting, the total gross product of the republics of the region increased by 40 percent. There has been a steady increase in trade between Central Asian countries. Thus, trade turnover increased by more than 2.5 times. In addition, intraregional tourism indicators have almost doubled.
It is clear that the economy certainly serves as the most important barometer of a region’s progress. At one time, examples of successful integration were the European Union, where several countries united into one powerful economic bloc, as well as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which became one of the effective centers of industrial cooperation. The industrial clusters created within ASEAN contributed to the growth of domestic trade, economic stability, and the reduction of barriers to business, which resulted in the creation of thousands of vacancies. We see how integration within the above-mentioned associations has allowed their participants to better compete in global markets.
The question is: why are we worse? Nothing. Previously, Uzbekistan established cooperation in the production of cars, household appliances, textiles and products with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan. He also intends to develop the production of fertilizers, polymers, metal products, the assembly of agricultural machinery, the production of textiles and other products for export to third countries. That is, the process has started. And here its dynamics and development are important.
In the works of the mentioned researcher Bela Balassa, the formation of free trade zones between countries is named as the basic stage of integration processes. As if following a proven scientific model, the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev took the initiative to form a full-fledged free trade zone in Central Asia. Within its framework, it is planned to create a unified electronic platform for customs administration and certification of goods, as well as launch a regional e-commerce platform.
In addition, the leader of Uzbekistan raises other pressing issues, the solution of which will help the economies of the countries and businesses. We are talking about the costs of delivering goods, which reach up to 50 percent of the final cost of goods, although the world average is 11 percent. The Uzbek side proposes, as a panacea, to develop an Agreement on Transport and Transit in Central Asia to enter the markets of China, South Asia and the Middle East, and the European Union.
These and other initiatives of the leader of our country resonate in the expert community. Thus, according to the President of the Paris Academy of Geopolitics Ali Rastbin, improving infrastructure will serve to unite the efforts of countries for the purpose of transport and communication interconnectivity in Central Asia and will contribute to the deepening of regional cooperation.
“The initiatives of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev awaken enormous regional interest,” noted the director of the International Institute for Integration of Social and Humanitarian Research “Intellect Orda”, Kazakh academician Sattar Mazhitov. – The emphasis of the first person of the Uzbek state on the new content of cooperation in Central Asia became one of the main leitmotifs of the meeting of heads of state in Dushanbe.
Regular political contacts, inter-parliamentary exchanges, new platforms for dialogue and cooperation between Central Asian countries have become a reality in recent years and are yielding positive results, the expert believes. The main one is strengthening stability and unity in Central Asia. In fact, the region began to regain its historical status as a center of transport and logistics hub during the prosperity of the Great Silk Road.
In the status of an independent entity
Even at the end of summer, the famous Russian expert on Central Asia Arkady Dubnov noted that the region was consistently gaining its status as an independent subject of world politics.
An expert would not be an expert if, based on his knowledge and experience, he did not predict the further course of events. In just a couple of weeks, Central Asia, with its rich historical heritage and diversity of cultures, will be under the spotlight of the global community and world powers thanks to the initiatives of the President of Uzbekistan to integrate the “five”. The ideas that bring together a region with a total population of almost 80 million to implement a holistic plan of cooperation imply joint steps and efforts for sustainable development. In addition, being represented as a single entity on the world stage adds authority to Central Asia and significantly increases its geopolitical weight.
These factors were one of the reasons why large countries revised the previously existing formats of contacts with the region according to the “5+1” formula, choosing the highest level of representation for it. For example, the multilateral dialogue “USA – Central Asia” for the first time in the eight years of its existence took place at the level of presidents, and not the heads of foreign affairs agencies, as before.
The heads of state exchanged views on current issues of foreign policy, improving regional trade, strengthening transport and energy ties, developing the business climate, combating environmental challenges, countering extremism, and expanding humanitarian ties. In fact, the meeting became an occasion for US President Joe Biden to personally meet his colleagues from all five Central Asian countries. It said the United States would increase security funding in the region, create a business platform to encourage private sector exchanges and strengthen economic ties, and cooperate on critical minerals to ensure long-term energy security. Joe Biden announced that the next meeting of heads of state in the “5+1” format will be held in one of the “five” countries, which,
The publication “Geopolitical Futures”, specializing in expert geopolitical forecasting, in a publication on its portal emphasizes a significant change in the US attitude towards Central Asia.
At the same time, as the publication writes, located in the heart of Eurasia, Uzbekistan is the only country that has an extensive border with each of the four others in Central Asia. With 36 million inhabitants, it has the largest population in the region and is expected to grow even faster in the coming years.
According to portal analysts, Uzbekistan, as the center of gravity of the region, can serve as a platform for expanding the role of the United States in Central Asia. Thus, the country should become a core component of an effective American strategy in Central Asia.
A short time later, the leaders of the states of the region were met in Berlin. Germany, not wanting to stand aside from the emerging trend, convened the first summit in the “Central Asia – Germany” format.
The heads of the five republics first met with Federal President of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and then a meeting was held with Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz, at which the parties discussed the prospects for cooperation.
German analysts and media during the days of the summit said that the countries of Central Asia, important from a geopolitical point of view, are actively developing cooperation with countries around the world. At the same time, there were words of regret that Germany, until recently, was not actively involved in partnership with the region.
As noted in the World Economy publication, trade turnover between Uzbekistan, the most populous country in Central Asia, and Germany, the richest country in Europe, amounts to only a few billion euros, and until recently a modest 500 million.
“This is a joke about the enormous potential of the partners,” the media writes. – In May, the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev visited Berlin and so much happened! Agreements worth more than ten billion euros, over two hundred joint ventures, plans for the development of innovative energy technologies, new transcontinental railway routes. Not to mention tourism, cultural cooperation and education.”
The German newspaper Heilbronner-Stimme also wrote about the special role of Uzbek-German bilateral relations.
“As a result of the reforms of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, based on humane principles, the country has become democratic in domestic policy and open to the world in foreign policy,” says the author of the article, Jurgen Paul. – The economy of Uzbekistan is growing at a rapid pace: in 2022 it added 5.7 percent. According to the results of a recent study to identify innovatively active countries conducted by the UN, Uzbekistan was among those well developed in terms of innovation potential. And he strives to further expand international trade and economic ties.”
It should be noted that, while broadcasting to the whole of Central Asia the importance of such a course to expand political, economic, cultural and humanitarian interaction, Uzbekistan also embodies it in bilateral formats.
At recent negotiations during the state visit of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to Doha, where negotiations took place with the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, a commitment was outlined to bring the interaction between the two countries to a higher level of strategic partnership.
During the recent official visit of the head of state to Moscow, following negotiations between Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Vladimir Putin, a Joint Statement was adopted on deepening relations of comprehensive strategic partnership and alliance.
“Tashkent is becoming a key partner of Russia in Central Asia,” notes Yuri Sigov in an article published in the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper. It provides an analysis of the development of bilateral relations over the past few years, highlighting several fundamentally important aspects that inspire confidence that these relations will continue to progressively strengthen and develop. These include Uzbekistan’s implementation of an independent foreign policy, the potential of bilateral ties – especially in the field of economics, tourism, education, the regional aspect of bilateral ties and others.
According to the author, Uzbekistan, the largest state by population in Central Asia, plays a kind of role as a unifying force for all its neighbors. At the same time, he maintains a very strong commitment to pursuing an independent foreign policy.
An important milestone on the path to strengthening Uzbekistan and the entire region in global affairs, a kind of quintessence of the pragmatic foreign policy course of recent years, was the speech of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev at the 78th session of the UN General Assembly.
The leader of our country, as many analysts admitted, with his speech not only secured his reputation as a reformer President, but also made people talk about himself as a pragmatic supporter of cooperation in the name of global goals.
Having spoken in detail about the Development Strategy “Uzbekistan-2030” from the main world rostrum, the head of our state in his speech again emphasized the importance of cooperation and stability in Central Asia. It was said that the region is becoming a center of economic development and a transport bridge connecting different parts of the world. Uzbekistan is ready to continue working to strengthen good neighborliness, stability and cooperation in this direction.
As Dipanjan Roy Chaudhuri, an international columnist for the Indian edition of The Economic Times, wrote, the President of Uzbekistan, in a speech at the UN General Assembly, confirmed his commitment to creating a secular, democratic and social state that will meet the interests of people.
At the same time, the President openly shared his concerns about the threats facing this part of the world: attention was drawn to the acute environmental situation in the region caused by climate change, loss of biodiversity and environmental pollution. It is vital to create and maintain special mechanisms and platforms to address environmental problems, and this must be done through joint efforts and through dialogue.
The fate of Afghanistan should not leave the planetary agenda. This time again, the President of Uzbekistan stated the importance of strengthening measures to prevent the spread of extremism and radicalization among young people. We must not forget for a minute about the situation in this long-suffering country. There was a call to the international community to support Afghanistan during its period of transformation. The people there need humanitarian assistance like air. It is important to show solidarity in solving these problems, as well as to develop a constructive position on this country under the auspices of the United Nations.
The speech of the President of Uzbekistan at the regular session of the UN General Assembly was full of powerful initiatives – from solving environmental problems and social issues to education, gender equality and religious tolerance, noted Antonio Alonso, a professor at the Institute of Humanitarian Studies at the University of San Pablo. The proposals of the leader of Uzbekistan are not limited in importance only to the regional or national level, but are of a global nature.
A researcher of Central Asia, characterizing the speech of the head of Uzbekistan, used the term “Uzbek trend.” The main messages of the speech of the President of Uzbekistan are a logical continuation of his initiatives voiced at international platforms over the past few years. The Uzbek leader regularly draws the attention of the international community to serious challenges and threats to humanity and calls for immediate joint action.
This position speaks of a deep understanding of global priorities and trends in the modern world order, he explained.
At the initiative of the President of Uzbekistan, Central Asia has become an arena of active reforms and strengthening cooperation. Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s proposals and active actions aimed at eliminating existing long-standing conflicts in the region contribute to the development of mutually beneficial relations between the five countries, uniting peoples with a rich cultural heritage for the sustainable development of a region with almost 80 million people. These efforts give Central Asia geopolitical weight and attract the attention of world powers, allowing the region to confidently operate on the global stage.